We’re a little late to the party, but Days Gone has been on the market for a little over a month now. Since the release on April 26th, it’s had nine patches, and despite mixed reception, impressive sales numbers. We’ve been playing the game since launch, experiencing all it has to offer just so we can say if the game is any good or not. After dozens of hours in the game, the good news is that despite several issues, Days Gone is still incredibly enjoyable.
The story of Days Gone involves a zombie outbreak in the fictional city of Farewell, Oregon. The aftermath is all lived out through the eyes of Deacon St. John, a member of a biker gang and ex-military. Deacon is a headstrong, cautious, and street smart character that has a rough exterior, but ends up being very relatable. Surviving for over two years with his buddy Boozer, the two live their lives as drifters, taking on bounties and taking life one day at a time.
Within this grim situation, Deacon is often haunted by the memory of his wife, Sarah. Players will be introduced to her rather quickly through flashbacks, though she’ll just as quickly be taken away. This sets the overall premise for Days Gone, and it remains one of the strongest points of the game. Deacon must deal with this loss, but the sliver of hope constantly remains in the back of his mind. It’s what drives him to keep going, even within this apocalyptic future.
Along the way, Deacon will come across friends, foes, and thousands upon thousands of zombies, known here as “Freakers”. Freakers come in many varieties, though they’re drip-fed to the player rather slowly over the course of the story. The most common ones will be Swarmers, weak on their own but dangerous in groups, or “hordes”. Later on, players will come across Criers, Screamers, Newts, Breakers, Runners, and more. These names are subtle clues, but it’s best left to discover these special Freakers while playing.
Freakers won’t be the only dangers that players will come across out in “the shit”. Marauders and Anarchists plague the world, ready to ambush the player or keep guard of various campsites. Then there are Rippers, cultists that worship the Freakers, wanting to become them while extending an open invitation to join their cult to increase their ranks. Last but not least, there’s also the indigenous wildlife of Oregon. Bears, wolves and cougars can easily surprise the player and attack them if they’re not careful. Players can also hunt these creatures to gain meat for nearby allied camps. Doing this can build trust with that camp, in addition to other various tasks and missions.
The world of Days Gone is really just one big ecosystem, with a variety of threats that not only threaten Deacon, but also other enemies. I’ve often found it fun to try different approaches when it comes to taking on an enemy camp. One time, I caught the attention of a horde and managed to lead them into a Marauder camp. While dangerous, the horde ended up defeating all the enemies for me, allowing me to go in and scavenge for crafting materials, as well as finding an underground bunker. Sometimes I’ll even let the Freakers and wolves duke it out so I can collect the spoils from the outcome. Freakers will drop ears which can be gathered and turned in at camps for credits and trust.
Not only are the inhabitants of the world essential, but the random aspects that generate in it help to keep things fresh. Enemies will spawn randomly with the exception of hordes, which roam the world at night and hibernate during the day. While the random aspect does keep things interesting, it does have some setbacks. Sometimes enemies will spawn right before the players eyes, usually in an inactive state until provoked. It can also cause issues within the world itself. Sometimes a horde might not load properly, or a optional objective may not be possible to complete. I once saved a survivor from a group of Marauders, and when I tried to send him to a camp, it never gave me the prompt to speak to him. Bugs are hard to avoid in open-world titles, but still, after nine patches, it makes one wonder what was fixed.
At least one great aspect about the world is how beautiful it looks. Days Gone is a gorgeous game, especially when experienced on the PlayStation 4 Pro. Environments look fantastic, giving off a perfect forest atmosphere that really sets the mood. Characters also look pretty good for the most part, especially the main cast. Despite this, there are moments when textures won’t load right away, and that sometimes makes its way into cutscenes. Most of the time, it’s not a big deal, though there was once cutscene where Deacon showed someone a letter, and when the camera focused on it, it was just a big blur because the texture never loaded. It didn’t occur consistently, but it was noticeable when it did.
Another notable aspect about the environment is the day/night cycle and the weather system. The time of day seems to change based on activity rather than time. Players can stay in one place and likely never see day transition to night. It’s an unusual choice, but it means that days never move too quickly. On the other hand, the weather system in Days Gone is rather impressive. Rain and snow will effect the terrain, vehicles, and even corpses. It’s rather detailed and shows an impressive amount of effort from the team. The weather also effects how Deacon’s motorcycle drives, as the wheels will have less traction on wet or snowy roads.
On the subject of Freaker nests, this adds an interesting element to the game. In various areas, there will be a gathering of debris forming a nest for hibernating Freakers. Using a Molotov or something that can emit fire, Deacon can eliminate a nest area. Unfortunately, one of the biggest ingredients for a Molotov cocktail is kerosene. Kerosene tends to be an important crafting ingredient overall, and it starts to become more scarce as you rely on the crafted items more. There would be times I would go through nesting areas lacking the ingredients to make a Molotov, meaning I would have to return later.
Speaking of driving motorcycles, it acts as Deacon’s main form of transportation. You’ll upgrade this bike all throughout the game, improving speed, handling, durability, and even gaining a nitrous boost. You’ll also have to maintain the vehicle by refueling with gas and repairing damage. It adds a sense of realism to the survival aspect of Days Gone. In the beginning, this can be a bit tedious, but as upgrades are made, gas becomes less of an issue and the bike can withstand more damage. Eventually, a fast travel option will be available, though only with camps and bunkers that are discovered, assuming Freaker nests are out of the picture. You’ll also need to be out of combat situations and have enough gas to make the journey.
Combat itself handles surprisingly well. Players can hold up to three ranged weapons, from guns to crossbows. They’ll be categorized as primary, secondary and specialty weapons. Switching between them is done similarly to other games, pressing or holding triangle to swap weapons. Players can also use melee weapons, pressing the R2 button to swing knifes, bats, and whatever else the player picks up or crafts. Despite this, Deacon has even more at his disposal. Players can also utilize bombs, traps and distraction items, accessible from the weapon wheel. This wheel works well for swapping weapons, though it can be a bit troublesome for crafting weapons. This is mostly due to having to hold the left analog stick in the direction of the item.
Taking combat a bit further, Deacon will eventually gain access to a focus ability. This allows Deacon to slow down the situation for a limited amount of time, making it easier to make more precise attacks. Focus works well, and becomes a valuable asset when Deacon collects more upgrades to make it last longer. Players will accomplish this by collecting NERO injectors. NERO, a government agency focused on researching and containing the threat, has a good amount of involvement in the story. They also have various checkpoints scattered throughout the game. Supplying power to the checkpoints will earn a NERO injector to upgrade stamina, health, or focus for Deacon. It’s a worthwhile endeavor despite being entirely optional.
Deacon will gain experience for every quest he completes and every enemy he defeats. This will level him up and gain skill points to further upgrade Deacon. Skills like healing from head shots or gaining extra meat from hunts are valuable assets. The game offers 45 skills separated into three categories. Each skill is part of a tier that unlocks a later tier after gaining two skills from it. It’s a fair system that allows choice, but also freedom to have it all.
Getting to the overall presentation for Days Gone, there are moments that really shine. Others… not so much. Some cutscenes tend to have odd transitions, having a scene play out only to transition to another very abruptly. It’s more noticeable toward the beginning during flashbacks, but it’s still something to notice. The music is rather fitting too, though the game tends to have issues when it plays the “danger” music. It’ll always play rather intensely when near a horde, but sometimes it will play when there’s no danger at all. It doesn’t help that Deacon seems to have superhuman senses, detecting special Freakers from rather large distances to make it impossible to know where they are.
There are some good songs on the soundtrack with vocal performances, even some coming from live camp concerts. These play sparingly throughout the game, but they’re always welcome additions. The sound design has its moments as well. Caves have a certain echo to them and make threats all the more menacing. Each special Freaker also has a distinct sound to help make players aware. Low sounding grunts would alert you to a Breaker while sniveling whines might reveal Newts nearby. It isn’t perfect by any means, especially compared to games like Resident Evil 2.
The main voice talent does an impeccable job bringing the game to life. Sam Witwer brings a level of charm and roguish nature to Deacon, making him personable but also emotional. Jim Pirri’s Boozer also has some solid moments as well, making him a likeable character. There are many other fantastic performances for many characters that Deacon will meet along the way, and for the most part, the quality is consistent. That being said, the weaker moments lie within the less important characters. Survivors saved will often ramble nonsense or sound like they’re not even talking in the same space as Deacon. Others might also give off stiff performances, not even having models with animated mouth movements. It’s understandable since they’re less important, but it breaks immersion a bit.
It’s worth noting the length of the game. Days Gone is not a short game. Even if you play just the story, the main campaign can easily take 40 hours. Add sidequests, collectibles, and various other challenges, and you’ll easily spend 60+ hours in the game. This can be a blessing and a curse. While it’s great that the game has a lot of things to do, the game does drag on quite a bit. Storylines are broken up into pieces and come to conclusions at later points. At one point, players are locked out of a region, but then they have to look forward to over a dozen hours of story before being able to return. Overall, it was quite an experience to do many of the challenges. Lucky for trophy hunters, 100% is not required to gain the Platinum trophy.
Despite experiencing multiple delays and having nine patches, Days Gone can still use more optimization. While I’m not absolutely sure, it almost feels like there’s a memory leak in the game. From time to time, the frame rate will take a nosedive, mostly in certain camps. It’s unusual that it happens here rather than with hordes, but it bogs down the experience. Keep in mind this is also happening on a PlayStation 4 Pro without upscaling to 4K. If the Pro experiences frame rate dips, one can only imagine what a standard PS4 is handling it. Various other bugs may show up, but the frame rate dips are perhaps the most disappointing.
Regardless of the issues, that doesn’t make Days Gone a bad game. It’s a solid experience full of content, a good story, and tons of Freakers to decimate. It seems that Bend Studio is dedicated to improving the experience with newer patches. The foundation for a fantastic game is there, it just gets buried in common bugs. Maybe if the game was a bit shorter, it wouldn’t be as noticeable. Either way, Days Gone is easily worth playing for fans of zombie games. Don’t let low scores fool you, this is still a gem.