Days Gone Review: A Slow Burn

Days Gone is a third-person open-world action game developed by Bend Studio. It is available on PlayStation 4. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard PlayStation 4 console.

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Overview

Days Gone is an open-world third-person shooter set in post-apocalyptic Oregon. You play as Deacon St. John, a protagonist with possibly the most annoying name in existence. You traverse the open world on foot, and via motorcycle helping people and hunting things.

Days Gone is a slow burn, slower than most. I almost quit during the first several hours. Not because the game was boring, but it just didn’t grab my attention. However, the longer you play Days Gone the more it grows on you from both a game-play and story standpoint. In the end, I’m very glad I stuck around.

Actually getting to the end took a long time, seriously. I thought the game was over at two separate instances. The first time it occurred, a whole new region opened up and I was only around halfway done with the game. Then once the game “ended” there were still story-lines that could only be resolved post-game. If you find Days Gone entertaining, you will be getting a very good amount of playtime value for your money. But, it does require you to get over a rough patch early on. One that can last anywhere between 4 to 10 hours.

Hordes will overwhelm you early on.

You are limited early on. Your motorcycle is as fast and brittle as a toddler’s tricycle, yet it consumes fuel at the rate of a jet engine. Deacon’s shooting skills are the equivalent of getting stung on the ass by a hornet whenever he pulls the trigger. And, the guns have all the impact of a wet noodle.

He has as much stamina as a flatulent chain smoker who just destroyed the dollar menu at the nearest fast-food chain. Yet the lean mean I Am Legend style “Freakers” apparently mutated with a splice of Usain Bolt DNA. They can and will run you down to get a mouth full of St. Johns holy bottom.

In the beginning, none of the characters are all that likable and it makes it hard to care what happened in the past, and what’s going to happen going forward. Yet as the hours fly by, both aspects of Days Gone improve for the better.

Story

The voice actors do an excellent job in Days Gone but more than that, the dialogue feels very grounded. The things people say and how they say them feel realistic in a way most other games don’t. The characters start off uninteresting but as more is revealed the more interesting they, and the whole world become.

It’s important to realize, especially early on that some of Deacon’s oddities stem from the fact that he is absolutely not mentally stable. The game takes place two years after the world-ending events and they have left him a mess mentally. One character asks if he has a death wish. For a while at least, it is most certainly true.

Days Goen Horde 2
Stealth and tactics are key on harder difficulties.

Another aspect that the narrative of the game explores is something often ignored in other media involving zombies. The game tries to explain what the Freakers are, how they have survived for two years and their inner workings. It’s something that’s not necessarily needed, suspension of disbelief is assumed in fictional media. But I thought it was a great touch.

It has some hiccups, some antagonists are introduced too late. One, in particular, has almost no real in-game explanation unless you dig for it. He is gone nearly as fast as he appears. However, overall I found the story to be engaging. After seeing it all through I really want to see more of it explored in a sequel.

Progression

As you perform jobs in Day’s Gone you earn trust, and credits for the various camps of the world. Higher trust unlocks more weapons and bike upgrades you can purchase and the credits are for use in individual camps to actually purchase the goods. Credits for one camp cant be used in another camp for example.

Different camps offer different weapons and upgrades. Some can resupply your ammo but offer no guns, while another might be able to refuel and repair your bike, but can’t upgrade it. You need to make conscious decisions on what camps to focus on, even though you can eventually max them all out.

Days Gone weapons
Different camps have different goods.

As I said before, it’s a slow burn and I went hours upon hours using the same weapons. You can take on jobs for the camps, but the open-world game-play also impacts your relations. You might rescue and send a survivor to a camp for example, or burn out a nearby infestation.

There are a lot of activities in Days Gone, from taking out ambush camps, hordes, infestations and more. Some of them can feel repetitive individually, and the mission design isn’t winning any innovation awards. But they are still fun to play and there’s enough variety between them to keep you engaged.

The game-play and progression are interlocked pretty well. Many crafting recipes are locked behind different levels of progression in specific activities. You can also unlock various cosmetics for your bike.

Deacon earns XP and gains levels as you play. You can spend skill points in one of three trees and while the skills are mostly passive, you really feel the power of every new toy and upgrade. I played on Hard 2 (one of many difficulties) and the game never became easy, but I felt and appreciated every new upgrade or weapon I gained access to.

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Headshots are lethal on unarmored humans and basic freakers no matter what. But you progress from freaks shrugging off your nerf gun rounds, to taking off limbs and knocking them down with gunfire. You go from chain smoker to Olympic sprinter. Storm Trooper aim to gunslinger and your bike can be upgraded to go faster, consume less fuel and take more damage.

Taking on multiple enemies, be they human or freak is dangerous, especially on harder difficulties. But over the span of the game, you progress from crapping your pants when two Freakers come at you, to taking on dozens and eventually hordes. It is a meaningful progression system that would have never had the same impact if you didn’t feel so weak and worthless at the beginning of the game. I just wish it was more obvious in the opening hours that the game worked that way.

Gameplay

Days Gones controls will feel pretty familiar to anyone who has played third-person shooting games. I like to describe it as The Last of Us in the open world but that doesn’t really do it justice. The actual combat mechanics are standard but refined.

You take cover by crouching and you lean out simply by aiming. But it isn’t sticky, it’s dynamic. It’s probably the first third-person shooter with a cover system that I never accidentally got into or out of cover when I didn’t mean to.

Your motorcycle is your main method of getting around.

Even despite the early game nerf guns, the shooting feels solid and satisfying. Alongside your health and stamina, you can also upgrade your focus, which lets you slow down time to aim. Pulling off head-shots feels really good in Days Gone. Melee is regulated to one button and a dodge roll, which is disappointing but the animations look good and it’s effective when used strategically.

You gather materials, and craft melee weapons and gear such as smoke bombs, poison arrows, and more. Fighting many foes at once is dangerous, so stealth and tactics often work well and the game-play itself is very emergent.

I’ve set traps, used misdirection, guerrilla tactics and turned foes on each other with poison. I’ve led nearby hordes of freaks into enemy encampments and at the same time, the open world has thrown a wrench into my own plans.

You can slow downtime for a few seconds using focus.

I once cleared a camp and the gunfire drew in a pack of wolves that jumped me. Gunfire, in general, can draw in freaks, especially at night or in the rain when they come out of hibernation. Animals, infected and normal roam the world and I’ve been saved by and had my day ruined by a bear.

Yet this stuff doesn’t happen all the time which makes it those interactions much more interesting when they occur. Human foes carry different weapons and you definitely feel a difference between a bad guy with a pistol and one with an automatic rifle. Some eventually wear armor and the freaks themselves have different mutations. Some of them even fight each other and you can use that to your advantage.

The only issue I take is how late some of the freak types are introduced, some are not unveiled until you are near the end, which means they don’t roam the open-world until then.

Officially, you don’t even take on hordes until the end game and that’s disappointing. The nature of how you take on the hordes is very interesting and it feels incredible compared to the starting line where one or two will eat your face.

The hordes themselves house a seriously impressive number of freaks on screen at once. It has been done before yes, but not really in an open world emergent setting.

Planning can go a long way toward taking down an ambush camp.

Your motorcycle controls pretty nice, especially with upgrades. You need to keep it repaired and refueled, the latter of which will drive you insane early on. I never use fast travel personally, but it is implemented in an interesting way.

You have to clear any infestations between you and the destination before you can fast travel there and it still consumes fuel and progresses the day and night cycle. Not everyone will like that, but I feel its implementation does a good job of encouraging you to explore. A lot of random stuff can happen on the open road after all.

Verdict

Days Gone is an excellent game with a very slow start. It’s asking a lot for players to make it through that many hours of a ho-hum experience before it gets good, but once you do it’s worth it. The middle and late game means more to you because of how the early game experience makes you feel.

The gameplay isn’t innovative but it’s very refined, fun to play and feels good. The story, like the gameplay, starts slow but grows over time and becomes intriguing. The dialogue is very grounded which fits the theme.

Days Gone open-world emergent game-play really sells it. You never know what’s going to happen out there and the number of tactics and strategies you can employ is interesting. I like that the game feels dangerous on higher difficulties, but the human AI is a bit poor and lets you head-shot them a bit too often. Yet they are still a threat with numbers and gunfire.

You can perform a stealth kill if you sneak up on a freak or foe.

The Freakers are probably one of the best implementations of zombies in gaming. They are equal measures creepy and dangerous, but also have patterns that are logical for the game world and fighting actual hordes of them is incredibly fun. As is turning them onto a pesky ambush camp you want to clear.

Assuming you’re patient enough to get through the opening hours, you have a great game in front of you. If Days Gone grabs you as it did me, it is a very long game full of content that will keep you entertained for quite a while. If you somehow need more, you can reset hordes and camps after the main game or jump into a challenge mode and take on various scenarios where you can play as characters other than Deacon.

Are you a PlayStation 4 fan? You might also like my review of Spider-Man or God Of War.

Pros

  • Great cover system and controls
  • Difficulty settings present
  • Grounded dialogue fits the theme
  • Excellent emergent open-world game-play
  • Progression feels satisfying
  • The interesting story hits several good notes
  • Freakers and Hordes are implemented in great ways
  • Long game with a lot of content

Cons

  • Painfully slow burn early on
  • Some freaks and features aren’t introduced until the late game
  • Some frame rate drops when traveling
  • The melee system is simplistic
  • Human AI is poor

2 comments

  1. You are so correct. The first 10 hours I was thinking is this it? Then you get to Mad Mike’s camp and are shocked the find the map is much bigger and I don’t want to say anymore then that and spoil the surprise for anyone else reading.

    Its very obvious from dumb reviews out there though, that these people never played past 15 hours. When you see people complaining about how awful the weapons are, its because all the weapons at the start are literally scrap.

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