Let’s not kid ourselves, Days Gone had an uphill battle to fight. Starting out as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, it had huge expectations thrust upon it. Depending on who you ask it either reached them or fell short. Many were disappointed when seeing those review scores being so low especially since PlayStation had seemed to knock almost (looking at you Knack) every major PS4 exclusive out of the park, but where do I think it stands? Well, it’s a mix of very good, and some very mediocre.
Before I jump in, this isn’t a review of the game, but rather a PSA. Days Gone has a lot of good ideas but a lot of issues too. I want people to be more aware of how conscious and purposeful these ideas felt to me, and not see this game as generic as its premise.
Days Gone: The Bad
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. This game is buggy, really buggy. While most of the bugs have been removed via the 1.07 patch, much of the late game remains almost unplayable. When they pop up, it can really break the immersion, which is one of the games strongest features. Bugs such as collisions, AI hiccups and texture pop in remain a huge issue, not to mention the performance (which personally, I found to be related to how long you play the game).
While I really haven’t ran into these issues during my playthrough, it certainly is a very real problem. These issues have been addressed by the developers at Bend Studio and are being ironed out, but there are issues that cannot be fixed with a simple patch. This game needs better voice direction, while there isn’t anything wrong with dialogue nor the voice actors, sometimes the actions and words of the characters do not diagetically line up. Tones jump up and down, and the current mood of the protagonist Deacon jumps around with it as he shifts his voice between different canned voice lines for his actions, One moment Deacon’s spiteful and angry, then the next he just sounds playfully tired. A similar issue was found in the recent remake of Wolfenstein where beefcake jarhead BJ Blazkowicz would just somberly monologue while executing extreme acts of hilarious mass destruction. There were simply so many voice lines they had prepared for Deacon to react to, it was impossible to make them all emotionally cohesive.
Days Gone: The Good
Before I talk about what went right Days Gone, I want to address the issue of AAA games being over-saturated, When you read “AAA” what comes to mind? Is it the next mainline Ubisoft title? Or next big on-the-rails shooter from the engineers at ID tech or Treyarch? For me, it’s a handful of features. Open worlds that are filled to the brim with side activities, outposts that can be taken out with either stealth or guns blazing. I think of 2-3 skills trees that are either combat, stealth, survival, or traversal. Sections of the map become unveiled as players climb up towers or something similar. These are all fine features, but sadly too many games come to mind when considering these features. Days Gone is guilty of all of these to some degree, and being a “zombie” (freakers as they are called, yes there is a difference, and it does matter) game doesn’t earn it many points with reviewers. Days Gone features a post-apocalyptic freaker survival game, starring a gruff and tough biker, that is a part everyman and part badass. Its premise does make it really undermine and ridicule. Days Gone on the surface reeks of generic, and that is where I believe where much of the stigma surrounding the game exists, however, I think it implements these ideas and core concepts in very interesting and robust ways. I believe that in their design choices is where they excel at, and what other developers need to take note of.
Days Gone: What Can We Learn?
An issue I have with a lot of AAA open world games is that I never really feel engaged with the world, it is merely a vessel for the side quests and I spend most of my time basically traveling through the world just to reach the next activity. A lot of games have workarounds to make it seem more meaningful such as random encounters, but it never feels strewn into the game itself. Some games have achieved this, like where Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain used the open hills of Afghanistan to give players freedom of approach, rather than a traditional open world. Simply put, the open world should be a mechanic, not a feature.
For me, I like to roleplay within my open world, and emergent gameplay is the best way for me to truly immerse myself into these crafted worlds. Days Gone masters this, as the world is not a string of random encounters(while these do exist), but rather a systematic ecosystem in which the inhabitants live. When the box says “This World Comes for You”, they really meant it, freakers litter this world and impact your gameplay decisions. Freakers produce a real threat and behave upon their own accord, affecting the world around you. The suspense does not begin and end when you decide to start a mission or decide to go out seeking it. That is not to say that the game is a constant threat fest, you are given your motorcycle, which is a huge edge against the freakers, but you cannot abuse it as it can run out of gas and cannot get replaced. A fond memory of mine was when I ran out of gas for the bike and had to go off on foot to find more, I was underequipped, low ammo, and had no major locations near me. Since you can save only from your bike or bed, this adventure was one I had to plan out. I had to hide between hordes of zombies, break into a building that had some loot, hoping I would eventually find a jerry can, kill some marauders that found me, and run back to my bike once I was successful. It was an intense, real adventure, and all of it was unscripted.
This is the kind of game Days Gone is, an atmospheric and tense world to live in. In another life and another time, it would have been a put alongside the ranks of Horizon Zero Dawn and its other cousins, but its technical issues hold it back. This isn’t a review of Days Gone, but rather to shed some light on how this game is more separate than one may think. It’s design choices flow quite well into each other, and address a lot of the issues I have about open world games.