April 2021 was always going to be a big month for Days Gone, Bend Studio's 2019 open-world action survival game. The game just celebrated its two year anniversary, and to celebrate Sony, has made the game free to all PlayStation Plus users, even despite its inclusion in The PlayStation Plus Collection for PS5 users. To top this off, the game is also the second PlayStation first-party title to make its way to PC after the success of Horizon: Zero Dawn, widening the game's audience even further.
What should be an exciting time for Days Gone fans has been squandered by news that Sony passed on a pitch for the game's sequel all the way back in 2019, with many of the game's key staff having already left Bend Studio. This information stems from a Bloomberg report that revealed that Sony is moving away from supporting more risky, somewhat niche titles such as Japan Studio's Gravity Rush series, and will be focusing its efforts on massive AAA titles that it deems "too big to fail," including a remake of 2013's The Last of Us.
No More Days Gone
Now it's no secret that despite its surprising commercial success, critical response to Days Gone was a far cry from the soaring successes of the likes of The Last of Us and God of War. The game also went through quite a tumultuous development cycle, with a good seven years separating it from Bend's most recent title at the time. It's important to mention though that unlike other new IP that got their start during the PS4 generation, such as Guerilla's Horizon: Zero Dawn and even the similarly critically shunned The Order 1886 from Ready at Dawn, Days Gone was always at somewhat of a disadvantage. For almost a decade Bend Studio had been stuck developing titles for Sony's handheld consoles such as Resistance: Retribution and Uncharted: Golden Abyss, so clearly an open-world Unreal Engine 4 game was outside of the studio's wheelhouse to say the least.
Unsurprisingly, Days Gone is not a perfect game. Hell, I'll go out on a limb and say that I doubt even some of its most passionate developers at Bend would argue that it is. The game was riddled with technical issues at launch, some of which still make it a chore to play on a launch PS4, and I don't think pacing was even once a concern as the game is absolutely bloated with repetitive story missions with narrative threads that lead absolutely nowhere. A lot of this can be choked down to it not only being Bend's first console title in almost 15 years, but an ambitious open-world action game on top of that. However, it might just be these elements that makes Days Gone resonate with fans today.
Earnest to a Fault
At the core of Days Gone is its protagonist, Deacon St. John, portrayed by Star Wars' Sam Witwer. Deacon took the brunt of a lot of Days Gone's criticisms upon its initial release, with many critics claiming he had an inconsistent personality and somewhat unremarkable design, joining Sony's rogues gallery of cis white men. While it's true that Deacon isn't the most interesting-looking character in the world, criticizing the character for having an inconsistent personality is entirely what makes the character unique. When the player meets Deacon, it's two years after his wife, Sarah, has been presumed dead after Deacon learns that the refugee camp he helped her escape to was destroyed by the infected (known as "Freakers," but thankfully mostly referred to as simply "Freaks"). As Deacon and his best friend William ("Boozer") are preparing to head north of Oregon to leave their past behind them, Boozer is attacked by a group of cultists known as the Rippers. With Boozer in a critical condition, the player is forced to control Deacon as he tries to keep his best friend alive.
Our introduction to Deacon is while he's at one of his most vulnerable periods in the game, there's multiple moments in the game's opening 10 hours where it looks like Boozer is not going to make it, and while Deacon attempts to bottle his feelings up during story moments, the overflowing emotions of possibly losing the one person you have left come to the forefront during the gameplay missions. Deacon will often point out how much he talks to himself during gameplay, usually trailing off into somewhat hilarious tangents of aggression towards whoever he is committing violence upon. From these outbursts of violence to Deacon's obsession with protecting Boozer and finding his wife, Bend set Days Gone apart by constantly showing how close to the edge its characters were. At any moment, losing somebody could mean losing everything.
Some would argue that games like The Last of Us and its sequel tackle these topics with a sharper edge and more nuance, and they would be right to. Those games are storytelling marvels and in many ways tackle these topics better than Days Gone, but that doesn't mean that Days Gone's approach is any less impactful. A storyline that involves Deacon finding a pet dog for Boozer left me with just as many emotions as any number of great moments from the rest of Sony's first-party output during the PS4 generation. But Days Gone's gameplay also stuck with me far after the 40 hours I spent with the game too, especially since most of the game's systems could benefit from some further development and iteration.
Days Gone wasn't perfect. It may not have hit as many highs as games like The Last of Us Part II, God of War, or even Horizon: Zero Dawn, or Ghost of Tsushima. It might have needed more time before it became a genuinely incredible franchise that PlayStation fans and critics alike rallied around, and Deacon might never have become as memorable or distinct as Joel, Kratos, and Aloy. But that doesn't mean that fans don't deserve to see them again. The game's success in spite of its shortcomings proved that Days Gone's flaws don't mean that a sequel couldn't widen the franchise's reach and offer something different from the rest of Sony's library. If Naughty Dog never got to make Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Sony might not even have its empire of triple-A cinematic action games.
Sequels matter. They allow developers to focus on what made their past games so great and hone their skills in the areas where they messed up last time. Bend deserves that chance. Here's hoping Days Gone will ride again some day.