There's been a lot of speculation towards Days Gone since it was first announced back in 2016. Right away people worried that it may not be doing enough to stand out from the crowd of open-world zombie games. While it had a few interesting ideas, such as its focus on motorcycles and large hoards of hundreds of enemies, it also seemed rather generic. So does Days Gone manage to be a welcome surprise, or is it just something to pass a few days with?
Days Gone is set two years after a mysterious virus has caused people to transform into zombie-like creatures known as Freakers. You play as Deacon St. John, who often goes by the rather terrible nickname of Deek, a biker who lost his wife early in the apocalypse and is now just trying to find reasons to survive. That reason manifests in a few different forms. Deacon's best friend is hurt and needs help to survive, various camps need him to make runs for supplies, and there's the mystery on if his wife is actually dead or not. All the plot strings are here for an interesting look at living in a messed up world long after the virus.
Less Time Riding, More Time Writing
It's a shame, then, that Days Gone's writing is as awful as it is. I'm not sure what tone was being shot for here, but none of the writing feels even vaguely natural. Characters' lines are consistently terrible. At one point Deacon tries to give his best friend a dramatic speech about how they need to survive in the new world, and the whole thing is laughably stupid. There's the rather infamous "but only if you promise to ride me as much as you ride your bike" line going around, and that about sums up what to expect. There's a weird obsession with motorcycles to the point where, after finishing one side quest, I watched a character crawl towards his wrecked motorcycle crying that it's been destroyed. I'll admit I don't know enough about biker culture to know how accurate any of this is, but at the very least it serves as good schlock.
Even worse, just when you think Days Gone is wrapping up, it pulls out a fourth act from nowhere. New plotlines are started despite nearly everything being wrapped up, the entire cast vanishes and is replaced with a bunch of new people, and there's an entirely new section to the map. The game was already 30 hours deep and reached a natural conclusion with just enough sequel bait that I could say I felt satisfied. Then it hits you with a strange surprise and another 15 hours of story. It feels detached from the rest of the plot like it was a planned expansion that was haphazardly sewn into the main game. I said "I can't believe this game is still going" at least three times, and the weird fourth act both managed to feel like filler and rushed.
Despite how badly written the script is, the voice acting is surprisingly on point. Sam Witwer deserves some real credit here for managing to turn in a convincing performance. Deacon's constant tendency to cut off his own sentences, or switch thoughts without stopping, makes it feel much more like a genuine conversation rather than reading off of a script. The other voice actors bring the same life to their roles as well. All the good acting can't save terrible writing, but it at least manages to lessen the impact.
Days Gone Wasting Time CycleAs implied by much of the game's marketing material, Deacon is a biker and, as such, his motorcycle is very important to the general gameplay flow. You'll constantly be upgrading parts of it and having to care and maintain it. Several missions require you to travel long distances, and so keeping your bike repaired and fueled is a big deal. At first, it fits with the tone of the game, having to find scrap to make repairs and gas to keep moving. However, it isn't long before these features just became annoying. Keeping the bike fueled is a time-consuming affair, and soon it became easier to just fast travel to an encampment after every mission and buy a full refuel.
Well, that is assuming I had the fuel to fast travel. To fast travel in Days Gone you need to spend fuel and can only go as far as fuel will take you. By the end of the game, with the best fuel tank that I could get for my bike, I could usually get across the map and then have to stop everything to find fuel. However, without the fully upgraded gear, that often meant having to fast travel to a point between where I was and my destination so I could find or buy fuel.
This especially became an issue because Days Gone has some insanely long load times. Fast travel usually meant anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds of loading, as did cutscenes. Worse was just starting the game. Hitting the button on my dashboard took 15 seconds to load, just to show who made the game, then took another 90 seconds just to bring up the main menu. Upon hitting "continue" I was brought into another 80-second load screen. Days Gone became a painful cycle of wasting time so I could waste more time so I could maybe eek out some fun stuff at the end of all this time wasting.
Days Gone Is A Generic Open World Third Person Shooter
Not that there was really much fun to be had. When you're not on your bike, Days Gone is mostly your typical open world third person shooter. There are some basic stealth elements, a bare-bones melee combat system, some light crafting and supply gathering—the works. At first, the world is pretty deadly, and I had to really be careful with each enemy. Ammo was low, enemy health was high, and if I didn't move carefully and plan, I would find Deacon getting himself killed rather easily. These opening moments were pretty great, serving as an interesting introduction to the world and making me invested in the game. Sadly, this luster is gone before long.
Once Deacon starts to get better guns and melee weapons, much of the challenge and careful planning flies out the window. I could easily take out camps of violent cult members without breaking a sweat, walking into their base and gunning them down. This is something done a lot over the course of Days Gone, and the repetitive structure quickly becomes noticeable. The vast majority of missions are basically some form of going to location X and killing the enemies there, collecting an item, or saving someone's life. Often it involves using Deacon's "tracking skills," which is basically just a psychic detective vision under another name. Both main and side quests fall into this pattern, rarely breaking away from the monotony for something like a motorcycle chase.
Many of the side events that can be found around the world aren't much better. There's some basic stuff, like enemy camps that, when cleared, allow you to find maps that point out other activities and collectibles nearby. NERO checkpoints allow you to solve some simple puzzles to get drugs that give you permanent stat boosts, while Freaker infestations have you burning down nests to keep them from spreading. There's also a host of collectibles you can gather, such as historical markers, tourism guides, and military intelligence files. None of it is anything you haven't seen in any other open world game before.
Days Gone DisappointmentThe only real unique gameplay element Days Gone has left going for it is the hoards. Swarms of hundreds of enemies, they can often look imposing from a distance. For a long chunk of the game, taking on a hoard is impossible. Running into one is almost guaranteed death, and the only option is to try to get away. Eventually, only within the final few hours, I felt comfortable enough in my equipment and stats to take one on. Once again, I discovered an experience that didn't live up to the hype. Almost every hoard in the game falls to the same tactic: walk backward while shooting at them with a machine gun. Sometimes throw a molotov or pipe bomb for fun. If the hoard gets close, run away so you have some distance between you, rinse and repeat.
There's only one hoard I actually enjoyed fighting, and that was a late-game story one. Taking place in a sawmill, the environment gave you options like ducking through passages they couldn't follow, blowing up explosive barrels in their faces, and cutting down logs to crush them. More hoards could have used these options, but almost all of them are in open fields or cramped caves that don't lend themselves to any strategy other than the aforementioned running backward and shooting.
This became the story of Days Gone, one of me being disappointed with every element that I was interested in. The zombie versions of wolves and bears look neat but are just bullet sponges that add nothing of value to the game. There's a couple of boss fights, but they're just normal enemies with health bars displayed and most of them go down hilariously easily. An early game segment implies there will be moral choices in the story, but this happens once and is never brought up again. Perhaps the only thing that held up the way I was hoping was the weather.
It seems weird to mention the weather, but Days Gone has a robust weather system that does a lot for the game. When it snows you can actually see the snow accumulate, something that I don't think I've seen in a game before. When it was foggy, it was legitimately spooky, and I had trouble spotting freaks out in the woods. Not since Driveclub have I seen weather effects this good, and it's one of the sole features that actually stand out.
Days Gone Final Thoughts - A Lack of Polish
The glitches in Days Gone also don't do it any favors, and it seems like I was always running into new technical issues. One issue I always seemed to have involved items in my inventory just vanishing. I entered a firefight to find my shotgun ammo had gone missing, and later my melee weapon was just gone. Chunks of the world would fail to load, and I found that using survival vision in a tunnel had a pretty good chance of causing objects to pop in and out of existence. Items I wanted to pick up fell through the world more than a few times, and textures often seemed to take a few seconds to load in. There were also often noticeable frame rate issues, with Days Gone dropping to 15 or less FPS while I was exploring the wild. I suspect that the giant Freaker hoards were the cause of this.
The more I played Days Gone, the worse it got. Issues especially began to crop up around cutscenes. Many of the cutscenes just had no textures at all. They wouldn't even pop in a few moments late, they just flat out never showed up. Late game cutscenes had audio lose sync with the visuals, having characters only speak their lines a solid five or so seconds after acting it out, or even just had all of the audio missing. It's baffling, especially considering Sony's first-party games tend to have a ton of polish. Days Gone instead feels like it absolutely needed a few more months working out technical issues. I've simply never seen an open world game perform as poorly as this one.
By the end of Days Gone I was just extremely disappointed. Did I think it was going to be the next God of War level hit from Sony? Not really. But I was expecting a competent and entertaining open world game to help fill my days with something to do. Instead, I got a glitchy game that wasn't much fun to play when it was even working and some truly awful writing. In the end, the only days that are gone are the ones I wasted playing this game.
TechRaptor reviewed Days Gone on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the reviewer.
While it tries a few unique things, Days Gone's awful writing, abundance of glitches, and boring cookie cutter gameplay doesn't really make it worth spending time on.
- Good Voice Acting
- A Few Clever Ideas
- Great Weather Effects
- Terrible Writing
- Tacked On Fourth Act
- Annoying Game Mechanics
- Boring Hoard Fights
- Tons of Glitches
- Absurd Load Times