Days Gone is an open world post apocalyptic action adventure set in the state of Oregon centered around Bend, hometown of the developer Bend Studios. The game came across my radar because the main character was portrayed by Sam Witwer, who is by now a veteran [voice] actor when it comes to video games (Star Wars Force Unleashed I and II, Star Wars Battlefront I and II, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as well as lending his voice to several Star Wars characters in Star Wars Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated series (mainly Darth Maul). He is also known in the Star Wars fan community for his deep knowledge and understanding of the lore and mythology of everything related to Star Wars.
So when I saw trailers and some footage for Days Gone before release I liked the game aesthetics and the setting (beautiful nature and riding around on a Harley type motorcycle), but one aspect turned me off. That was the horde fighting. It looked very hard and unnerving to a point that I was not sure I would be able to enjoy it. I don’t want to jump too much ahead, but let me just say, that that particular mechanic comes into play in the last third of the game and by that time you are already very comfortable with the controls and environment. Besides, you had time to built up your character skills and upgraded the weapons so you can deal with the horde situation with considerable confidence. Don’t get me wrong, dealing with the hordes is always exhilarating, but you get used to controlling your emotions as you learn how to use the terrain and the props to your advantage.
Interesting coincidence happened in my personal life just before I started playing. A distant relative from the Washington State (neighboring state to Oregon with geographical similarities) found me online and I thought often about the home my relatives made, while I was roaming the lush virtual terrain with mountains in the distance, not too disimilar to my home country.
Based on that demo featuring the horde, and the fact I was not sure when will I be getting PS4, I decided not putting it on my wishlist. Then an opportunity came along in the form of a bundle deal that included PlayStation 4 with three games (Days Gone, Detroit: Become Human, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege). To be honest, I had an eye on another bundle (God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Shadow of the Colossus), but it wasn’t available in that store. I knew I was getting God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn eventually, so I took the opportunity to play Days Gone as it was very unlikely I would otherwise. This was also a unique opportunity for me to play a game only a few months after the release because I can’t afford to pay full price for any game. At this point, there are so many great older games that can be bought on a budget. Also I went all digital few years ago since PSN Store is constantly offering discounts and sales and I see no point spending my whole budget on a single title when I can wait a bit longer and pay 5-15 EUR. You just have to be vigilant and check the sales once or twice a month.
The game that truly prepared me for this type of 3rd person survival mechanic was The Last of Us (which I will talk about another time), even though that is not an open world game. The fighting, scavenging and crafting is very similar to The Last of Us and rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy. With the latter also shares RPG elements like upgradeable skill tree.
The environment of Northern Oregon is amazing. Especially for someone like me, that grew up in an Alpine country and spent every summer for almost 15 years camping in the forest with the scout troop. The game is long (about 50 hours if you do all the side missions), but never gets overly tedious because as we progress the story takes us to a new area from the forest, rivers and lakes through the snowy mountains into a scorched down rocky terrain. Most of the time you are on your own with your trusty bike by your side, which you can slowly upgrade and customize to be faster and more resilient.
The developers have put a lot of thought into the overall pacing as you gradually unlock new or better maintained weapons that help with the accuracy and stopping power. You can also feel the benefit of bike upgrades in better steering, acceleration and damage absorption. The main adventure takes you through various camps where you can rest and exchange your bounties and animal skins for credits that are needed to buy upgrades and ammunition. All the ingredients for bike repairs, healing and ammunition can be acquired by scavenging cars, houses and camping areas. But if you prefer buying them at camps, you can do that as well. You can play stealthy, run guns blazing or combination of the two. The choice is yours and that’s the beauty of these types of games.
It is better not knowing too much about the story going in, so let’s just say it is an action packed emotional roller coaster. It stars by the main character Deacon St. John leaving his wounded wife Sarah in the hands of a medic, so he can take care of his, also wounded, biker buddy Boozer during a virus outbreak.
731 days has gone since that moment when we meet Deacon and Boozer again. Gradually we learn what happened to Sarah and what happened to the world that is now populated by different type of friendly or hostile humans and animals as well as very dangerous infected humans and animals. There are several intertwining nonobligatory side storylines that are fun to do and they help you with gathering skill points.
As mentioned earlier I was not sure about the hordes, but after I finished the main storyline and then all the rest, the only thing left was a map populated with about 50 horde locations. The few hordes that you need to deal with as part of the main storyline are not easy, because you are not ready. You don’t have the best weapons yet and most probably not the full health and/or stamina to manipulate them properly. It takes time to gather and prepare all the ingredients, set the traps and plan the route. But after I had completed everything else I found myself doing back-to-back horde cleanup for about an hour. The only thing I did in between was replenish my ammunition from the bike bags and used some of the ingredients I happen to find in the area. I was truly surprised how quickly I got used to the horde mechanic once I figured out their patterns. Full disclosure – I played on easy mode.
I found out after I already started the game that this developer made two of my favorites PSP games from Syphon Filter series (Dark Mirror and Logan’s Shadow) and PSP version of 3rd person SciFi shooter Resistance: Retribution. Those games were fantastic and I enjoyed completing all of them.
I noticed I’m not the only one baffled by lukewarm reviews of Days Gone, especially because the amazing sales figures do not reflect that. My problems with the game were mostly with dropping frames in some parts while I was riding through an area that was heavily populated with the enemies. It seams to me that happens less often on PlayStation 4 Pro and that indicated it was not tested and optimized thoroughly. I did start playing several months after initial release and they were releasing new updates every few weeks. The game crashed only once for me. It was after I completed the main storyline and was (obviously too) quickly going through the bike upgrades menu. Also there were a few occasions where an enemy seemed to get stuck in the air and another where vehicle textures didn’t load in hi-res. So overall very good experience for a complex game like this with a pretty big map to explore.
While working on this blog I came up with a theory. Because I wasn’t able to play daily or sometimes even weekly the first part did drag a bit for me due to the fact I had to get used to the controls and combat tactics. Ultimately it seams this worked in my favor. I feel that if you play it daily for a long stretches of time – the way professional reviewers do – it can become tedious and that contributed to some mediocre or even bad early reviews.
The future seems bright for the studio as there is a hint at the end of one side storyline that a sequel has been planned. I would assume it will be released on PS4 and PS5. PlayStation 5 had already been announced for the end of 2020.