Welcome to the dangerous, dynamic, breathtaking world of Days Gone
Picture this: I’m Deacon St. John, a survivor of a global pandemic, roaming the broken road on my motorcycle in the gorgeous wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. I finally spot them—a pack of deer I’ve been chasing—so I silently ready my crossbow in hopes of scavenging some meat I can sell for a handful of credits. Just as I’m about to fire, the deer jump inside a Ripper camp filled with masochistic cultists that deliberately scar their bodies and torture “non-believers” they capture. Being the hero I am, I decide to take them all out.
The noisy gunfire, as it usually does, attracts the attention of nearby Freakers—infected creatures once human, now turned into feral, savage beasts. The Freakers rush in and suddenly the manageable me vs. the Rippers scenario has turned into a messy three-way skirmish for survival. Then the worst news arrives: I hear a loud grunting noise and realize all this commotion was overheard by a Breaker—a tank Freaker so massive and savage it eats anything, including other Freakers. At this point I’m scared half to death, so I sneak onto on a nearby building rooftop and quietly watch the carnage unfold beneath me.
That’s Days Gone. A dynamic, deadly world where a simple deer hunt can quickly escalate into utter chaos.
A drifter looking for purpose
I’ll be straight up: it wasn’t until about the ten hour mark before Deacon St. John started to grow on me. Part of this has to do with Deacon being an entirely new protagonist—essentially a blank slate I had no prior connections to—unlike Sony’s recent hits featuring well-established characters like Kratos or Peter Parker. The larger reason though is Days Gone is a long game (my playthrough was 50+ hours) and you don’t really get to deeply explore who Deacon is until hours into exploring this post-apocalyptic world.
What you do learn early on is Deacon’s a former biker turned highway “drifter” following a cataclysmic viral outbreak that turned millions of people into animal-like Freakers. Deacon’s also riding with his bald-headed buddy named Boozer, seemingly his last remaining friend in this harsh new world. You also discover Deacon’s wife was hospitalized during the initial outbreak and her whereabouts—or whether she’s even alive—is unknown.
Compared to previous Sony story-driven games, Days Gone is a slower burn. You have roughly the same amount of cutscenes as in say God of War, but they’re stretched over a 50-hour experience instead of 25. So, particularly when you go on side missions, you’ll often go an hour or two without experiencing a whole lot of story progression. The good news though is overall, Days Gone’s narrative is quite fascinating and really heats up in the latter half. If you’re a fan of zombie flicks like 28 Days Later or enjoy deep mysteries like those found in Lost, you’ll appreciate Days Gone’s twisty-turny, post-apocalyptic story.
Do what you must to survive
With those story elements as the backdrop, you spend most of your time simply living the life of Deacon. Mainly this involves travelling between the map’s few human camps and running errands for them like taking out nearby rival settlements or tracking down local fugitives. Doing so will net you community credits, used to buy firearms or upgrade Deacon’s motorbike, and increases your community reputation. As your notoriety rises, individual camps will offer more goods for sale, usually in the form of better weapons or superior bike upgrades.
A benefit of undertaking these camp requests is you’ll often encounter side missions along the way, like Freaker Hordes, Ripper or Marauder bases, and NERO checkpoints. What’s impressive is how natural and organically all these factions and threats fit into the game’s world. For example, it was genuinely thrilling to learn that Freakers aren’t mindless zombies: they follow migratory day/night cycles, communicate with one another, and build elaborate nests. It’s equally exciting to watch Marauder bike gangs completing their daily highway sweeps eliminating any meandering Freakers they see. Likewise, it was extremely cool—and wholly disturbing—to see Rippers worshiping live Freakers like they’re some kind of new age god. You get a strong sense this world is alive and rapidly evolving, and you’re a guy trying desperately to understand the rising dangers and devastation surrounding him.
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A world of constant newness
It becomes abundantly clear the more you play: expect the unexpected in Days Gone. Sony’s Bend Studio has built an entire ecosystem, reminiscent of Monster Hunter World, for the humans, animals, and Freakers. These three entities interact in fascinating ways, and even 50 hours in I was still witnessing scenes play out differently.
Take for example the time I heard several Freakers approaching so I hid in a nearby bush, ready to ambush them. However, three deer ran by, then five Freakers, and suddenly it occurred to me: the Freakers weren’t coming for me, they were simply hungry. This kind of edge-of-your-seat, dynamic interactions happen all the time. I remember one time I was surrounded by at least a dozen Freakers so I dashed into a house to reload and get some cover. Then out of nowhere I heard gun shots—it turns out a band of Marauders saw the Freakers and engaged. I sprung out during this skirmish and shot all the remainder Marauders and Freakers dead; they didn’t even see me.
During my playthrough I saw bears chasing Freakers. I saw Rippers attacking Freakers that were chasing wolves. I saw Breakers attacking Freakers that were attacking Marauders, moments after they attacked me. I saw crows swoop down and eat dead Freakers, after I killed them, and then infected wolves appeared and attacked the crows. To put it simply, I saw incredible, crazy sights that all reinforced how dynamic and evolving Deacon’s world is. It’s breathtaking to see in action, and you never know what you’ll see next.
Hundreds of flesh-eating Freakers
Like most, when I saw the original E3 trailer of Deacon fighting hundreds of Freakers, I didn’t think that was technically possible on a PS4. There were just too many Freakers onscreen at once. It turns out the trailer was not only true, but perhaps understated how many Freakers it’s possible to see at once. Scattered around the very large map of Oregon are Freaker Hordes, and the more you encounter the larger they seem to get. By about the half-way point of the game most hordes numbered around 200, and towards the final chapter I was coming across hordes of at least 500.
So how do you take out such massive swarms? Usually with a lot of panicked moments and plenty of preparation. For starters, Deacon can hold a primary, secondary and special weapon—all of which you can upgrade to more powerful versions as time goes on. You’ve also got a crafting wheel where you mix supplies into weapons, like taking a bottle, rag, and kerosene to craft a molotov cocktail. Luckily time slows to a crawl when crafting, allowing you to create deadly weapons mid-fight and use them immediately. In the early-going you’ll only have access to a handful of crafting recipes, but more unlock as you play like smoke bombs, proximity mines, attractor bombs, and a variety of crossbow bolts. It’s a vast arsenal and supplies are more plentiful than you’d think, so rarely did I completely deplete my resources during these intense horde battles.
As far as the gunplay goes, it’s adequate and has a similar feel to Sony’s Uncharted series. Deacon can hide behind cover to avoid gunfire and pop up for a few quick shots. Your gun’s reticle has a slight auto-assist, which helps you nail those fast running enemies, like wolves or Freakers. There are dozens of weapons to acquire, ranging from ARs to SMGs to double-barrel shotguns to handguns to 4x scope sniper rifles, and more. No matter what style of gun you prefer, odds are you can buy or find one in Days Gone.
The great outdoors
The visuals in Days Gone are nothing short of stunning. Most post-apocalyptic games take place in grubby wastelands or urban areas overgrown with vegetation, but Days Gone takes neither of these routes. Instead, the game’s set in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, specifically) not long after the viral infection devastated the Earth. Since not much time has passed since the initial virus outbreak, Oregon looks like, well, like you’d expect. The high dessert is lush and beautiful, filled with tall evergreens, mucky swamps, raging waterfalls, and picturesque, snow-capped mountains off in the distance. Graphically, this game rivals Sony’s greatest output including the Uncharted, God of War, and Spider-Man series.
All these beautiful environments are enhanced by the best day/night cycle and weather systems I’ve seen in an open world game yet. Over the course of an in-game day you’ll bear witness to a bold, bright sunrise and sundown, the rain will swoop in and muddy up the dirt trails, and later in the game you’ll get treated to intense, blistering snowstorms that you’d swear looks like real life.
To further immerse you in the moment, Days Gone offers incredible, 360-degree ambient sound. From the howls of wolves off at a distance to the buzzing of bugs beside you, the audio constantly reminds you that yes, you’re in the wilderness and surrounded by dangers. Tension ratchets up significantly when you hear Freaker grunts, infected bear growls, or gunshots from nearby Marauders—all of which will relentlessly attack should you move a muscle. As such, there’s a lot stealth play in Days Gone including tall bushes to conceal your presence or dumpsters to dive into and stay out of sight. As a whole, the presentation in Days Gone is on par with Sony’s best—and that’s saying a lot.
Bugs, and not the outdoor kind
As great as Days Gone is, it’s unfortunately plagued by numerous technical faults that somewhat diminishes the experience. While riding at top speed on Deacon’s bike slowdown happens frequently and makes corning much harder than it should be. I also had the game hard crash on me twice, which is not a lot considering I played over 50 hours, but it’s still frustrating. Thankfully the game has a generous auto-save function, and you can save anytime while near a bed or your bike.
Bizarrely, I had three audio drops that muffled Deacon’s bike sounds but still allowed me to hear the environmental sounds. One time the voice track faded out during a cutscene so I raced to turned on subtitles to read what the characters were saying. A few times Freakers got stuck in walls, and one time to my horror a pair of Freaker walked right through a door I closed for safety.
On a positive note, many of these technical issues were addressed during patches over the review period. At time of writing, my game sits at version 1.05, and overall performance has noticeably improved. The slowdown happens less frequently, and the audio glitches appear fixed. It’s a shame the game was so rough to start, but it’s good to see Bend Studio patching the game so frequently. Hopefully they’ll continue to improve and optimize the experience.
Days Gone is another Sony banger
Days Gone is glorious. It took some time for the story to find its groove, but once it did I was hooked. Deacon is a deep, interesting protagonist that’s far more nuanced than he initially appears. The Oregon setting is visually breathtaking, heightened by the dynamic weather system that significantly adds to the moment-to-moment feeling. Encountering hundreds of Freakers roaming in a horde is intense, and battling them is an adrenaline rush unlike any I’ve experienced before. The map is huge, too, offering a minimum of 50 hours of gameplay, and likely much more if you’re a completionist. After completing the game I immediately hoped for a sequel, and if that’s not a glowing endorsement I don’t know what is.
Days Gone – Pros:
- Breathtaking wilderness visuals
- Deacon is very likable, once you get to know him
- Supporting characters are mostly interesting
- The ecosystem creates so many dynamic scenarios
- Amazing photo mode with beginner and advanced features
- Thrilling to battle a horde of Freakers
- Huge map with lots of missions, side missions, collectibles
- Deacon’s bike is fun to ride and customize
Days Gone – Cons:
- Slowdown while on the bike
- Audio drops (but seem fixed after patching)
- Had some hard crashes
- Gameplay: 8.5/10
- Graphics: 9.5/10
- Sound: 9/10
- Replayability: 8/10
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