When I finished the main mission in Days Gone, the save screen read: 888 DAYS GONE. I just about felt as though I had been playing for 888 days. Not because it was a slog. Because of the level of immersion I had achieved. The world truly felt 888 days gone.
In actual fact, you start the game at 731 days gone, which is two years and a day after the apocalypse. So I played for 157 days, game time. Deacon and I accomplished a lot in that time.
I did not expect Days Gone to be as good as it is, and from what I have seen of other reviews (mostly on Steam), I am not alone in this opinion. Days Gone is one of the most engaging, fully functional, and super pretty games I’ve come across. In short, it’s well worth your time, and you should go out and get it. End review? Hehe. I could never be so succinct.
In thinking about why it took me so long to get around to this one, a couple of factors come to mind. The first is The Last of Us. That game. I mean… I’ve blogged about it extensively. TLoU is one of those games that altered the landscape of gaming, but for me, it was all about the story. I was so completely engaged that I cried in the quiet moments, often out of sheer relief or even just release. Beautiful scenery, stunning character development, and gameplay that required something other than a learned combination of button mashing. Resource management. And the oomph moments. TLoU delivered them all. So, when I looked at Days Gone, a small voice at the back of my head whispered, “It couldn’t possibly measure up.”
I’m here to tell you it does—and mostly because Days Gone is very much its own game.
Another factor that caused me to wait until the Steam Summer Sale to pick this one up was the perception that the game would be rife with the sort of toxic masculinity one might associate with motorcycle gangs. I’m not here to say that that sort of game shouldn’t exist. It just wouldn’t be for me.
Here’s where Days Gone might surprise you as it did me—where the writers prove they have guts. The team at Bend Studio took the character of Deacon St John and stretched him like playdough. He doesn’t exactly start out as one particular shape, but he and his buddy Boozer feel very much like your typical biker dudes. They’re all about their brotherhood. In many ways, their dedication to each other’s welfare is admirable and their deep, abiding friendship is something I enjoyed throughout the game. They don’t hug and they don’t share their innermost thoughts and emotions, but only because they know each other so well they don’t have to.
But the pair of them grow throughout the game in ways that allow them to transcend any apparent stereotypes. They challenge themselves and each other. They flip the script. Their journey is one of my favourite things about Days Gone.
Finally, the aspect of the game that surprised me the most was the staggering amount of diversity and inclusivity. And none of it felt forced. Perhaps the only thing more annoying than a game where all the faces and life experiences are the same is a game where diverse characters feel like checkmarks on a list. Days Gone integrates diversity the way all good stories should—it feels real. Organic. Almost effortless. It’s very well done.
So, after that long intro, which basically serves as three reasons to get busy with this game, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Um… everything? Okay, I’ll be more specific. Let’s start with the story. I didn’t expect (here we go again) the story to be as engaging as it is. And, again, that was probably due to my attachment to TLoU. Right from the outset, however, Days Gone establishes itself as very much its own game. The setting may feel familiar, but the challenges Deacon will face are not.
One of the things I really admired about Days Gone was the way the main story mission and side quests, if you were patient and followed them, moved you to every corner of the map, timing your arrival so that your skill set would be equal to the task ahead. There are a few tutorial-type missions early on, but you will continue to learn how to play the game throughout as new skills and new challenges are introduced.
I’m the sort of gamer who likes to poke their nose into every nook and cranny, so I left the road early on to nose around and… die. I soon learned that if I waited for the story to take me somewhere, I’d be better prepared. You didn’t have to, though. You could test your mettle against a horde well before the game shows you how. I just found that waiting for the story to take me somewhere made for a richer experience overall because the story is good and the way the main missions, side missions, and camp missions are interwoven is almost breathtakingly perfect.
Following the story won’t leave you feeling railroaded, however. Because there is plenty to do on the way to every corner of the map. Some days I’d just bop around killing stuff or trying out things I wasn’t really ready for. Just because I could. It was there, I wanted to kill it. Other days I simply lost track of time burning through a few hours of story.
I enjoyed the different branches of the story, too. The flashbacks where you watch Deacon and Sarah’s relationship develop. The scenes focused on the NERO research. The camp missions centered on specific side characters who become integral to the greater story. It’s just all so interconnected and interesting. And while you might guess early on where it all might lead, there were still quite a few surprises.
What else is good? The gameplay. I found very few bugs and they were mostly amusing clipping issues. I very much enjoyed crafting and resource management, which is similar to other action/adventure survival games. The stealth model is excellent. Most of my Freaker kills were made from stealth, with the exception of hordes. And even then, I often pecked away at the fringes from stealth before tackling the main body.
I LOVED the motorcycle and working toward the available upgrades. Same with the variety of weapons.
The voice acting is superb and nearly always seamless. The soundtrack is awesome with music appropriate to each setting, some of it quite stirring—for those of you who have played, I’m thinking of that ride with Sarah over the snowy pass.
And the game just looks good. It ran seamlessly on my system (AMD Rysen 3900X, 32Gb RAM, GeForce RTX 2070, and a 1TB SSD – there isn’t much my box can’t handle), and overall, I had a really great time. I would consider replaying this one.
I played on normal difficulty, which is my default setting for most games. I like the odd challenge, but I don’t really want to sweat all that much. I want to enjoy the story. Here, up until the story threw the first horde at me, I found the gameplay almost mindlessly easy. There were a couple of challenges, such as the first mutated bear, but I quickly discovered that the sort of tricks any veteran of the genre might fall back on worked well: stealth, finding a high perch, kiting, and simply running far enough away to break line of sight until Deacon had healed up enough for another pass.
Then came the Chemault Horde mission and for three hours I died, died, died, and died. I switched the difficulty back to easy and died, died, died… you get the picture. I then did what I always do when I’m dying, dying, dying. I took a break. The next morning, there was a little rinse/repeat action before I hit the interwebs in search of a solution. Obviously, I was missing something.
A part of it was that my reflexes and coordination weren’t quite up to the challenge of this particular mission. I’d been developing lazy habits and they had not served me well. It was annoying to have that happen, however. To be succeeding in all the ways and then suddenly fail. It was frustrating. With the help of a few YouTube videos, I did defeat the horde. Interestingly, once I saw how others had accomplished it, I was able to build a method using my preferred tactics, which are heavily based on stealth with a fallback to ranged attacks.
I found myself watching YouTube videos for a couple more missions, especially the Sawmill Horde. O.M.G. That one is… when you extinguish that group of Freakers, pat yourself on the back. It’s the largest in the game and meant to be challenging.
Another point of frustration was the tracking mechanic not being cleared for quests and activities that had been completed. I’d be driving along and I would see a circle on the mini-man indicating an activity, only to discover it was the remnants of a quest I’d already completed.
The same mechanic would pop up when tracking game, which… I thought it was pretty cool, but I don’t think it was utilized well. Often, you could see your quarry just fine without following the tracks. I’d have liked hunting to be a little more challenging.
The remote detonation bug. In some ways, I didn’t mind that the remote detonation bombs/mines acted as though they were proximity bombs. Hey, double the inventory! And coordinating a detonation while skedaddling Deacon out of there is something I can manage about one time in five.
But the part where both remote detonation bombs and proximity bombs would go off right after I set them? Super ugly. If I had a dollar for every time I blew Deacon up. well, it’d be a shorter stack than the dollars I gained from the times I drove his motorcycle off a cliff. But still.
The only thing I could figure was that a recently dead Freaker could set them off. Which sucks. So, be warned.
Otherwise, this is a beautiful game and relatively bug-free. Even these couple of quibbles can be addressed with workarounds and become only minor annoyances when you consider everything else on offer.
From what I’ve read online, Days Gone 2 isn’t likely to happen, or not as proposed. Perhaps with the success of the game following the latest Steam sale, all the new reviews, and continued chatter in relevant channels, the studio might reconsider and give us another chapter. I know I’d play it, and I probably wouldn’t wait for a Steam Sale to do so.