Humans and Freakers aren’t the only threats to Deacon’s survival. The pandemic crossed over into wildlife, and now animals behave in hyper-aggressive ways. Packs of wolves roam the countryside looking for chances to eat your guts. They’re fast enough to keep up with your bike, and they’ll come out of nowhere to attack. And massive, bullet-spongey bears will cross your path at the worst possible moments. The world has gone off the rails and Deacon hasn’t seen the worst of it, yet.
There are plenty of ways to lose yourself in Deacon’s world. The game has a Red Dead Redemption-type structure. Some missions advance the story, side-quests help you gain loot and build up your stats, and random events will happen out of the blue. You may set out to track down a bounty, change course to avoid a swarm, and then find an NPC trapped in a car at the side of the road, surrounded by Freakers.
The omnipresent sense of danger makes exploring every dark corner of the map feel like an adventure. I enjoyed Days Gone’s vibe more than I enjoyed its gameplay, and story. It’s like how I enjoy the atmosphere in Nicolas Winding Refn’s movies more than I like the characters and plot. He’s a vibe director who wows you with the way his work feels, but his films are flawed. Days Gone is fun as a vibe game, it’s tense and atmospheric but at times feels like a repetitive slog.
It takes about 30-hours to get through Days Gone’s main story, and the gameplay loop isn’t enticing enough to sustain the whole duration. Far Cry New Dawn takes about 16-hours to finish, features tighter gameplay mechanics, and more appealing visuals, and I began to burn out by hour ten. The combat in Days Gone isn’t satisfying; it lacks the crisp controls and challenging A.I. found in better shooters. The driving mechanics feel sluggish too. And the Pacific northwest’s muddy aesthetic didn’t compel me to explore every corner of the map.
A fully-realized map can make or break an open-world game. And with enough consideration by developers, a map practically becomes a character. I would often stop in Horizon Zero Dawn to stare at how the sunset shimmered off a river. Sometimes I enjoyed watching trees sway in the breeze. You want to soak up every inch of an immersive map but Days Gone lacks that awe-inspiring quality.
Moving from point-A to point-B in Days Gone often left me thinking, “Are we there yet.” The map, though massive, often feels bottlenecked, and much of the off-road terrain feels sparse and lifeless. You can enter most of the buildings you encounter, but I rarely wanted to. I often felt like I was moving around obstacles rather than exploring a world.
The game tries to get its hooks into you right away through its story. Days Gone wants to make a profound statement about loss, grief, and hope in the face of adversity. But the cinematics sputter out of the gate. The game begins right in the thick of the chaos, with a cut-scene, featuring the central characters during the early days of the pandemic. There is chaos in the streets, their town is on fire, and seem to be losing their minds. Things don’t go well for our heroes, and Deacon is left to make a tough decision. The people behind Days Gone are tired of The Last of Us comparisons, but I do have to contrast the two.
In The Last of Us, we spend time with the main character Joel in the moments leading to an outbreak. We move through his home to learn who he is and experience the bond between Joel and his family. When s#it hits the fan, there’s a weight to the story since we’re invested in the characters. And the tragic events that follow hits us like a punch to the gut because we already care. And this choice sets the harrowing tone for the rest of the game.
The setup to Days Gone’s story blows by you in a whiz-bang fashion. We’re thrown into the mayhem with no setup, no context, and no attachment to the characters. So, their interactions feel hokey and overwrought, and the game has a B-movie type of vibe. As if to prove that the opening moments are insufficient, we revisit the same cutscene again later in the game. But even with more context given to Deacon’s circumstances, the whole thing falls flat. The story’s first five minutes blows Deacon’s chance at making a strong first impression.
Days Gone is a solid all-around game that doesn’t excel in any one area aside from its joyfully oppressive atmosphere – which isn’t a selling point for everybody. The gameplay is solid enough to keep me grinding along for hours, but not enough fun to prevent burnout before completing the story. And even if we’re not calling Days Gone a zombie game, its generic zombie-adjacent plot has been done to death.
Although Days Gone didn’t blow me away, it still shows lots of promise, and I enjoyed my time experiencing Deacon’s world. Tune the combat a bit more, add some additional variety to the gameplay, and spice up the map a touch and Days Gone makes it onto critics’ year-end lists. But right now, Days Gone only teases the series massive potential.
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