“Of course, it’s not that easy,” Deacon St. John exhales as he comes to terms with his journey still not being over. It’s been hours and hours of menial labour to get to this point, but there’s still more work ahead. More freakers to kill, more miles to ride. But like a lot of Days Gone, it’s these in-between segments that are its least interesting. Pacing is a problem at the core of Sony Bend’s newest IP, despite it having pockets of brilliance along the way.
Days Gone’s premise is one you’re likely familiar with. The world has collapsed as a virus has ravaged civilisation and transformed the majority of the populace into mindless and vicious creatures that hunger for flesh. These aren’t zombies, as Days Gone made so abundantly clear in its marketing, but the story never makes the distinction matter. They want to kill you, and you need to survive them, as humanity searches for ways to navigate this new wild west filled with slavery, murder and brutality. The mindless hordes might be the most immediate danger, but like any good post-apocalyptic story, Days Gone understands that those left behind are a more pertinent threat.
Deacon St. John knows how to navigate these lands, riding as a Drifter since the outbreak. He’s adept at tracking both the living and the nearly dead, making him ideal for bounty hunting jobs and getting his hands dirty with the sort of dangerous work that survivor camps need to deal with. His hands aren’t clean – there are numerous instances where Deacon recounts rounding up survivors and sending them to work camps for a few credits – but he’s doing the best he can. He’s also mourning the loss of his wife and making sure that his only surviving friend stays that way. As straightforward as it sounds, Deacon’s life is anything but simple.
Days Gone quickly sets up Deacon’s central focus, with his missing wife Sarah acting as a compelling emotional touchstone that helps bring him down to earth between all the indiscriminate killing. Flashbacks chronicling their blossoming relationship are touching and endearing, offering the best looks at both Deacon and Sarah the entire game has to offer. Although Days Gone doesn’t take any unpredictable turns as it barrels towards its conclusion, it does maintain this strong link between its two core characters. A facet which it fails to uphold with nearly everyone else Deacon runs into.
A variety of camps litter the gorgeous mountain ranges you’re confined to, each of which features their own leader with different ideas on how to survive. One enjoys spouting conspiracy theories over the radio, while another is content to work any survivors to the bone for the “greater good”. Although it’s easy to recognize who is who, none of these supporting characters make a lasting mark. Iron Mike, the leader of the third and most prominent camp, gets the closest, offering up questions regarding the role of savagery if humanity is ever to restore itself. His mentorship to Deacon is intriguing, but it takes hours of mindless chores to eventually get there.
Poor pacing is Days Gone’s main issue. In-between all its touching story moments are hours of uninspired missions that feel like mundane busywork, many of which boil down to simple fetch or combat quests. They’re contextualized as favours for the various camps in order to slowly inch the story forward, but the sheer volume is just overwhelming. Days Gone requires you to complete almost all its camp missions before reaching the next great milestone in the story, but it’s easy to lose touch with the core narrative as the plot struggles to maintain a compelling pace. This is especially bad in the game’s middle section which feels like it drags on endlessly. It culminates in a rapidly escalating conflict that resolves far too quickly, with apparent twists that make references to past events that aren’t built-up effectively. Its conclusion and subsequent continuation of the same routine is deflating, followed then by a predictable and cliched final act that’s not rewarding for the work required to reach it.
Part of the problem with pacing has to do with Days Gone’s open-world, which can feel populated by overly familiar and uninspiring tasks for you to complete. There are abandoned camps for you to take over for upgrades to your health, stamina and slow-motion focus ability, enemy encampments that dot the large map need to be cleared in order to turn into fast-travel spots and bounty hunts start with the same button-prompt heavy investigation scenes and short motorcycle chase scenes. Each of these activities feel fun at first but quickly turn into predictable side-activities that are easy enough to ignore. You might have to engage with them from time to time to build up credits to purchase weapons and upgrades for your motorcycle, but they never evolve into anything more.
Main missions don’t fare much better either, with only a handful striking a balance between engaging character interactions and unique objectives. The first half of Days Gone is bogged down by mundane fetch quests that involve more lonesome riding between waypoints than engaging firefights and creative introductions to the desolate world. Others are comfortable repeating the same objectives in different areas, with the biggest offender being an instant-fail stealth mission template that forces you to eavesdrop for excruciatingly long periods. They’re upended by graciously better variations in the second half though. One tense excursion into an abandoned mine is a slow and harrowing narrative set-piece with more talking than killing, contrasted by a frantic assault on a camp full of drug-fueled self-mutilators.
The third-person combat is good too. Days Gone delivers a powerful kick to its devastating shotgun blasts and roaring flames that engulf enemies hit by well-placed Molotovs. Melee combat is simplistic, requiring only one button to attack and another to dodge, but the assortment of gruesome (destructible) weapons you’ll use makes each up-close encounter delightfully brutal and hard-hitting. Stealth is an option most of the time, and outside of its forced use, the open spaces where missions take place give you a good amount of freedom to approach combat at your own pace. Deacon is fragile and will die incredibly quickly, so donning a silencer or equipping a crossbow and quietly picking off a group of enemies is not only smart, it’s also incredibly satisfying.
The human AI does help you along by being generally unresponsive to many events unfolding close to them though, which can break the illusion of your intelligent infiltrations. Firefights will go unheard by enemies within earshot, while sight lines are inconsistent enough to make them unpredictable. The fast-moving freakers do shake this up a bit by giving you more unpredictable movement patterns to contend with, and they feel far more dangerous than the enemies you’ll face with actual weapons.
Freakers are zombies in all but name, but their movement around Days Gone makes them a formidable force to reckon with. In small groups they generally do little but waste your scarce ammunition or the durability of your melee weapons, but engaging them can have devastating knock-on effects that turn a small skirmish into a fight for your life. Noise attracts nearby freakers, which can quickly collect into hivemind hordes that are impossible to take down without the correct preparation. Being careful as you move around the map adds a layer of tension to Days Gone that consistently feels captivating to grapple with. Accidentally rushing head first into a horde can lead to exciting escape attempts, while luring freakers into an enemy camp makes you feel like an ingenious and devious master of chaos.
Disappointingly, the act of just getting around in Days Gone isn’t as captivating as the threats that await you in its barren world. Deacon’s motorcycle is billed as an important component of his inventory, to the point where watching both its durability and its fuel gauge are just as necessary as checking that you have enough ammunition. The problem is that neither of these present themselves in ways that are fun to engage with. Fuel is abundant enough not to feel like a rare resource, which makes its extended button holds to refill your tank more a constant annoyance than a tense resource to juggle. And while it’s easy to scrap your bike in the opening hours, I could count on one hand how many times it got to a point where I had to actively worry about being without a means of transport throughout my entire playthrough. It’s easy enough to spend credits to make sure your motorcycle is always in tip-top shape at each camp, but it’s consistently annoying to have to make the trip to the vendor after nearly every mission.
Days Gone regularly gives you stunning sunsets to ride into and blisteringly cold mountain ranges to explore, which makes its otherwise tedious travelling a visual joy. Sunlight is especially rich in its implementation, bouncing off small puddles formed in mud pits and cutting through the thick brush of a dense and damp forest. Weather plays a big role in transforming the landscape around you too. Snow gathers on your clothing during a blizzard, while also coating items around you with a bright white blanket. The heavy storms you’ll have to weather restrict your vision in dangerous ways while making the dirt tracks you skid across more slippery than usual. Each of Days Gone’s weather effects make small but tangible changes to the way you navigate its world. But it’s impossible to not stop, take in the horizon and just admire its beauty.
Some frequent performance issues and visual oddities do crack this stunning façade enough to be distracting though. On the PS4 Pro, Days Gone struggled to maintain a consistent framerate; be that during enemy dense encounters such as run-ins with hordes or simply zipping across the open-world as fast as possible. Object draw in distances are short, making it easy to spot vegetation and miscellaneous objects popping into existence as you approach them.
This is all capped off by infrequent but annoying bugs too. Deacon clipped into geometry a handful of times and got stuck, forcing a reload. In one other instance, an NPC slowed down their movement speed to a crawl and never regained it, making a short bike trip turn into a ridiculously prolonged journey that even resets couldn’t fix. On numerous occasions, audio from my motorcycle and weapons would completely disappear and could only be fixed with a full shut down of the game. When you factor in how many times Days Gone must bring up a load screen when transitioning between any cutscenes, some of which can last far, far too long, Days Gone feels in rough technical shape.
When you take all of Days Gone’s faults into consideration, it’s difficult to overlook them as a collective to see through to the undeniable moments of endearment and sparse but compelling missions and set-pieces. It’s an overly long story that could benefit from a trimming of fat from the bulk of its predictable tale, as its poor pacing struggles to inject variety into its repetitive mission objectives. But in amongst that it finds charm in its two lead characters and excitement in its third-person action, which is accentuated brilliantly by reactive undead enemies that can be used in creative ways while also posing a suspenseful threat. Days Gone is never a smooth ride, and its wide-open roads don’t always lead you to satisfying destinations.
Last Updated: April 25, 2019