I expected to be impressed by Days Gone. We all expected to witness a spectacle. I anticipated stunning graphics, visceral combat, and sky-high production quality. In all of these ways, Days Gone met my expectations.
What I didn’t expect, however, was to be moved. I didn’t foresee being enchanted by the inhabitants of post-apocalyptic Oregon. I didn’t predict that Days Gone would enthrall me. But it did all of these things. Which, honestly, for yet another zombie game – surprised me.
To those of you who have perhaps been living under a rock since 2016; Days Gone is a survival horror action game. PS4 exclusive, developed by SIE Bend Studio and published by Sony. It was first teased at E3 2016, showcasing some of the movement system, combat, and Freakers. Since then, gamers worldwide – myself included – have watched with interest. The game releases tomorrow, 26th of April, and it has come a long way since two years ago.
Days Gone is thoughtful, brutal, and terrifying.
Scarcity, Skills, and the Tactics of Weaponry
Deacon St. John, our protagonist and perspective character, is an abrasive and cynical biker. As a Drifter, surviving in the wilderness, he relies on skill and caution to survive. Deacon has skill with firearms and melee weapons and in wilderness survival skills. These are the three skill trees you can develop as Deacon levels up – Melee Weapons, Ranged Weapons, and Survival. You’ll want to put points into all three, as they’re all complementary and all absolutely necessary. Experience points rack up quickly, and they come from – you guessed it – killing Freaks.
Specialising in either melee or ranged combat is impractical at best, suicidal at worst. Deacon can only carry a few weapons at a time, and a limited amount of ammunition for each – whatever he can fit in his pockets. What this means is that you’re going to want to conserve ammo whenever possible. Likewise, you’re going to want to carry a sturdy melee weapon for when things get closer than you might like. These break frequently – perhaps a little too frequently – so using any kind of weapon is a tactical decision.
There’s nothing like having your baseball bat break against a Swarmer’s skull when you’ve got no ammo for your guns. Maybe you’d think this would be frustrating – but you’d be wrong. It adds a level of verisimilitude and tension to combat that otherwise just wouldn’t be present. Stories emerge when the chips are down – “Hey, remember that time I came up against a horde with no ammo?“.
The survival skills come into play here – when you need to move about in the wilderness, aware of your surroundings, conserving ammo and relying on your senses and intuition. Survival assists with stealth, scavenging, crafting, and Survival Vision. Survival Vision is Deacon’s ability to sense the world around him. In the early game, this means locating nearby loot and interactable items. Later on, however, this ability can grow to highlight enemies, absolutely crucial in maintaining stealth.
The combination of these skills and mechanics makes combat feel tense, tactical and fraught through into the late-game.
Scrap, Diesel, and the Broken Road
Deacon wouldn’t survive for long without his motorbike. The world of Days Gone is large enough that walking anywhere is a chore, and dangerous. Freakers, Marauders, Rippers, Raiders and hostile wildlife make a reliable, fast form of transport indispensable.
Your bike is your second home. It’s one of two places you can save the game – the other being safehouse bunks. So, if you’ve got your bike, nearby, fueled and in good repair – you’re relatively safe. You’ll need to make repairs periodically with scrap metal, and you’ll also need to stop frequently to refuel.
The practical consequences of all of this? Journeys through the world of Days Gone feel fraught with danger. You need to plan ahead – do I have enough scrap if something goes wrong? Where can I stop to refuel? Is my bike fast enough to outrun a horde, or does it need some tweaking?
Motorbike customisation is a big part of the game, and utterly essential. You can tweak all of the major parts of your bike, from the engine to the frame to the saddlebags. Meanwhile, you can visually customise your ride – from headlights to decals, to custom paint jobs celebrating completed storylines. Your bike is safety, and you’ll come to love and cherish it.
For example – here’s a quick story from about 3 hours into my playthrough of Days Gone.
Emergent Storytelling in Days Gone
I had just completed a main story mission and was feeling good about my progress. Consequently taking a ride through the Oregon wilderness, I came to a long, open stretch of highway. I passed a horde – it was a close call, too. About 30 seconds down the road, however, my bike sputtered to a halt. I was out of fuel. In a panic, I checked my map. The closest place I could refuel was through the horde – not an option. The other was in the middle of an Infestation site and would be crawling with Freaks.
Opting for the lesser of two evils, I made my stealthy way into the infested town. Eventually, I spotted it – a jerrycan, hopefully, full of fuel, in the middle of the road. Tossing a rock to distract a nearby Freak, I darted across, moving from cover to cover, and finally grabbing the jerrycan on the way. Crouching in a hedge to conceal myself, I planned my escape – when I heard shouts and gunfire coming from deeper into the infested suburb. Someone needed help. After a momentary paralysis of indecision, I relented. Cautiously cornering a wrecked school bus, I spotted a survivor barely holding their own against incoming waves of enemies.
Stifling a groan, I nonetheless threw the jerrycan into the crowd of freaks, and shot it. The explosion cleared the onslaught long enough for me to get the survivor out of there. Encouraging him to seek safety with an encampment I knew, we parted ways. I knew I didn’t have long – the sound of gunfire would draw more. Hastily locating more fuel from a nearby garage, I sprinted back towards my bike. The inevitable crowd of alerted Freaks pursued as I ran towards my bike. The horde from earlier had drawn closer, so I was surrounded on all sides. Hastily slopping diesel into my tank, I sped off with seconds to spare as the two hordes crashed together like the Red Sea closing on the Egyptians.
All of this emergent story occurred because of the simulated world that Bend Studio has crafted – none of it was scripted. This kind of spontaneous storytelling is rife throughout the world of Days Gone – and we haven’t even spoken about the meticulously crafted storylines that Bend did script.
For our take on Days Gone‘s beautiful story and characters, worldbuilding, and more – keep an eye out for Part 2 of this review. For now, I’m going to go rejoin my friend Deacon and kill some more Freaks. See you on the other side.