May 22, 2022

Days Gone, A Year On. Did The Reviews Get It Wrong?

So with today being the one year anniversary of Days Gone’s release, what better time to look back on whether the reviews/previews got it wrong?

Let’s set the picture. It’s late April 2019 and like every gamer, you have a tonne of games in your backlog dying to be played. You’ve been spoiled with open-world games especially when it comes to your PS4 exclusives. do you really need to purchase Days Gone?

Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, Uncharted 4 and The Last Of Us have quenched your thirst of both story and adventure. The release of yet another zombie game is set in the next week or so, do you need another zombie game and can you warrant spending another £50 on a game when you have such a mountain of games still to play.

You’re a sensible gamer, PS4 exclusives are bankable for quality but zombie games are getting boring so you wait for reviews before you put your cash down on yet another game.

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Reviews drop. Metacritic is sitting at 71, not a bad score but disappointingly low for a PS4 exclusive. Reviewers are citing criticism over “Yet another gruff male protagonist”, “Generic open-world” and a plague of technical issues hindering the overall enjoyment.

You probably passed on the title or picked it up, hit a technical issue and shelved the game or picked it up, stuck with it and enjoyed the experience. Now I’m not saying the game sold bad, it sold very well in fact and its user score on Metacritic sits nicely at 81 but Days Gone seems to slip under the radar when it comes to great PS4 exclusives. After picking up Days Gone eleven months after release I would be happy to say this is one of my favorite PS4 exclusives.

I’m going to level with you before I tell you why I believe Days Gone is one of the best PS4 exclusives. I’m not a huge fan of open-world games, I tend to get bogged down in side quests or generally fatigued with repetitive quests and uninspired characters. However, an open-world game with loveable characters and an engaging story that I care about can keep me hooked for 60+ hours. I couldn’t get into Marvel’s Spider-Man but Red Dead Redemption 2 had me hooked from start to finish.

I won’t go into why I think Spider-man is overrated right now, I can see why people love it but it never gripped me in the way Days Gone has. Here’s why.

“Days Gone makes some interesting choices that kept my play session engaging, and the sections of its story that I experienced piqued my interest enough that I was legitimately frustrated that I couldn’t continue playing at the end of the demo. While I’ll admit that I initially rolled my eyes at yet another Gruff White Male Protagonist™ in a grim world – especially one with such a Gruff White Male Protagonist™-ey name as Deacon St. John – I ended up getting far more invested than I’d initially expected. I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose – this is a first-party Sony title, and Bend is no stranger to writing around well-developed characters and games with a strong narrative focus, either.”

Jon Ryan – IGN

“Another Gruff White Male Protagonist”

So many of the complaints from journalists in previews/reviews were that the Protagonist, Deacon St John was just a generic gruff male. Deacon is actually a very complex and emotional character, beautifully voiced by actor Sam Witwer who also voiced The Apprentice in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. St John is clearly inspired by Charlie Hunnam’s Jax from Son’s Of Anarchy with his bad boy biker with morals character and like Jax, Deacon struggles to find a place in his world while trying to do the right thing when the world seems to be pushing him in the opposite direction.

A lot of Deacons character is revealed in his little gestures and looks. St John has a good and a dark side that he struggles with progressively through the story and his journey as a man in a lawless word evolves. Deacon and his bull-headed buddy “Booze-Man” are a pair of drifters looking out for only themselves and shunning the communal camps dotted around the world, yet Deacon seems hell bent on protecting the innocent and doing what he feels is right. He won’t hesitate to jump “In the shit” to make sure his friends stay safe.

On the other side, Deacon has no problem wiping out entire settlements of opposing camps and brutally slicing the throats of his enemies. In all of the blood-shed, he has one motive, to find his wife Sarah. Sarah is a beacon of light and innocence in his corrupt outlaw life. Sarah is the perfect counter to Deacon’s persona and grounds him in reality as a troubled man trying to find peace in a savage world.

Sometimes, there are spectacular hordes of them. So far, so straightforward. Yet through its 60-odd-hour ride, Days Gone loses its focus with repetitive missions, a meandering and thematically unsatisfying storyline, and an excess of bugs and busywork. When you slow down for a minute or two, these issues combine with a dreary, uninteresting open world and add up to an uneven and mostly toothless zombie experience.

Lucy O’Brien – IGN

“Uninteresting Open-World”

At first glance, yes the world of Days Gone does look like every other open-world game. After a few hours of game-play, the world feels lived in, the bodies and bloody handprints littering the environment tell a story of a world dropped into panic and despair.

As the story progresses and new regions open up you discover new environments. From snowy mountains to volcanic lakes, marshlands and lush green forests each region feels unique. Each region has its own set of challenges too, differing wildlife, cults and communities set each biome apart.

The use of music when progressing to a new stage of the narrative, the camp radio station and chatter over the CB radio helps flesh out the world in the same way dynamic events played their part in Red Dead Redemption 2. Days Gone’s post-apocalyptic vision of Oregon and North America’s Pacific Northwest feels lived in and unique with stunning vistas and good environmental storytelling.

“Playing survival game Days Gone at a recent preview event, I was struck by a particular class of enemy called a Newt. These zombie-like enemies were once human children. Following a global pandemic, they’ve become dangerous enemies to the player character. Killing them made me feel queasy. Even though these little creatures are vile and scary, I found it difficult to let go of the idea that they had been innocent children.”

Colin Campbell – Polygon

“I Found It Difficult To Let Go Of The Idea That They Had Been Innocent Children.”

So, Freakers.

Freakers are Days Gone’s answer to zombies. In the way that traditional game zombies are easy pickings alone or in pairs, deadly in groups. Freakers are very much the same except in the case of mutations, Freaker wildlife and hordes.

Mutations take a few forms such as Bleachers, Super strength Freakers with unparalleled aggression that charge and pummel you out of existence and Reachers, fast feral beasts that wield incredible speed and agility making timing rolls and counter-attacking paramount to defeat.

Newts, the Freaker in question in the Polygon review is a child-turned Freaker. They lurk on rooftops waiting for easy prey and scavenging from corpses, Deacon sees them the same way as he does every Freaker and never takes time to think about their origins, this is actually a plot device that is discussed when morality is concerned during the main story. Deacon St John is surviving. He must kill all Freakers needed to survive and the game asks you to go along for the ride, the moral ambiguity of Deacons actions should be questioned by the gamer as part of the experience.

You will not only encounter wildlife as you traverse Oregon on your make-shift motorbike but Freaker variants of grizzly bears, wolves, and big cats pose a fatal risk in an already deadly world.

Hordes are a relentless tidal wave of Freakers that flows across the terrain hell-bent on ripping you limb from limb. Hordes were a huge part of Days Gone’s marketing campaign and are as terrifying as they are fun. The only way to defeat a Horde is to plan a Home Alone style gauntlet of bombs and obstacles to lead them through, thinning out the 500+ Freaker entity.

Hordes are not as frequent as some people may have hoped but the fact that they are so few means you never have the experience with them to ever get comfortable. Every horde encounter feels messy and manic, you will always feel like you barely survived and that I believe is what the developers intended.

Ultimately, though, Days Gone isn’t about NERO or Sarah or the Freakers. It’s about Deacon, and what he wants is what matters. Narrative threads are dropped as soon as Deacon no longer has a use for them. Copeland and Tucker only matter until Deacon gets to a camp that has better supplies. Boozer’s health is only important because it’s Deacon’s reason for living. Even the fascinating little details about the Freakers are useless to Deacon, who only cares about Sarah–but not what Sarah wants or needs, just that his “ol’ lady” might be alive somewhere. Every character is seen through this Deacon-focused lens, and as a result, they’re two-dimensional.

Kallie Plagge – GameSpot

“Ultimately, though, Days Gone isn’t about NERO or Sarah or the Freakers. It’s about Deacon, and what he wants is what matters.”

I must say this, Days gone’s story is emotional, engaging and on the back of great facial animation and voice acting you will care for Deacon and his struggle to find a reason to live in a malignant world of deceit and despair.

The story is delivered in quest trees referred to as Storylines. Storylines are strings of missions that progress a narrative anchored to a person or camp, they are separated into “Story Mission” and “Side Mission” categories so you can progress which branches you want at any time. Each Storyline unlocks new craftable items and bike customisation options.

All of the main characters in Days Gone feel grounded in reality. Deacon is a flawed protagonist with a good heart, his wife a compassionate caring counterpart. Characters like Iron Mike, Rikki, and Boozer-Man are central to Deacon’s journey, constantly testing his morality and loyalty while never really seeing eye-to-eye with him.

The relationship and connection I had with Deacon St John and his search for meaning and closure are easily as good and gripping as the narrative of God of war, The Last of Us and in some ways better. Its a story of being human and what it means to love, be loved and finding meaning in your existence.

Days Gone is by far the weakest Sony-backed PS4 exclusive to have come out in a while. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not particularly great.

It takes inspiration from Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us, and plenty other games, but fails to find its own voice or sense of charm.

It’s alright though, if you want yet another zombie game.

Jim Sterling – The Jimquisition

“Days Gone is by far the weakest Sony-backed PS4 exclusive to have come out in a while. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not particularly great.”

So almost a year ago reviews dropped for Days Gone, here’s a few of those scores (some sites now avoid review scores so unfortunately cannot include them):

  • IGN – 6.5/10
  • Destructoid – 6.0/10
  • Trusted Reviews – 7/10
  • GamesRadar – 7/10
  • GameSpot – 5/10
  • VGC – 4/10

Days Gone a year on is a solid 9/10 to 9.5/10 and is one of the best PS4 exclusives available. I feel launching after Red Dead Redemption 2 and in today’s social-political climate hurt it upon release. In a time where the rift between mainstream games media and gamer’s seems to be getting vaster, we risk games like Days Gone being lost and over-shadowed in personal politics or unfair bias, which is unacceptable when it influences game sales.

In my opinion, Bend Studio delivered a standout title last year in Days Gone, and if you agree or disagree please drop us a comment. I would love to hear your views on the matter.

If you too are a fan of Days Gone then we highly recommend you check out the official Dev Blog The Broken Road for some excellent content from the creators.

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