Days Gone is repetitive, typical, predictable, and mostly uninspired. But after looking past its shortcomings, I realized something: it’s also a blast. Not every game has to be revolutionary, and Days Gone is a perfect example of that.
Zombie games (and most other horror-survival titles) make up a lot of my gaming time, so when I saw the launch trailer for Days Gone three years ago, I was psyched. Watching Deacon St. John—a character I would later come to know as “Deek”—run from a massive horde of what the game calls “Freakers” in that first look was exciting. While it was more cinematic than gameplay, it looked intense, fast-paced, strategic, and most of all, horrifying. It instantly sold me.
Fast-forward three years and several delays, and I got the game in my hands-on launch day, April 26, 2019. I popped that bad boy into my PlayStation 4 Pro to get rolling (literally—the motorcycle action was something I was looking forward to), hoping for what would ultimately become one of my new top five games.
I went into the game as blindly as I could. I watched the trailers and gameplay teasers as they were released, but avoided reviews so I could go in without preconceived ideas about what the game is, isn’t, should, or shouldn’t be. The intensity of the launch trailer made me think of a specific moment from my favorite game of all time—the hotel basement from The Last of Us—so I had high hopes that it would live up to that. Spoiler: It didn’t.
And that’s okay. Let’s talk about why.
Warning: Major Days Gone spoilers ahead.
A great game makes players care genuinely about the characters and what they’re going through—I love Joel and Ellie (The Last of Us) on what feels like a personal level. In Horizon: Zero Dawn, I cared about Aloy’s quest—I wanted her to find the answers she was so desperately seeking. In God of War (2018), Kratos showed a side we’ve never seen before and is such an incredibly dynamic, multi-faceted character who makes you feel.
It isn’t just these characters that make up the stories, though—it’s the other characters they meet along the way, how they interact with them, and the relationships built throughout the journey of the game. Sure, Deek (and by some extension, his best friend Boozer) is a relatable, (mostly) likable character, and his quest is easily the most meaningful part of the game. It’s the other characters that leave a lot to be desired—especially early on.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Days Gone (which, if you’re reading this, you really should be, because there are significant spoilers throughout), it starts with Deacon trying to deal with the death of his wife, Sarah. Deek is a drifter—that is, he’s not a part of any particular camp—so he runs errands and does missions for surrounding camps. In return, he builds trust with these camps and gets “camp credits” (the in-game currency) to buy things. It’s a necessary game mechanic. You start the game by running errands for these (mostly unlikable) camp leaders with no real goals outside of just that.
The first few hours of the game lack meaning—it’s not until you learn that Sarah may be alive that the real quest starts. At that point, you have something to care about. But even then it’s filled with fluff—there are so few meaningful moments in between the repetitive quests, it honestly gets hard to keep playing at some points. It gets better when you get to Iron Mike’s camp, even if only marginally, with more in-depth conversations and interactions happening between Mike and Deacon. Mike is a good guy stuck in a bad situation—a true diplomat who has to make the tough calls but ultimately wants everyone to get along. This adds some much-needed complexity and reason to the whole thing.
The story finally takes off in a meaningful way when you leave Lost Lake and journey south to the Diamond Lake and Wizard Island encampments. This is where you find what Deacon has been looking for throughout the first half of the game: Sarah is at Wizard Island. She’s working as a researcher to create a “weapon” (lol jk it’s really a cure) against the freakers for the militia.
But even then, when Deacon and Sarah see each other for the first time, it’s missing a real holy shit moment. You want them to have this fantastic scene; instead, it just kind of…happens. She barely acknowledges Deacon is standing there, and he doesn’t say a word to indicate that it’s really Sarah. With this first interaction, I seriously thought it was Sarah’s sister or some weird lookalike.
After playing the game a bit more, it becomes clear why they react this way: the Wizard Island Militia’s leader, Colonel Garret, is a lunatic. He goes on long rants about the end times and why the freaker outbreak is happening, how they’re the chosen people to rebuild society, and worst of all, how they should kill all other camps. How the hell are you going to repopulate the world if you want to kill everyone else? The man’s ideology is seriously twisted.
His batshit craziness should’ve been established earlier on—you know; before you find Sarah—and then their meeting would make a lot more sense. As it stands, it plays out like Deacon already knows more about the camp than we do, despite learning about it at the same time as the player. It’s a huge disconnect.
It’s not until about three-quarters of the way through the game, however, that the story starts to get good. As Deacon and Sarah begin to reconnect, it finally sparks some real emotion in the player. There’s finally a reason to do the things Deek is being asked to do—even the repetitive “go kill this ambush camp” missions feel like they have some reason; after all, Deek has to fit in with the militia. For Sarah.
But therein lies the problem: it shouldn’t wait so long to bring forth an emotional response. It’s like watching a two-hour movie that’s just okay but then gets really good for the last half-hour—or reading a 600-page book, only to really start enjoying it for the last 150 pages.
Don’t get me wrong—the story in Days Gone is good! The journey to get there, however, isn’t as much. It’s missing that one thing that makes so many other great games, well, great. Once you come to terms with that, however, you start to realize how much fun Days Gone can be.
On a side note, there’s one thing that I’d be remiss not to mention: the game’s soundtrack. The music in Days Gone is one of the most intense, emotional game scores I’ve ever listened to. It works so well in the game, but it’s even great to listen to by itself.
Days Gone isn’t a revolutionary game. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table—the mechanics are tried and true, the weapon system is typical, and battles are pretty much what you’d expect. But you know what? That’s okay! Not everything has to be revolutionary. Every new game doesn’t have to break a mold or reinvent a genre. They can’t all be zingers—nor should they have to be. There are some decidedly good games out there that still deserve your hard-earned money and time. Doom 2016, Mortal Kombat X, or Just Cause 2, anyone?
Days Gone is fun, and it does exactly what a game should do: it kept me coming back for more. Sure, some of the gameplay is repetitive (how many marauder, ripper, or anarchist camps do I have to kill, anyway?) and there are slums here and there where it starts to feel stagnant like everything is dragging. But it seems like every time I look at my wife and say, “yeah, this is starting to get a little boring…” I get a call from someone, telling me they have a job for me. And nearly every time, a new, major storyline emerges from that call. So right as the game starts to feel a bit stale, it revives itself at the right moment.
Of course, great games never feel stale. But Days Gone isn’t a great game. It’s an okay game. At worst, some may call it a bad game (they’d be wrong). At best, it’s a good game. But it’s not—nor will it ever be—a great game. Again, though, that’s okay. There’s plenty of room in every gamer’s catalog for good games.
Now, all that said, there are some weird things in Days Gone that I couldn’t overlook. For starters, it’s one of the glitchiest release titles I’ve ever played—something Bend Studios has been doing a pretty good job of fixing through updates. But still, it’s hard to understand how some of this stuff gets through testing in the first place.
For example, the audio was out of sync with the cinematics early-on, which was maddening. Fortunately, that was recently fixed. But that’s just the first on a long list of bugs I experienced: I wasn’t able to finish a handful of quests for various reasons. Some of them required I do other quests; others required me to restart the console. The same thing happened with the start of a couple of quests—like the one where you first find the Reacher in a cave. The cave was completely sealed off, so I had to restart my PS4 and re-load the game. It was fine after that. The same thing happened in a later quest, where the element to spark the quest wasn’t available. Again, a restart fixed it. Sure, I’ve experienced a few glitches in games, but none as severe as Days Gone. And that is frustrating.
There are also questionable decisions in the way the game works, like the fact it tells you that all freaker nests have been burned and shows a completion chart the second the final nest is gone—it doesn’t matter if you’re still trying to kill all the surrounding freakers or not, the interruption is coming. And good lord man, it’s frustrating as hell and super jarring. I hate it.
Then there’s the navigation system. Unless you’re on your bike, it just sucks. It doesn’t give offer any navigation when on foot, only an arrow that points in the direction you need to go in. I guess that’s better than nothing, but it’s still not clear to me why the highlighted route disappears the second you get off the bike. Sometimes I wanna walk, you know?
Speaking of the bike, there are a lot of details Days Gone leaves out that you have to figure out for yourself—like the fact that you can roll up to a gas station pump and fill up. For hours I got off the bike and searched the area until I found a gas can. There are several little things like that—not total game changers, but small things that make it easier to play. I’m not sure why these things aren’t made more clear.
Fortunately, most of the game’s issues like this are things that can (and hopefully will) be fixed or tweaked with updates. As I said, Bend Studios has been doing a pretty good job of this so far.
The main story in Days Gone really is terrific, but it takes a long time to get into it. The bulk of the game is managing lots of little side quests, which mostly comes off as filler content. The gameplay is fine, but a bit glitchy. Overall, neither of these things made for a great game, but that’s okay because Days Gone is fun.
While killing the camps—marauders, rippers, anarchists, etc.—is mostly the same idea over and over, they’re one of my favorite parts of the game because they’re still dynamic. The environments change for each one, which means you have to adjust your approach each time. But what makes the camp kills even more interesting is Deek himself—as you get more skills, the way you play changes. For example, the skill that allows you to see enemies with Survival Vision will dramatically change the way you play. That’s not just for camps either, but the entire game from that point forward.
Speaking of skills, the skill tree upgrade system is one of the best things in Days Gone because it’s not a slog. So many games that use this kind of system make you grind for new upgrades, which is one area where Days Gone goes the opposite direction: skill points come frequently. There were even a couple of times where I had two (or more) skill points at one time because I didn’t realize I had already gotten one when the next one became available. You can plan your upgrades two or three points in advance most of the time and hit that goal pretty fast, which is rewarding. And the more upgraded Deek is, the more fun the game becomes.
That brings me to the best part of the game: the hordes. My God, the hordes. While so much of the game is a lot of the same stuff, the hordes are insane. They’re the one truly unique thing in the game—I can’t say I’ve ever played another game with anything like the hordes. But the thing is, you don’t have the equipment to take on hordes until many, many hours into playing—in fact, they don’t become a real focus until after you’ve completed the main storyline. Once you get there, though, things get wild. Some of the hordes are small (and optional), but they’re a lot of fun.
The real challenge, however, is with the mandatory hordes —especially the sawmill. If you watched the first Days Gone trailer, you know the one I’m talking about. I was so jazzed to see that it was a real thing you had to face in the game and not just some cool-looking cinematic the company worked up to build interest in the game. It’s an enormous horde, and it’s incredibly hard to beat. I tried a handful of different tactics before I landed on the right one, which was a refreshing deviation from the rest of the game that I had primarily been playing the same way. I love the hordes so much.
The biggest issue with the hordes is that you can only play them once. You can’t repeat them, and there is no New Game Plus mode (yet, at least) so you can’t re-do them without starting from scratch. This is a pretty common request from Days Gone players, so here’s to hoping Bend brings new options soon—I’d love to see New Game Plus soon. Like I said, the more powerful Deek and his weapons get, the more fun the game is. So a second playthrough with New Game Plus would be amazing. Also, here to hoping for a way to reset the hordes, too. Let’s get granular, y’all.
Ultimately, there’s been a lot of utterly negative press surrounding Days Gone, and it’s honestly kind of weird to me—almost like a narrative was set early on and fell into some bizarre internet echo chamber. And while many of the negative points aren’t technically wrong, I think that this focus made it too easy to overlook the fact that this game is fun. Sure, it’s probably won’t go down as one of the best games in history, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick it up and enjoy the absolute shit out of it anyway.
Here’s What We Like
- Beautiful open world with excellent graphics
- Powerful storyline...once it gets going
- It's damn good fun
And What We Don't
- The main story is very slow to start
- Lots of filler content that lacks meaning
- Glitchiest release title I've ever played