I know I’m late to the party on this one but what the hell happened with Days Gone? I just played it and this game is terrible… but it’s also not bad… but then it also might be brilliant. I’m deeply confused, please help me understand this game.
For those who don’t know, Days Gone was released as a Playstation exclusive back in 2019 as Playstation was riding high off an absolutely fire streak of exclusives, with God Of War, Spider-Man and Horizon: Zero Dawn. So at a time when both the expectations and appreciation for Playstation exclusives were sky high, Days Gone seemed to kill (or at least fizzle) that momentum. It received mixed reviews then just kind of faded away into obscurity upon release. Until now! (Not really, I don’t have that kind of power.)
Much like the rest of the civilized world I had completely forgotten about this game, but I gave Days Gone a shot simply because it was free as part of the PS Plus collection on PS5 and boy was I not ready for the rollercoaster of inconsistent quality I was about to partake in. To be clear, it starts off BAD. I’ve never made fun of a game as hard as I did my initial hours playing Days Gone. I messaged friends saying things like “Have you played Days Gone? It’s the most juvenile, late 90’s, pseudo mature game. It feels like Blink 182 made a video game to come free with any Mountain Dew purchase.” A few weeks later I found myself messaging those same friends in a wildly different tone, asking them to “please play Days Gone so we can talk about it. I didn’t mean the Blink 182 stuff. Maybe I did. Blink 182’s not bad… and who hasn’t slammed a Dew in their youth!? ... Hello?”
Look, I’ve never done a complete 180 on my opinion of a game but during my playthrough of Days Gone I changed my opinion on it so hard I gave myself whiplash.
This game takes you on a whole ass journey of bad to great storytelling. The first act is an absolute legendary status mess. The game starts about half a day into the zombie apocalypse and we meet (I use that term very loosely) our three main characters. There’s the guy from the box art of the game (Deacon), a woman who’s been stabbed (*Borat voice* your wiiiife), and some other guy also stabbed but less so (Boozer) and we need to get to a helicopter. On the way we go through about half a dozen cutscenes that make NO SENSE as they start and stop abruptly, allow no gameplay and seem functionally incomplete. One second the three characters are hiding in an alley and the next we’ll be in a warehouse being yelled at by some guy pointing a gun at us. And it’s not some non-linear storytelling choice, it feels like the scenes just weren’t done but the release date was coming so they booted it out the door. Eventually the confusing scenes end and your wife is loaded onto the escape helicopter while you and the other guy stay behind. Then we cut to two years later where our denim clad lead characters find a dying Alverez (I have no idea who Alverez is) and she tells us Leon did this (I have no idea who Leon is) so we need to stop Leon (but frankly I couldn't care less). At this point I have been “playing” for thirty minutes and haven’t touched the controller yet, so I pause and in the menu I see that I’m 33% finished with a side quest???
Now I’m legitimately starting to feel dizzy. Did I play this game before and forget? Is that why the intro was so stilted? Did I have a few too many drinks, buy this game, almost finish a couple missions, move the save file to the cloud, delete the game, black out, and never remember? Does that make more sense than a Playstation exclusive game being THIS bad? At this point it actually did so I closed the game, deleted any related save data to be sure and restarted it. And what did I find upon restart, well I didn’t get blackout drunk, that’s just the start of the game after all.
But what’s even more weird is that Days Gone slowly starts getting really good! In between the feeling of amnesia it causes the game offers some of the most phenomenally fluid and polished gameplay I’ve ever experienced. It doesn’t have any gameplay mechanics you haven’t seen in other open world games but it does expertly refine pre-existing ideas. Exploration and the environments are a dream and some of the best that open world games have to offer. Days Gone feels as natural as Horizon Zero Dawn, as expansive as an Assassin’s Creed, bleak as Death Stranding, and as world rich as Red Dead. The combat is genuinely engaging and with a diverse range of approaches. Fighting humans, zombies, and hordes feel joyously different. Riding a bike around a horde of hundreds of zombies, laying traps, and drawing them into small choke points is exhilarating. The thing that I found sincerely surprising about the combat compared to say Last Of Us (the game everyone compared this to for obvious reasons) is that you can approach situations with stealth or open combat, whichever you prefer. But unlike Last Of Us getting spotted by enemies in Days Gone doesn’t feel like a fail state. The game never punishes the player for not playing in an ‘intended’ way. It’s really natural in how it can flow from one style of gameplay to another without ever making you want to reload that previous save.
But that fantastic gameplay is hard earned for awhile. You need to work through the somewhat alienating story first, as you visit places that make you feel like you have amnesia. Everyone talks to you like they know you from an earlier part of the game, like you’re in the middle of a mission for them, even when it’s the first time you meet someone. For some media this is a style that works, creating a sense that the world existed before the story started, but it does not work here. It feels like starting Game Of Thrones at episode 8 - sure you can pick things up by context clues but it really feels like you’ve missed something. The first act of this game is such a mess I find myself sincerely curious what happened. Did they run out of time and had to cut corners on the early sections of the game? Or was the game’s story too much like Last Of Us so they cut it to pieces to make it less similar?
The mystery of what went wrong with the beginning of this game will haunt me because once you hit the second act Days Gone is sincerely nothing but fun and polish. The main character of Deacon becomes more defined through his relationships with others which makes him shockingly interesting and wildly charming. The unknown questions about the virus, where the zombies come from, and the politics between survivor camps all become engaging storylines that make me want to keep playing the main story. And when I wasn’t doing the main story, side exploration of the map to find enemy camps, zombie hordes, medical tents, and just riding around on your motorcycle feels equal parts fun and tense.
By the time the full map opened up and the story had taken some seriously unexpected and engaging twists (seriously no spoilers at this point because you should play this game) I found myself absolutely enthralled. It’s not often with an open world game that I will find sincere joy in exploring the world after the completion of the main story but this game won me over so hard I did it all. I found myself hunting down every horde and having all out battles to take down every zombie I saw to make the roads a little safer and protect my people. The game ends with a tease for where this potential franchise could go with a sequel and I really hope it does. Despite muddled beginnings I love where this ended up, and if it continued that energy into a second game it could really be something special.
Days Gone is available now wherever games are sold and is part of the PS Plus Collection, free for PS Plus members on PS5.
MORE YOU MIGHT LIKE