Days Gone, 5 Years Later

Days Gone 5 Years Later

The following is a transcript from our YouTube video, which you can check out above or on our channel.

Nothing has solidified to me how fast time is slipping away quite like Days Gone now being five years old. 1827 days gone, just like that. A lot has changed in that time…a lot.

It only feels like yesterday that Sony was gearing up to release yet another high-profile game exclusively for the PS4. But of all the huge names that basically added a few extra zeros for one of the best selling consoles of all time, Days Gone often feels like the most misunderstood, and maybe not disrespected, but perhaps a little bit discarded.

After a pretty jaw-dropping gameplay demo at E3 2016 that saw untold number of zombies flip flopping over each like especially nibbly salmon, Bend’s promising open world zombie game had people’s attention. But then the delays started happening. And then the reviews started coming in. And the narrative was kinda…set.

It’s important to remember Days Gone in the context that it was released. Red Dead Redemption 2 had redefined open worlds the year prior. In that same year, God of War also set an almost impossibly high bar for cinematic experiences. Just in the three months before the game came out in 2019, we’d seen names like Far Cry: New Dawn, World War Z, Metro: Exodus, Anthem (hahaha), Resident Evil 2, Sekiro, The Division 2, and Devil May Cry 5 — all games that occupied pretty similar spaces and audiences to Days Gone.

So that, coupled with some of the worst bugs seen this side of Cyberpunk, can maybe help to explain why Days Gone received some pretty unkind reviews. But not from this guy.

It feels wild to say that my 8/10 is one of the highest critic reviews for the game. Back at the time, I mentioned that it was definitely rough around the edges, but felt like there was really something quite brilliant underneath all the bugs and backwards caps. Some of the other reviews made sense to me, and some were just blatant ragebait, but the 71 total score shows a game that maybe came out a year too late, or was released at too busy a time.

Now we’re 5 years on, was I wrong about Days Gone? Yes — but because it’s even better than I remember, though it still isn’t perfect.

 

Days Gone in 2024

It of course helps Days Gone this second time around that I replayed it on a mid-high range PC, as opposed to a launch PS4 that has now seen far too many winters.

Being able to play at a pretty consistent 120fps with a million lessons learned from a rocky launch on 6 year old tech is obviously going to make for a better experience overall. This goes without saying. I even played some of it on a Steam Deck, and was surprised at how well it ran, and just how crisp it looks.

It’s a much smoother, tighter experience overall. And sure it does have some bugs here and there but it’s really night and day with how it was at launch.

However, I’m not really interested in discussing frames per second, teraflops, triceratops, or any of that. There are specialists out there who have mastered that kinda thing, and I’d be stupid to even try and swim out into those waters without the IQ to keep paddling.

See what I mean?

Instead, I want to talk about the world of Days Gone, what it does so very right, what it kind of misses, and why it deserves a second look without getting into heavy spoilers. And I think probably the best place to start is than with none other than:

 

The Deacon St Johnlem

I like Deacon St John. But I didn’t always, and it’s easy to understand why some people just never will.

I wrote in my review back in 2019 that I found Deacon kinda hard to love at first. I still stand by that. I mean, one of the first things you see him do is point a gun at a scientist.

For the first ten or so hours of the game, Deacon is just a bit of a…dick, really. He’s not a morally grey character, he just doesn’t seem to have many morals at all. Not shooting unarmed women is about it, but I feel like that’s one of the basics, you know? One of the commandments, maybe.

He mutters to himself like a real maniac, walks around in a constant sulk, and doesn’t have much for players to really latch onto. Sure, his backwards cap is cool, but the way he treats people isn’t.

The reason for this is pretty obvious: his wife is dead, and so is about 80% of the planet. But instead of an emo with daddy issues trampling everyone to death, we are of course talking about zombies. Or, Freakers, which just sounds like the fanbase for a forgotten 20000s EDM girl group, but I will get to them later.

Deacon does relearn some of his humanity, it’s just that it takes a bit of a long time to get there. For the first ten hours of the game, Deacon scowls his way through basically every interaction, incessantly chats to himself just so you know for sure that he’s losing his mind, and also shows respect to the fallen with the same kind of subtlety as, well:

Obviously, “complex bastards” as I like to call them aren’t anything new in gaming. Even two of PlayStation’s biggest icons, Kratos and Joel, aren’t the best dudes. However, what The Last of Us does is show Joel at his best before the world ends. A simple cu tscene of him laughing with his drug dealing daughter, Sarah, did a lot to absolve him of the hundreds of murders he would later commit.

You don’t really have that with Deacon. For quite a long time, you’re playing as, again, a bit of a dick.

Granted, Days Gone does get there with some flashbacks that show a happy Deacon with his wife, also named Sarah (that’s weird, anyway), the loss of who has sent him on a downward spiral for two years. But Deacon makes a weird, genuinely unlikeable first impression, which is worsened by him basically selling off a young girl into the slave trade, a young girl who he says reminds him of Sarah’s little sister…what in the Charles Manson?

It also doesn’t help that Sam Witwer’s performance is…a little all over the place. Now, Sam Witwer is one of the best talents the industry has, a really underrated actor who loves gaming and always gives everything his all. But at the start of Days Gone, it’s a bit too much, a bit too unrestrained with maniacal breathing, rapid monologuing, and a wild range in emotion.

Witwer even said in an AMA a few years back that he was given a lot of free rein when it came to his performance, but he could have maybe done with a bit more direction here as he’s almost trying too hard to put across that Deacon is slipping into madness

And, I hate if this breaks the glass for some of you, but he does sound a little like Joe from Family Guy sometimes.

When Deacon slides closer to the middle of the ethical spectru m, though, that’s when Witwer’s performance really shines and he becomes one of PlayStation’s best ever characters. In some ways, I’d say he’s even more interesting than Joel himself, as there’s clearly a lot of trauma in Deacon’s backstory, including the time when he served in the military that resulted in his fear of drowning, as well as him belonging to criminal outcasts known as the Mongrels, a biker group, hence the fancy leather and chopper. There’s a lot about Deacon that you kind of put together on your own, and there’s a lot more to him than the extremely early noughties look he has going on. Flashbacks with Sarah show a very different person to the one you’re playing as now

but he gets closer and closer back to the best version of Deacon as the game goes on. Deacon basically relearns to enjoy and even just appreciate life and other beings from about the ten hour mark.

Deacon goes on a redemptive arc not too dissimilar to Arthur Morgan in Red Dead 2 over the course of Days Gone, and it’s one that’s worth sticking with. And some of the most memed writing in the game has actual purpose, like this infamous moment:

But this is actually a callback to an earlier moment between them.

This is basically just saying Sarah that she would do anything for Deacon.

Most players will notice a pretty drastic uptick overall in terms of storytelling from the moment Deacon arrives back at Lost Lake Camp, which is the closest place to neutral good left in Oregon.

The characters here are far more human than the other bastards Deacon has been interacting with so far and bring out his better qualities. There’s Iron Mike, the leader of the camp and designated Hershel of the Days Gone universe. Rikki is a mechanic who’s always pushing Deacon to be better, and there’s also Addy, the doctor with an almost impossible task on her hands.

There’s also Skizzo, who is the stupidest man on the planet.

The campmates at Lost Lake and at the others are also where Deacon can buy supplies with camp credits, with each camp having its own currency, and complete side missions to get more camp credits and also really quite slowly increase your trust level and unlock access to better weapons and gear. You can even eventually unlock upgrades for specific weapons when you get to level 3 trust, but I don’t know if this is the best way to go about this when it takes so long to get to level 3 and a lot of players will probably be done with the main story by then.

That said, it’s really cool that camp people keep recognising you the more you keep doing jobs and raising that trust level. There’s a definite growth to be enjoyed between Deacon and the rest of the cast, especially when he starts warming back up, but he can still be a sicko.

However, the best supporting character in Days Gone isn’t even a person.

Bikeal Jordan

Gaming has a lot of trusted steeds. While Deacon’s bike in Days Gone isn’t quite up there with Agro from Shadow of the Colossus or Arthur Morgan’s best mate, as, you know, it doesn’t feel and have emotions and die and so on, it feels every bit as essential to the experience.

Days Gone pulls off that classic trick at the start of the game by going “here’s what you could have won” by letting you zip around on Deacon’s bike before it’s snatched away from you to be replaced by a basic bike that feels like it’s got about as much torque as a Polly Pocket. Over time, you’re able to upgrade your bike to make it faster, more durable, and to even give it a bit of nitrous oxide like it’s Need For Speed Underground. You will actually need to upgrade your bike in order to be able to find certain upgrade caches, as you need to do your best Duke Caboom impression.

No matter how slow or how souped up the bike is, though, it always feels just super satisfying to drive around on. The engine has an authentic roar to it, it controls exactly as you would expect a large hunk of metal to control, and there’s just a feel to driving around on the bike across the beautiful countryside that feels neither simulation nor arcade. Drifting around a corner before slamming down on the nitrous is one of those gaming experiences that never really gets old.

The bounty missions do get pretty old, though. It just plays like it’s an afterthought, like it’s basically playing itself and I am just occasionally pressing R1 until the bounty goes flying off like Ralph Wiggum through a glass window. There’s no real sense of speed or tension with these chases. They’re just kinda there.

What makes the bike feel like its very own character in Days Gone, though, is how it is essentially like a lifeboat for Deacon in amongst a sea of Freakers, especially early on. When you start out, Deacon vs the Freakers is basically like that Hydrogen Bomb vs Coughing Baby meme. He can barely run 20 meters without needing to huff on his inhaler, and every weapon you get has a worse spread than expensive butter you’ve left in the freezer.

Your dependence on the bike also creates some really emergent, really captivating moments. Days Gone builds a connection to your bike so that when you have to go without it when it runs out of fuel and there’s no gas station or gas cans around, you really feel that loss, that isolation and that, honestly, weakness.

Without any fuel, you cannot fast travel, and if you run out of stamina while being chased by a swarm of Freakers, you’re gonna be in for a bad time. If you get ambushed by marauders who blow up your engine, you’re then going to have to use scrap to repair it, which is hard to do if you’re suddenly set upon by a swarm. Scrap itself is quite tricky to find sometimes.This means that quite often you might find yourself totally lost out in the wilderness, especially early on, meaning that you have to creep your way around with nothing but a boot knife to protect you. This is Days Gone at its most survival horror, and while the reliance on your bike is less and less the more and more Deacon has his booster shots, it establishes a vital connection to your bike that stays with you throughout the game.

And wow, it’s hard not to really feel like you’re truly surviving in this gorgeous, grimy world when you’re speeding around it on your motorbike, the mud flinging up from under the grooves of your wheels and each horizon looking like its very own postcard. Games really didn’t need to get much better looking than this. Sure, PS5 games may have shinier shinies and even greater fidelity, but we’re at a point now where that realism is starting to feel a little uncanny, if not just unnecessary. The cost of bringing real life into a digital world might just be too high to be sustainable.

But this…this is a digital world that feels familiar yet alien, beautiful yet horrific, lived in yet de–

 

Freakers In the Sheeters

OK. Let’s talk about the name. It is a stupid name. To call them “freakers” sounds as if they are always doing the act of freaking, and that just makes me think of Rick James, who’s only scary if you’re a young girl.

Anyway, the Freakers in Days Gone are closer to the Infected in The Last of Us than the classic Romeros, with the same kind of look as the Vin Diesels seen in I Am Legend. There’s nothing especially interesting about them on the surface, as they fit into basically every undead archetype there is.

You’ve got the swarmers, who are basically just the grunts of the zombies, who don’t pose too much of a threat on their own but can become absolute hellish in numbers. There are also Newts, which are child infected and are very territorial but can be swatted away pretty easily. Then you’ve got Breakers, who fit the Charger mold down to a T as they are roided up and sprint at you. Screamers are effectively Witches, as they will alert nearby Freakers if spotted. Finally, Reachers are kind of like Hunters except uhh pretty useless.

Apart from sounding like that Australian dog guy at times, there isn’t anything too special about the Freakers in Days Gone. Their AI can run the whole gamut of human and inhuman intelligence, as they will often just run on the spot or run off in the opposite direction, but on the other side of the coin they will also hunt you down like Swifties hunting down a bad review for a really mid album if a few of them lock eyes on you.

There is a lot of fun to be had with attaching a handmade suppressor, which can either be bought from a camp or rather cannily from under the hood of an abandoned car, to your pistol, and then trying to silently dispatch a Freaker. If you don’t land the headshot, you’re probably then going to have to deal with a second Freaker, and then a third, and then a fourth, and maybe you have a swarm on your hand.

However, the full blown hordes seen in the reveal demo for Days Gone were one of the main attractions for many leading up to the game’s belated release, and they absolutely are in the full game too. Mowing down dozens, close to hundreds of Freakers is one of the absolute best spectacles I think I’ve ever had, even more so than in the similarly bonkers World War Z.

By far the biggest challenge in the game, the hordes are like massive, bitey Tetris blocks in that you have to figure out how best to deal with them as part of a constantly evolving puzzle. You’re pretty ill-equipped to handle them early on, as your guns really lack the sheer stopping power and clip size to put down any number of them to really give yourself time to breathe, which is why spacing and proper planning is absolutely vital.

You even really have to watch your stamina so that you can keep skedaddling away from them while picking them off by abusing your Focus, which is effectively Bullet Time, the coolest, most empowering, most cool video game mechanic of all time.

Let’s be real. Slow mo is the great equaliser when it comes to video game difficulty. It can make even the stinkiest of trash cans feel completely empowered, and you’re going to need it to deal with the hordes here — and also just feel really cool sorry but it ***ing rules OK. It ruled in Max Payne in 2001 and it rules in Days Gone in 2024.

What rules maybe a little bit less in Days Gone is the skill system to help you contend with the Freakers and bandits across Oregon. You level up for killing Freakers and completing missions, with you then able to dump points into survival, ranged, and melee categories. There’s nothing too fantastical in here, but you can do things like improve your capabilities in Focus, reload faster, hit harder, regain stamina quicker, and much more to make Deacon feel less like that coughing baby. There are some odd choices, particularly the skill that lets you do more do damage with your default knife when you will be way, way past the point of needing it, but there’s a definite improved feel to the gameplay once you’ve levelled up a good chunk of times.

You have many tools to help you deal with the Freaker hordes in Days Gone, but the great thing is that you can mostly go about sorting them out in any way you see fit. Once you’ve upgraded Deacon and his arsenal, running and gunning will likely see you through most problems with the hordes, but levels like the Sawmill…man they’re just what gaming is about.

The Sawmill was first introduced during that legendary gameplay demo, and all of its set piece potential is on full show in the finished product. All of the Freakers converge in a nest area in the middle when you rock up there, so how do you approach the situation? Do you throw a couple of napalm molotovs down to set fire to great chunks of them? OK, what’s your plan for the other 200 of them? Alright, proximity bombs, good idea, and then what about the other 175? Lead them into a remote bomb trap you laid on a pile of tree trunks and then trigger it when they get close to knock them down like it’s Wii Sports.

And even then, even when everything goes extremely right, which it rarely ever does, you still have dozens upon dozens of Freakers pretty much pouring out of the walls to get you and you almost hear the gnashing of their teeth right behind you. It gets your blood pumping like little else. It’s so good that I almost wish they’d made a horde mode with procedurally generated levels and Freakers, but at least Bend did add challenges to let fans replay setpieces and try out brand new scenarios.

Hordes aren’t the only attraction in Days Gone’s big, beautiful world, though.

 

Oregon Fishing

I wrote back in 2019 just how remarkably restrained Days Gone’s world feels, especially when compared to most other AAA games. I still think that’s true and I absolutely adore driving around Days Gone, taking part in activities and just soaking it all up…but there are certainly a few missed opportunities to make the most of big, beautiful Oregon.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a brilliant open world to drive around in. There’s a real feel to it, a sense of nature mixed with human and inhuman muckiness that feels completely its own. Sometimes it really is worth just standing around and letting the world tick over. Put on some headphones if you have them.

It’s also a pretty reactive, alive world, too. On a small level, I killed a wolf (he pulled a gun on me) when I was desperately searching for some fuel early on. When I returned later it had attracted a Freaker, who was eating the corpse. On a larger scale, I found a survivor trapped in a car while trying to escape a swarm and tried to free him, only for that earlier swarm to converge on me, so I had to flee, but not before an ambush sniper shot me off my bike, and then that swarm caught up to me again. With barely any fuel left because of that awesome push/pull when it comes to the bike mechanics that I talked about earlier, I had to choose between finally returning to the survivor and dealing with the rest of that swarm, or booking it to the nearest fuel source.

While it’s no Skyrim in terms of the joy of exploration, where you point at the nearest horizon and wonder what’s beyond it, backwoods Oregon is also a pretty inviting world to explore. There’s not huge amounts of hidden stuff to find, but there’s clever contextual hints like blinking flashlights, which does make sense in a post-apocalypse, that guides you towards hidden locations and collectibles. At night, lit campfires off the road also tell you to drive thatta way, often helping you to find the next bandit camp. It’s all pretty smart, and a lot of systems like this feed into each other in Days Gone.

Take, for instance, the nests, which you have to clear in order to fast travel to new areas. Unless you’ve cleared a bandit camp, you really won’t know what you’re up against so you have to skulk around on foot in order to find the nests and then use a molotov to clear them. But once you run out of molotovs, you then have to start investigating some of the nearby buildings in order to find the ingredients in order to craft more, further making you explore and feel a real dependence on your bike.Similarly, you do often have to clear routes in tunnels in order to be able to drive through them and access new areas, and any game that calls to mind the tense tunnel sequence in 28 Days Later is pretty alright by me.

As much as I might grow tired of Ubisoft’s open world formula, I will never get tired of that Far Cry method of clearing camps of idiots however I see fit either. Just like with hordes, there’s all kinds of ways of approaching bandit camps that will inevitably end with you just going into Focus and shooting everyone in the head anyway. Still fun, though.

And though stealth doesn’t feel very, let’s say brilliant, which makes it even odder that Bend made it the basis for some extremely boring main story missions again and again and again, it’s still an option for those that want to stab dudes in the ear somewhat reliably.

You’re clearing the bandit camps for a couple of reasons: the first is so that you can fill in your map with key places, and the second is so that you can unlock new crafting blueprints for things like traps, bolts, and so on.

Luckily, you cleared those bandit camps mentioned earlier to also help you find NERO camps, which is where you can get your hands on injectors to increase your health, stamina, or Focus meters after you solve little puzzles to turns on generators, replace fuses, and also disable loudspeakers so that you don’t immediately bring a swarm down on you. I really enjoy these.

Now, I hate open world clutter. Hate it. It’s nice to look at Days Gone’s mini-map and not feel like I need to declare a second job. But like I said…Days Gone could have done just a bit more to make the world feel more worth fully exploring.

I think mayyyybe the biggest flaw Days Gone has is that loot just generally isn’t worth your effort. Like, for instance, there’s no real sense of intrigue to be had in creeping around most of the buildings in the game, because 99.9999% of the time you’re just going to find a can or bottle for crafting. What is this, Project X? Sure, IPCA tech found on the bodies of certain scientists can help you unlock a secret weapon, but where is the rest of it?

And the fact that basically all of the loot you do find feeds into the game’s just functional crafting system doesn’t help, either. I don’t know when this kind of system got into AAA open world games, but I wish it would get out, the kind where you completely zone out and pick up endless amounts of nothing that you cannot even remember the purpose of, I feel like something’s gone wrong with game design somewhere. After clearing out a bunch of bandits and holding square over their corpses again and again to painstakingly loot the frankly litter they carry, I am reminded of the fact that all of us have sands of time that are slowly, surely trickling away, and those sands probably shouldn’t be spent on finding fertilizer in the pockets of murderers.

And while there are collectibles you can find, like a memento from Deacon’s past or a landmark, it’s a couple of button presses before you can actually view what they are, so they’re immediately dead to me. I feel like there’s a massive missed opportunity here: music tracks.

Apart from his love for Sarah and his hatred of modern technology, players never really get much of an insight into what Deacon likes, just the things he hates. All we know of him is that he rides bikes and his wife. If we had either cassette tapes or audio CDs to collect around random derelict houses that are only the kind of tracks that he likes, then that’d be a really welcome window into his personality. You could even have to collect batteries to keep them playing, giving you another reason to keep scavenging around for things other than an old tube of mayo and a half-used condom. I’m reminded of that scene in Lost when Hurley’s CD player finally gives out after it was used for so long to set the mood for the survivors. That did so much to give the show and its people character, and you could even hire an in-universe band like Old Gods of Asgard in Alan Wake to get around the usual licensing kerfuffle. I dunno. It just feels like there’s something not quite there that should be.

That said, there’s still plenty of immersion to be had in simply driving around and hearing that soundtrack kick in. It is a beautiful score, and composer Nathan Whitehead has really made a soundscape that deserves more love and attention, just like the game itself No matter what, though, we can all agree collectible music tracks would be better than basically being forced into listening to Radio Free Oregon.

 

1827 Days Gone…So What?

What did I learn from my second Days Gone playthrough, then? Well, the first is that I really hate re-reading any of my own work that’s more than like 12 hours old and the second is that Days Gone is still just a really, really fantastic game with amazing combat once it gets cooking, a fascinatingly flawed protagonist who has his moments, and a simply incredible spectacle quite a lot of the time.

It’s easy to look at this flawed gem and see some rough spots you can buff out. Like, there’s a lot of dissonance quite often, where it feels like stuff got chopped and changed around way too much during production. Take this clip for instance, in which I am driving away from a Ripper camp at night with nobody chasing me, only for it to immediately transition into a cutscene in the morning with Fury Road behind me.

And there are just places where it doesn’t feel like the different members of the team even talked to each other at all. You’re telling me multiple people at Bend looked at this here and approved it?

And despite all of the many patches to get the game into a decent state, there are still a handful of bugs for the PC build too.

And yet, and yet, and yet, despite so many flaws and odd decisions, I really found it impossible to not be charmed by Days Gone all over again this second go around.

Isn’t perfection a little bit boring sometimes? Even some of the most revered pieces of media of all time have long ass goofs lists on IMDb. In 1999’s The Mummy, at around 46 minutes in, this guy’s peen pops out.

I will not elaborate.

Days Gone got my blood pumping like few games ever have and I really grew to just love driving around Oregon, getting to know its cast of characters and soaking in what is really still something quite different to most open world games. It was like it was all completely fresh in my mind, but that might be because I am now over 30 and yesterday’s lunch is like a Rorschach painting.

A lot can change in half a decade, and you tend to appreciate the amount of human endeavour poured into things as you mature. And I think Days Gone has matured remarkably well, like a fine wine. Or at least moonshine.

I look at some of the ways it works, what it does, what it tries to do and I am just staggered by it all. The level of detail here is nuts. And this is while considering its relatively low budget compared to the industry changers like Red Dead Redemption 2, which had more money dumped into it than a celebrity NFT grift.

Some games are just made to tick boxes, to hit numbers, to just be…mulch for the content mill. I don’t think you could ever say that of Days Gone. =

It’s clear that a lot of love, time and effort has been poured into Days Gone to the point where you really hope Bend gets to give this IP a second chance. And there’s a lot about it that deserves your love in 2024 and beyond.

But not Skizzo. F*** you, Skizzo.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.

Editor-in-Chief