Ride Or Die: Days Gone Review
Recently, I found myself completing and obtaining the platinum for SIE Bend Studios’ Days Gone. It took me a lot longer than I had anticipated solely due to the fact that I underestimated the amount of content Bend would pack into their first foray in this console generation.
As most know, Bend Studio have been crunching away at Days Gone for quite a while. After releasing Uncharted: Golden Abyss for PlayStation Vita, the studio went radio silent. Since Days Gone is an unestablished IP that took the studio over five year's to develop, I had tempered expectations of what the final result would be.
When Days Gone was introduced, Bend Studio accompanied the announcement trailer with a 10-minute long gameplay demo in which our protagonist, Deacon St. John, fought a horde of “freakers” at a lumber mill. Seeing the gameplay demo, it was apparent that Days Gone was an ambitious project. Surely, if what we saw on screen was actual gameplay, Days Gone had to be a smaller project for the studio in order to deliver this type of pulse-pounding gameplay. Turns out, I was wrong—Days Gone has quite a lot packed in. However, I was partially correct, Days Gone is an ambitious game, for better or worse.
She Flies With Her Own Wings
Days Gone is centred around Deacon St. John, an army vet turned biker surviving in the outskirts of Oregon. Backed by his close friend, Boozer, the duo have become “Drifters” for the nearby settlements. As Drifters, Deacon and Boozer are heads for hire and usually tasked with collecting bounties—both alive and dead. It has been two years since the initial viral outbreak that has left civilization in ruin. While Deacon and Boozer have become a bit complaisant in the new world, Deacon is still haunted by the night of the outbreak.
During the outbreak, and the surrounding chaos, Deacon, Boozer, and Deacon’s wife, Sarah, struggle to escape the city of Farewell. After Sarah is injured, Deacon makes a last ditch effort to get her on to a nearby NERO (a militarized FEMA) helicopter. Conveniently enough, the helicopter can only stow two more passengers. Deacon stays behind with his brother-in-arms and promises to find his wife at a nearby NERO refugee camp.
As we get caught up with Deacon, we learn that the camp Deacon was supposed to meet Sarah was overrun. Everyone is gone and the state of the area is in disrepair. With lingering emotions, Deacon never loses hope of the possibility of his wife escaping in finding solitude. This is the kickoff to Days Gone. As Deacon is running the odd jobs for encampments, Deacon comes across a NERO helicopter flying by and finds that one of the NERO agents may have the answers he is looking for. This leads to an estimated 40-50 hour journey through the back roads of Oregon for our M.C. hero.
Oregon is a unique setting. Since Bend Studio is located in, Bend, Oregon, they were able to craft the world that was not only nice to look at but felt authentic. As you drive through the map, you’ll find small townships, rich forests, and mountainous trails. While not having any personal reference of Oregon, Days Gone captured how I imagined the Oregon wilderness looks.
Life As A Drifter
Running bounties and other odd jobs as a drifter is how we are introduced to a cast of settlement leaders. Each lie on different ends of the moral compass. One is a righteous, native leader, Iron Mike who leads the main encampment of the game. Another is a slave driver, Ada Tucker. We also meet the outspoken Mark Copeland. All three lead separate camps and their individual personalities and motives reflect on who Deacon is a person. Deacon is a morally-gray character. One with his own set of rules.
At first, I was not behind Deacon whatsoever. I found him to be bland and unlikeable. Although, the more time I spent with him, the more I grew to appreciate him as a character. As you interact with more characters, Deacon becomes fleshed out. You even get some backstory through flashback sequences. All in all, Sam Witwer did a phenomenal job in the role!
My only hangup with Deacon is how he is portrayed outside of cutscenes. When you’re exploring the open world, Deacon fills in the silence by talking or shouting to himself. Deacon, while a bit rough around the edges, is typically a fairly down to earth guy. He’s got composure and is disciplined. In the open world though, Deacon becomes a bit maniacal.
Mark Copeland will often air long radio transmissions throughout the game. Deacon will often vent his disagreement by shouting and go on large tangents to no one as he rides through the world. Deacon regularly shouts and screams after killing a member of the Rippers, a rival community who fetishizes the freakers. Regardless if Deacon is being stealthy, he will begin shouting obscenities over the dead body. The contrast between Deacon in the story and Deacon in the open world often pulled me out of the experience.
Each camp leader will send Deacon on a variety of missions. Most involve tracking down an individual or taking down a hostile camp. While not running missions as a drifter, Deacon scavenges for items while taking down the never-ending threat that is the freakers. Despite what Bend insists, freakers are zombies, albeit smarter zombies. Hunting in the daytime, the freaker population is lower, yet stronger. However, as the sun sets, most freakers awaken from their slumber and gather to create hordes. Interacting with hordes is where Days Gone shines the most.
Left to your own devices, Deacon will come across large waves of freakers on the dirt roads. During the early stages of the game, defeating a horde is an unbelievably difficult task. Even when you are fully equipped at the end, one wrong move and you will be overrun. Being victorious during these optional encounters not only depend on using the full array of items but formulating a plan beforehand. Putting together a strategy of where to lay bombs and how to outsmart the freakers is just as much fun as flipping the switch and becoming Rambo. In the late game, a few hordes are injected into the narrative and the numbers encountered are staggering. The problem is, that while hordes and enemy encampments are personal highlights of the game, the narrative forces you to steer the wheel away and focus on the main campaign.
There were times that my map was void of any objectives. Optional or not, after completing a certain mission, or cleaning up the map, I had to wait for the game to point me in the next direction. Days Gone lays its story out in an overly complex and inter-weaving method. Complete a mission and a narrative thread will go up in percentage. As the game progresses, it becomes hard to differentiate which path you are following and why. This is a prime example of how Bend’s ambition got in its own way. The system is unique and Bend did their best to lay it out in a straightforward way, colour-coding each thread. Once you complete a mission, a breakdown for each appears onscreen showing the advancement. However, as you get into the thick of it, there are so many open threads, that it all became too noisy to follow.
In a way, Bend Studio packed what could have fairly been enough to two tighter games into one. I reached the end of one major story beat and thought to myself, “Wow, this is it, we’re near the finish line!” when in reality, the game opened up a new can of worms and kept on trucking along. That same thought popped into my head a couple more times near the real ending as well. That’s not to say the story is not engaging, in fact, Days Gone has a fairly interesting story. While the zombie genre is pretty saturated, Bend included a few twists and turns to keep it from feeling samey. Plus, having it focus on bikers and M.C. culture is quite refreshing.
Hittin’ The Open Road
Deacon St. John and Boozer are both former members of the Mongrels M.C. Due to their lineage of riding choppers and being outlaws, their main form of traversing the back roads of Oregon is by bike. Your bike is an important piece of the story and becomes a character unto itself. As you complete missions, you’ll earn the trust and respect of all camps. Aside from earning currency by being a drifter, collecting freaker ears can also be turned in for cash. Deacon can purchase weapons, but more importantly upgrade his bike.
You’ll upgrade the motor, the frame, and add nitrous and your bike will begin to handle better and become faster. In a way, your bike feels like your horse did in Red Dead Redemption 2. You are dependant on the bike, and it is dependant on you. While your bike can’t obviously die, it can run out of gas and need repairs if you damage it. Thankfully gas and scrap are found throughout the map and not once in my playthrough did I ever find myself stranded without resources nearby.
Interestingly enough, as you begin to understand the world of Days Gone, you’ll quickly realize that Deacon is not the only motorcycle enthusiast left. Turns out everyone and anyone uses motorcycles to get around. Not one car, not one van, just bikes––the loudest, and arguably unsafest form of transportation on the road. This through-line begs the audience to refrain from thinking too much about it. Late into the game, you’re offered a bit of exposition as to why motorcycles are preferred, but it is a bit silly at the end of the day.
Bumps On The Road
At the time of writing this, most of you may know Days Gone did not have the smoothest launch. As of this time, Days Gone has seen five major patches release in order to remedy the situation. The difference in quality is fairly significant. Players jumping in on day one experienced issues that do not exist today. Bend Studio has been working at fixing most major bugs, however, it is still not a perfectly polished game as of yet.
Significant slowdowns and texture pop-ins were experienced throughout. It appeared the longer I had the game running, the most consistent the problem became. As I reached the end of the game, I had the game running for a few hours. By the last action sequence, frames were stuttering and character model textures were not loading. What should have been an exciting moment was unfortunately bogged down by performance issues that I hope Bend can find solutions for in the near future.
Days Gone shows promise, a lot of it. Bend Studio may have stumbled here and there but the final product is still a very respectable game at its core. Some technical problems may become a detractor for some, but for players that are able to see beyond the blemishes will find a game that is loaded with content and finds a way to add a own spin to the zombie genre.
My hope is that with open ears, Bend Studio is able to focus on the things that worked and didn’t in order to come back swinging with a sequel. Deacon and the cast of characters in Days Gone grew on me and I would love to see their development continue.
Available: April 26th, 2019