About Days Gone
Desolate wastelands filled with death and destruction make for interesting insights into the human condition. Utilitarian moral values often reign supreme, where actions are evaluated based upon their ability to provide the best consequences.
Moral values, however, are fluid in nature. What is good and bad? What are the best consequences for the individual, the group or the wider population? Days Gone, a Zombie….sorry ‘Freaks’ action survival game developed by Bend Studio explores the moral complexity of survival within a post-pandemic modern America.
The background story
Our anti-hero protagonist is Deacon St. John, a patched member of the outlaw biker gang Mongrels. As one of few survivors of the initial ‘freaks invasion years prior, Deacon St. John ensures survival as a bounty hunter for the few remaining outposts of civilization within the desolate wasteland of the pacific northwest.
Deacon’s primary goal within this wasteland is to find his (presumed deceased) wife Sarah St. John, a botanist who barely survived the initial Freaks invasion. During flashback cut scenes, we learn that Deacon escorted a wounded Sarah to a government helicopter during the initial invasion.
With Sarah seemingly safe in the hands of a rescue helicopter crew, Deacon stays within the chaos of the city to protect his fellow biker outlaw friend William ‘Boozer’ Gray.
The gameplay begins after an undetermined number of years pass. Deacon learns that the refugee camp the helicopter was travelling towards was overrun. With Sarah presumed dead, Deacon continues to look for clues to her whereabouts whilst ensuring the survival of his outlaw brother Boozer.
Many years have passed since the initial invasion, which ensures inventory, ammunition and resources are in short supply.
Melee weapons and resources
Items degrade quickly upon use and can be repaired with scraps. This will become a necessity, as often these weapons will perish after only a handful of Freaks.
Ranged weapons are loud, have small magazines and attract attention, which will force players to utilize a sneak strategy to survive. Taking on any more than 3 Freaks at a time without a plethora of ammunition and throw-able items will often guarantee death.
Experience points earned through milestones and missions will provide skill points via levelling up. These skill points can be used within a three-pronged skill tree, allowing Deacon to upgrade his abilities within melee, ranged weaponry and survival.
As Deacon grows stronger, as do the Freaks. Various styles of Freaks are introduced, which all require slightly different strategies to best.
One of Days Gone’s more memorable additions are Hordes, where potentially hundreds of Freaks amass and slowly drift the wasteland. My first encounter with an in-game horde at around the 8-hour mark is truly a terrifying encounter, as it was clear I absolutely no chance at defeating such a large group of Freaks with such limited resources. I hid, waited and sneaked away to safety.
Careful selection of weapons, environment and devices can defeat a Horde. My first defeat of a Horde utilized a large collection of weapons whilst creating choke points. It was an incredibly satisfying moment to take down 97 Freaks within short a short time with an extremely calculated strategy.
As a biker, it’s hardly surprising that Deacon’s primary mode of transportation within this wasteland is by motorcycle. With such a large map to explore, the upkeep and fueling of your motorcycle is essential. Users can use ‘scrap’ to maintain the bike’s condition, as well as refuel at petrol stations, scavenged petrol cans or at outposts (for a fee).
Bikes can also be upgraded at outposts, which will increase the performance, change the visuals or provide the ability to store additional ammunition.
Each outpost has its own ‘credits’ that Deacon earns via missions. These missions also provide the ability to increase trust with each outpost. Trust levels unlock new bike and weapon vendor purchase options.
Each outpost has its own credit and trust system, which makes sense in a world devoid of banks and ATM machines. Whilst this means you’ll rarely purchase the first outpost, there aren’t any outpost exclusive items to worry too much about.
Days Gone features a solid roster of non-player characters to interact with. The ability to take on bounty jobs or search for explorers allows Days Gone to explore some interesting narrative choices. One particular outpost instils a forced work ethic to anyone who enters their midst. You work, you eat, with many lamenting the treatment they receive and gruelling workload put upon them.
Character and narrative development
Many missions explore this morally grey area for Deacon. Whilst Deacon is an outlaw, he struggles with rescue missions that border on slave trading due to the abhorrent conditions thrust upon survivors.
Yet many of the seemingly abhorrent choices made by Deacon and company are ultimately for the greater good; survival. Outpost crops require farmers, thieves and murderers require bounty hunters. Deacon struggles with some these harsh realities often.
However, this isn’t applied universally and it creates a fragmented narrative. Deacon shows genuine concern during random encounters whilst rescuing civilians, yet takes great pleasure in the hunting of ‘bad guys’, who operate in the form of either radical semi-religious ‘Rippers’ or generic gangs and outposts.
One could argue that these outposts are simply surviving much like Deacon and his associates are. Many of the choices Deacon makes you could easily construe as wrong. With many of Deacon’s choices, especially as an outlaw, operating in morally grey areas it was disappointing to experience such generic ‘bad guys’ outside of the Freaks.
While Deacon is an unlawful man living in a suddenly unlawful world. Bend Studio have done a commendable job with crafting a semi-likable, multi-dimensional character out of what could have easily been a biker cliche. Sam Witwer is an easily recognizable voice and motion capture for Deacon St. John and is an absolute pleasure to experience. His talent brings a nuance and personality to Deacon that could have easily been lost with a lesser actor.
Days Gone share pitfalls that are in abundance within its peers. Namely, weapon control and melee combat.
Freaks, much like other ‘Zombies’ require headshots to bring them down quickly. This can be nigh on impossible to do when many are charging at you at speed. Early in the game, you may find death comes not from being outmanned, but from simply missing your shot and fumbling to switch to melee or reloading.
Thankfully, Days Gone has a variety of controller settings. ‘Aim Snap’ is an aim assist option that is selectable regardless of difficulty. This setting alone ensured my ability to clear large amounts of Freaks with efficiency. I would highly recommend using this regardless of your difficulty preferences.
Final (initial) thoughts
With thirty hours of gameplay completed so far, Days Gone is an enjoyable, but not groundbreaking action adventure title. Its exploration of moral choices within its wasteland is enjoyable, if not contradictory. Unlocking Horde combat has been a highlight so far.
Days Gone feels like a fine addition to the established genre of Zombie…sorry Freaks action adventure.
A final review of the primary storyline will be provided upon primary story completion.