Several hours into Days Gone, you find yourself picking lavender in a picturesque Pacific Northwest field. It’s the sort of mission objective that’d feel tedious or arbitrary in most open-world games – just another fetch quest to check off an icon-cluttered map. Bend Studio’s open-world action-adventure sidesteps this familiar flaw, however, organically tying the simple task to its story and gameplay. The short mission presents a tender, character-building moment between biker protagonist Deacon St. John and his wife Sarah, while also teaching the player how to heal wounds with the herbs.
Days Gone’s quest structure – which smartly avoids placing missions into “main” and “side” categories – flows like this throughout the lengthy campaign. Various narrative threads are there for the pulling, but none feel like they’re padding out the experience until you get to the “good stuff”. Whether you’re picking flowers or setting fires to root out the game’s zombie-like Freakers, every action feels like it’s, er, fleshing out the story, gameplay, or your character.
Much credit is due to voice actor Sam Witwer, who injects a tonne of emotion and nuance into Deacon. Based on disappointing pre-release demos of the game, the gruff biker bro had the potential to be one of the most unlikable characters in recent memory; so it’s especially surprising – and satisfying – to watch him grow into one of the most human heroes to ever wake up on the wrong side of the apocalypse.
Brings enough new ideas to the undead apocalypse to make it well worth the ride.
The game’s second best character is Deacon’s motorcycle. Transportation in open-world titles is often treated as just that – a means of getting around and little more. Your bike becomes your best buddy in Days Gone, however, serving not only as your go-to ride, but also a two-wheeled warrior. Whether you’re turning foes into pulpy road kill or hitting top speed to evade a rampaging horde, the bike handles beautifully.
It also taps brilliantly into the game’s survival side, breaking down when its engine needs repair or stalling when its tank’s running on empty. This might sound like a drag, but some of the most immersive, pulse-quickening moments come when you’re staring at a dipping gas gauge needle, desperately hoping to reach a spot to safely refuel. Few things are as frightening as searching for petrol in the dead of night, wondering when you’ll be noticed by the infected foes shuffling through the surrounding wilderness.
These moments – which become all the more terrifying when a sudden downpour strikes – are nicely countered by the motorcycle’s rewarding progression path. Nitrous boosts, sturdier frames, stickier tires, faster engines, ammo-holding saddle bags and, yes, larger capacity gas tanks can all be purchased and upgraded. When not surviving the end of days from behind the handlebars, Days Gone arms you with a variety of ranged and melee weapons. The former pack a nice, responsive punch, while the latter delivers some of the most visceral kills this side of a spiked baseball bat (which can actually be crafted in the game.)
Days Gone doesn’t quite live up to the legacy – or level of polish – of recent PlayStation 4 exclusives Spider-Man, God of War, and Horizon Zero Dawn. Its load screens are a little long, its audio bugs annoying, and its story occasionally too self-serious. And while its Freakers come in a fantastic variety of nightmare-inducing flavours, its human threats are a bit of a snooze.
If you’re a fan of both biker culture and opening zombies from crotch to cranium, Days Gone has got you covered. Even if you don’t consider yourself a potential prospect though, Deacon’s journey brings enough new ideas to the undead apocalypse to make it well worth the ride.