The other day I was trying to explain to my wife that I really only play a certain type of video game. I like to play games that are deeply immersive, flexible in their playing style and most of all, have a good story. I like to live in these worlds a couple of hours at a time, letting myself fully digest the landscapes, the characters and whatever missions lay in front of me. I think she understood what I was saying, but it’s hard to describe what this really means.
For me, games are less about experiencing a playable movie and more about being fully transported. I like to get lost in a game where I have weird dreams about it, where I can disconnect fully from the real world and live somewhere else for a time. My character’s priorities become my priorities. To me, a good game is, yes, a soup of mechanics and visuals that work together nicely, but it’s also a really good-ass story.
The last year or so has been pretty bitchin’ for games like this. I felt real, genuine protective father instincts playing GOD OF WAR. SPIDER-MAN had me looking at New York City in a way I hadn’t in years. FAR CRY 5 had me asking questions about faith and sacrifice that were thought-provoking and scary. Even ASSASSIN’S CREED ODYSSEY, a series whose story I usually Hold B To Skip, pulled me in in a way that had me invest almost 90 hours into it. When I first heard about DAYS GONE, and the level of open world goodies it was said to provide, I was pretty excited, but for entirely different reasons. At long last, there was a game that had elements of who I actually am, but in an immersive, sensational world. It was, quite literally, a dream come true.
If you were to make a checklist of the things I want out of a video game, they’re pretty easy to identify. I like simple upgrade systems. I like to be able to add health, mag capacity, etc. I actually like grinding for upgrades. Second, I like third-person shooters. Nothing against the first person, but for me, it feels more immersive to be able to see my character. That’s entirely backward, I know, but that’s how it is. I like open worlds, but not so huge you can ignore half of it. I never finished SKYRIM because there was just too much to do, so I like a big but not humungous map for exactly this reason. Give me a lot to do, but make it all count.
And most importantly, I like games that have a character I can get behind. As much as I love customizing a character and building on it, I prefer it when I can play as a character that is well written, and we (I) are given the opportunity to make choices that define them. As details about DAYS GONE trickled out, it seemed like all these elements would be part of the core game, and that more than piqued my interest. I know it’s a bit cliche at this point, but I fucking love zombies. I have a Dawn of the Dead tattoo, for cryin’ out loud. I will play just about any game with zombies. Full stop.
When it comes to things I like in my actual life, two of the top things are forests and motorcycles. To me, the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful place in the world. The endless woods and tranquility of an America that is still wild is so deeply beautiful to me, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be. There’s something about the gloom, the smell of pine and the feeling of rain makes me feel at ease. I go visit that part of the country whenever I can.
For anyone that knows me, they know I’m very into motorcycles. I love riding motorcycles, talking about motorcycles, reading about them, looking at them, everything. Over the years, bike culture and all that comes with it has become a bit of a lifestyle for me. Quite honestly, my dream is tearin’ ass through a woodsy highway through Washington state on a Bonneville. With all these elements together, you can imagine what was going through my head when the news about DAYS GONE came out.
Open world. Zombies. You’re an outlaw biker. In Oregon.
It was quite literally a dream come true. It was like Bend had a computer readout of my brain and made a game specifically suited to my tastes. I’m not a god of war or a super hero, but I am a biker that loves the woods. As someone who likes to visit other worlds, it’s ironic that I was most excited to visit one that was closest to my own.
A lot of bullshit came out about DAYS GONE when it finally dropped. They said it was generic and dumb. It had too many bugs and was nothing special, and everyone should wait until it hits the bargain bin. I never 100% trust reviews, and besides, I had been dying to play this game for almost 2 years. Once I actually started playing it, the complaints made sense, but I didn’t care.
Bottom line, I fucking loved this game.
You might have to push start it.
The first couple of hours of DAYS GONE were actually pretty challenging. Your character is weak as baby shit for quite a while. You can get overwhelmed easily, your bike is slow as fuck and you can’t craft anything. Ammo runs out fast and you end up trying to kill most guys with a shitty table leg instead of a gun. I was actually a little worried at first because things were progressing so slowly. I found myself scavenging stuff off dead enemies more than I was grinding my stats, and starting to figure that’s just how this game was. Once I really started to make some progress, things did get a little easier, but the slow pace of the leveling system was pretty great.
Games like ASSASSIN’S CREED have the opposite problem. If you do enough side missions early, you basically achieve living god status and the rest of the game feels like a slog just to get the achievements. DAYS GONE is the exact opposite of this. I probably put 80 hours into this game, and I didn’t max out my stats or even once breeze through a fight. Even at the very end, I still felt at least somewhat challenged.
Do the Ton
The leveling system was definitely different than anything I’ve played in a while, because it was soooooo sloooooow. But in a good way! I did pretty much every mission, cashed in my bounties and loot and it still took huge portions of the game to unlock better parts for my bike. I didn’t even get the best engine parts until the last few hours. Other games would have probably given this to me way earlier depending on how hard I grinded.
DAYS GONE smartly made me earn it, and it made the experience much more rewarding. The bike overall is pretty interesting. You start off with a fairly generic cruiser. It’s slow and handles like shit, but that’s on purpose. As I continued to get more parts for it, it completely changed. I went from a Honda Shadow type to a full-on adventure bike. By the end, my bike looked like a Triumph Tiger with full fairings, dirt tires, the works. My bike went through a physical journey as I went through the story. It was very cool.
Kiss the Mirror
Overall, the motorcycle controls in DAYS GONE are shockingly accurate. You’re riding through the woods, so there are bound to be all sorts of twisties and curves for you to chew up. Typically in video games, riding a motorcycle is a physics-melting nightmare. DAYS GONE took the care to make it a bit more realistic. You CAN dump the bike if you overcook a turn. You WILL die if high side over the bars. That extra element of danger made the sometimes overly long drives between mission points more exciting. But even riding it had more care put into than most other games. Countersteering, leading with your head, etc is all there just like a real motorcycle. As a real-life rider, I loved this. I live in New York City where I can only ride a few months out of the year, so this was very much appreciated.
The Great Northern
As I said, I think the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful part of these United States. I think DAYS GONE did an amazing job of having a super varied playing field in a relatively small map. GTV 5 did something similar, but there’s a lot to look at here. There are lush forests, deserts, snowy mountain passes and boggy lakes. Each one has different levels of traction for my bike, so each area had a different play style.
On top of that, each one has differences between night and day. Riding in the forest at night meant you couldn’t see shit past your own headlight, but riding in the desert at night meant everything had a pale glow of the moonlight. Your surroundings were never boring, especially because each one had varying levels of decay and apocalyptic obstacles. The highways have burned out cars blocking the road, the forest has felled trees that can kill you if you hit it going too fast. I really liked how mission to mission, the terrain was changing along with you.
Not Bad For An Outlaw Biker
In some of the reviews, they painted Deacon St. John as just another generic white guy hero who sucks. I absolutely disagree with this. Sam Witwer, aka Starkiller, brought so much to the role through his voice acting, Deacon was a complicated and conflicted character. His arc of turning from an uncaring drifter to a dependable leader didn’t feel forced or by the numbers. The slow burn of the mission design really helped to earn his ending. It was cool to see how you can be muttering to yourself about how awesome it is to kill an entire Marauder camp but at the same time make confessions to your wife’s tombstone, and it all totally fit together.
Witwer’s contributions really made the writing sing, and by the end, I felt like I truly witnessed a hero’s journey. While Deacon saves the day over and over again and builds relationships with the people at the camps, there is a very clear yet not overdone sense of his fear of getting close to someone. He’s afraid of committing for very legit reasons, and this is the foundation that Witwer and the writing team built the character around, and I found myself rooting for him even when he made a less than great choice.
Deacon is human, something you don’t see that often in game protagonists. He’s also a bad motherfucker, so that helps.
Brothers In Arms
Of all the storylines in DAYS GONE, I think my favorite is the one with Boozer. To me, the biggest and most interesting storyline in the game is the love story between Deacon and Boozer. I feel like we don’t see enough stories about the deep, platonic love between two men. The love that Deacon has for his best friend is just as deep and centering as the love he has for Sarah, his wife. This is no more apparent than in the first couple minutes of the game. Deacon choosing to help Boozer instead of getting on the chopper with Sarah sets a precedent that stays with the rest of the story.
Almost every mission in the first two-thirds is motivated by protecting Boozer. Every decision is based on a singular goal, and that’s to keep Boozer alive so that you can literally run away together. This kind of love between two male best friends is powerful, and it’s indicative of who Deacon is as a character. He put Boozer, and by extension the club, first. While the rules and mechanisms of the Mongrels MC would most likely dictate that Deacon had to take care of Boozer above all else, it’s pretty apparent that this was to Deacon’s benefit.
His determination to help Boozer is the source of his strength, and as Boozer becomes more independent, Deacon is finally able to apply that same care to others. To be honest, if Sarah wasn’t a factor, this love story would have been just as compelling. Witwer’s voice acting with the Boozer stuff approached LAST OF US levels in quality.
DAYS GONE goes out of its way to never use the z-word. And they shouldn’t, because this game doesn’t have zombies in it. Yeah, “freakers” is sorta lame, especially after you hear it for the 10,000th time, but make no mistake — they are dangerous. Even with fully upgraded health, you shouldn’t try to fight more than like 10 at a time. They are designed to swarm and overwhelm, and those are the weaker ones.
I will say that I was a little bummed out about the lack of diverse enemies. All the human enemies were exactly the same, but the freaker enemies were pretty run of the mill. There’s a common one, a strong one, a really strong one, and one that can attract others. We’ve seen this in DEAD ISLAND, LEFT 4 DEAD and basically every other zombie game in the last 10 years. Although, it doesn’t matter much when you have to literally fight three hundred of them at once. The hordes were genuinely pretty scary. Most players would have careful planning going into a horde fight, but I was a little less refined. I would throw an attractor, wait for them to pile up, toss a molotov, repeat. Once I got down to a few stragglers I’d just gun them all down while running in a circle. The only horde that genuinely gave me trouble was the sawmill one, and that was a story mission that was WAY late in the game, so that’s expected. Overall, despite a lack of diversity, there was always something lurking that could straight up kill you.
“St. John, got a job for you …”
The rides to and fro missions were pretty, but at times the missions could get a little tedious. There were really only a few types of missions — fetch, camp liberation, save the hostage and assassinate. Every time you think there couldn’t possibly be another mission like that, a call comes in on the radio with another one. And another one. And another one. There were lots of times that I thought the game was almost over but it turned that not only was there another half of the map I hadn’t gotten to yet, but the same quest giver had a bunch more shit for me to do. Don’t get me wrong, actually doing the mission was still fun, especially because you’d usually run into something else to do on the way there, but it felt a little repetitive after a while. I mean, SPIDER-MAN had the same issue, and that’s a “good” game. It’s the price of open world games like this. What you get in scale you lose in variety.
In short, DAYS GONE is a game made seemingly just for me. In a world where the gaming community is increasingly more critical, I feel like this game didn’t get a fair shake. However, the lukewarm press in no way impacted my experience. A game where you can cruise around Oregon on a motorcycle gunning down monsters is what my dreams are made out of, so it’s a fact that I had a very good time playing it. I’m interested to see what the DLC holds, and even more interested in a sequel. It sold an assload of units, so we’ll see what happens.
In the end, I put a lot of time into DAYS GONE, more than was required. But I was having so much fucking fun living out my dreams, I’m glad I did.