Hands-On With Days Gone

Before its highly-anticipated debut, the amazing Sony team gave us the opportunity to preview Days Gone, during their PlayStation Exclusive Showcase. The experience was riveting, challenging, and required way more strategy than I ever thought I’d need, going in.

Since debuting at E3 2016, with that memorable horde trailer, Days Gone has been at the top of everyone’s must-play list.  Now, after a long, winding road that took 6 years of development, the team at Bend Studios, in Oregon, can finally breathe a sigh of relief, because Days Gone finally releases next week.

The preview was separated into two parts. The first placed me in a tutorial mission toward the beginning of the game. Deacon is searching for a part to fix his bike, but unfortunately the garage he needs to explore is infested with Freakers (zombies). Thanks to a distraction from his biker brother, Boozer, the area becomes a little less crowded, making exploration possible.

What I learned throughout this mission from Game Director, Jeff Ross, is that Bend Studios developed this game to adapt to any play-style. If you want to go in guns blazing, you can. If you prefer a stealthier, less confrontational method, that’s available too. The completion of activities is completely up to you.

That being said, there are consequences to attacking Freakers head on. For starters, the more noise you make, the more you’ll attract hordes, humans, and all manner of other creatures out to kill you. If that’s not bad enough, Days Gone is a full on survival game, meaning resources are slim and hard to find. Therefore, you may find yourself short on ammo, if you approach a situation with a destructive mindset.

As this is a survival game, Days Gone doesn’t sport any superpowers or abilities when it comes to combat. The only exception to this would be the limited Focus feature which briefly slows down time to help aim in a volatile situation. Other than that, Bend Studios tried to make this game as realistic as possible.

One of the cool aspects of the gameplay that stuck out to me is the revolutionary way the developers made switching between melee weapons and firearms. By simply pressing R2, players can casually switch from a firearm to a melee weapon. To re-equip, just aim with L2 and whatever previous firearm you had will be equipped. In all my years of gaming, I’ve never seen a smooth transition like that and I never knew I needed it, until now.

As for the enemies you’ll fight with these weapons, Days Gone features an array of enemies from Freakers, to Humans, to…well, let’s call them “Enhanced” Wildlife. Sometimes you’ll see them come at you head-on, while other enemies will wait until you’re vulnerable to attack (like the child-like Freakers, known as Newts). Furthermore, human enemies that can strategize will lay traps on the road to spring when you least expect it. The point is, danger is everywhere in Days Gone.

While danger and survival is the all-encompassing theme of Days Gone, there is plenty of beauty in this vast, lush environment of Oregon. Since Bend Studios is based in Oregon, they selected real-life landmarks to import into this post-apocalyptic society. In fact, this environment is so big your standard bike, with no frills or upgrades, can’t go from one corner of the map to the other on a full tank of gas. The scale is significant.  

Speaking of your bike, since this is a game where Biker culture is featured prominently, Deacon’s plays a critical role in the game. Not only is it your primary mode of transportation, but it’s also where you save progress and fast travel to locations. It can even be upgraded and outfitted with additional ammo to help in a pinch. That said, make sure you save some supplies for upgrading your greatest commodity.

I realize that I haven’t spoken too much on the first mission, and that’s by design. The full campaign is roughly 30 hours long and I want to make sure that you experience all 30 of those hours without any spoilers from yours truly. I will say, though, that there will be times in the game where Deacon changes his attire, although there are no perks that come with different clothing. In fact, Bend Studios researched the idea of player customization and found that it took away from the biker culture that’s part of Deacon’s identity. So, don’t expect any customization.

While I won’t speak about the small bit of campaign I played through, though it’s pretty gnarly, I will talk about the second part of the demo, facing the horde. Hordes of Freakers are a main part of the game, as they can appear in various places at various times, based on what’s happening with the situation you’re in. The number of Freakers in any amount of Horde varies, but the one I took on held about 300 of them.  

To say that facing this horde was stressful, yet invigorating would be an understatement.

On my first attempt, I tried setting up traps before the Freakers noticed me, only to get too close and get massacred in about 2 minutes. My second attempt didn’t fare any better because Freakers can climb and I didn’t expect that getting to higher ground meant literally nothing. My third attempt was a bit better, as I was able to survey the area while I was running for my life. I’d eventually get caught and discuss strategy with Ross, who was really encouraging the whole time. Finally, on the fourth try, I played to the environment perfectly.

First, I set up proximity bombs all along a trench, then set the horde off by getting close and drawing them to my trap. All of those bombs in that confined space ended up killing about 20% of the horde. From there, it was a lot of running, using Focus, and blowing up other canisters in the area. I also utilized choke points to my advantage to pick off more Freakers.

Somehow, at one point, I was able to hack at the horde so much that the remaining Freakers couldn’t find me. I used that to set up more traps and ultimately shoot down the rest. There are few moments, in this world, as gratifying as taking down an entire horde of Freakers.

Days Gone is set to release next Friday, April 26, 2019 only on Playstation 4.  From my time with the game and all the trailers we’ve seen so far, I can safely say that this is going to be yet another must-own Playstation exclusive.