Hands-on with Days Gone’s treacherous, unpredictable open world

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Hands-on with Days Gone’s treacherous, unpredictable open world

There's no such thing as a routine mission in Bend Studio's upcoming post-apocalyptic PS4 exclusive

I’ve been counting the days until I could dig deeper into the post-apocalyptic world of Days Gone (note: it’s been 288 days). I talked Bend Studio into setting me loose in an updated build of the PS4 survival-action game due out on PS4 26th April. My hands-on time proved there’s more (much, much more) here than meets the eye.

My trek through Farewell, Oregon kicked off about an hour into the game. As biker-mercenary Deacon St. John, I stepped into a deadly open world populated by flesh-eating Freakers and roving bandits. A plethora of activities awaited me: bounty hunting, clearing out Freaker nests, investigating the fate of Deacon’s wife, and settling old scores.

These missions fit into threads dubbed, fittingly, “Storylines.” Storylines are Days Gone’s answer to the well-worn “quest” structures found in other open-world adventures. Tired of chasing a quest thread? Just hop to another Storyline and be on your way – the other stuff will be waiting for you when you’re good and ready. In a nice touch, you can access your Storyline progress anytime via a quick swipe across your DualShock 4’s touchpad.

Days Gone

Bend Studios’ decision to set the game in the developer’s backyard, US Pacific Northwest, was a wise one. The snow-capped mountains, sprawling trails, vast forests, and sand-swept high deserts are almost otherworldly in their beauty.

But danger is always close. I’m a few minutes into my play session, cruising the open road. I catch a flash of movement — the telltale red flicker of a laser sight — and before I can inhale I’m knocked off my bike by a marksman hidden in a tree ahead. As Deacon climbs to his feet, a crew of hatchet-wielding bandits close in to finish the job.

This was no scripted encounter, but a reminder that in Days Gone’s unpredictable world, threats can emerge in surprising ways. (postscript: I kicked their asses).

Later, I’m clearing out an ambush camp, using my SMG, Molotovs, and stealth kills to methodically take out the marauders lurking within. It’s routine stuff. I wipe out the lead baddy, grab his tire iron to redeem for a reward, and start to loot the immediate surroundings. So far, so good. That’s when five, then 10, then 20, then 50 Freakers leap up directly in front of me, drawn in by the commotion.

I stumble backward, blinking in disbelief as I blindly fire my SMG at the ever-growing crowd — doing a perfect imitation of every bad guy in every zombie movie moments before they’re ripped to pieces. I realize my only hope is to run for it. I sprint for my bike and have a moment to curse myself for parking it facing a wall, before I’m instantly overcome by a tidal wave of snapping jaws and flailing limbs. It’s an epic ending to an otherwise routine mission. In Days Gone, there’s no such thing.

Days Gone

A few other details that caught my eye:

Have an escape plan. You’ve got a gun, a bike, and a mission. Now all you need is a bug-out plan for when a Freaker horde descends through like a locust swarm. Where you park your bike, and what direction it’s pointed in when you do, is often more important than your weapon loadout. And remember: your bike is your save point!

A quick note on weapons. Weapons come in five different flavors, ranging from Level 1 (“Junk”) to Level 5 (“Special Forces Condition”). Days Gone gives generous and on-the-fly stat comparisons, but it won’t always pay to go for the highest DPS. Bullet penetration takes on life-or-death importance in Days Gone, letting you blast through Freaker ranks without burning through all your ammo.

Don’t kill time. You know the routine, honed over countless open-world games. You clean out an enemy outpost, then slowly tour the carnage, picking up every spare bullet, bandage, and crafting item that isn’t bolted down. In Days Gone, this approach can end in tragedy thanks to a roving Freaker swarms, infected wolves, or “Rager” bears. Be ready to grab whatever’s handy, and make a clean getaway at the first sign of trouble.

CQC basics. Melee scraps in Days Gone feel desperate and wild-eyed, with blows carrying real weight. You tap R2 to land knife slashes and axe swings on nearby melee combatants; Deacon auto-targets nearby foes, but you’ll need to press R1 to roll-dodge past incoming attacks. Throughout it all, you’ll need to monitor Deacon’s stamina bar.

Days Gone

The care and fueling of bikes. Bike reality #1: You’ll need to keep it gassed up. Duh. In a pinch, you can usually find gas cans around houses and buildings, or inside marauder camps. Of course, it’ll pay to upgrade your gas tank ASAP. Bike reality #2: your bike isn’t invincible; bang it up enough and it’ll stall out, forcing an emergency field repair. Drive safe, people!

Let’s get physical. Speaking of bikes, Days Gone isn’t trying to be an offroad motorbike simulator, but you’ll want to master its physics system so you can get the hell out of Dodge when the Freaker hordes descend. Rule #1: When making a jump, try to keep your bike parallel to the ground to minimize damage.

Hunting and gathering. You can hunt for food — deer, wolf, and more — then trade the meat in at encampments to earn credits and trust. You’ll want to build trust at encampments to unlock more potent upgrades for your bike and weapons.

Touching interface. You can access all critical menus (map, skills, Storylines, etc.) by swiping the touchpad across the four cardinal directions. It’s a futuristic touch, and one I’d love to see other games adopt. Another immersive touch: emergency radio transmissions broadcast via DualShock 4’s internal speaker.

Skills and experience. Advancing Storylines and drop enough enemies, and you’ll gain skill points that you can invest across three skill trees: ranged combat, melee combat, and survival. I became a more formidable fighter with skills that let me quickly execute enemies after breaking free from grapples, repairing damaged melee weapons, and gaining damage boosts. That’s just small sample — the skill trees looked pretty beefy.

It’s clear Bend Studio has been hard at work on the presentation, too. Days Gone shows off meticulously detailed rustic environments on PS4 Pro, complete with lush foliage, crumbling bluffs, and dust-choked roads. Look closely, and you’ll even see the individual pine needles that carpet many outdoor locations.

Bend Studio has leaned into the unpredictable threats and encounters that honeycomb this menacing open world. A powerful weapon, a fast bike, and a stock of supplies will only get you so far – you need to expect the unexpected if you want to survive when Days Gone hits PS4 on 26th April.

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  • Unpredictable open world, i’ve heard that before. Many many times. Collect & fetch or its variations quests galore at the end.

  • This is my most anticipated game of 2019. I knew it was exactly what I thought it could be during the reveal years ago. Bend is going to shock people with how much quality and story this game is packing. It’s not just another Zombie game, it’s THE zombie game on PS4

  • Still awaiting preorder bonus of zombie wigs.

  • I absolutely can’t wait for this! Unfortunately, as I’m going to be skint for… …ever, I’ll likely have to wait until Christmas.

    I may explode.

  • I don’t have high expectations, this game will be fine on a sale.

  • Can it beat The Last Of Us? Still have great memories of playing that it and when I played the stand alone dlc a few weeks ago it made me super excited for The Last Of Us 2

  • I’m expecting a jack of all trades, master of none kinda game. A mix of various tropes from rehashed movie plots, mediocre combat that’s half stealth/and half running and gunning, lot’s of button prompts with little circles that take 1,2 seconds to fill and a bunch of watered down RPG, crafting, and survival elements.

    • That’s all fine. Sony Bend don’t owe you anything lol.

    • To be fair you just described the Last of Us and some people loved that.

    • Let’s be honest, Horizon Zero Dawn did pretty much that. It took one central new idea (robot dinosaurs) and layered a bunch of mechanics stolen from Ubisoft open-world games on top of it, but did everything so well that the overall result was fantastic. If Days Gone comes anywhere close to that I’ll be happy

    • The main problem with that, uh, offering was that the gameplay and world took a backseat to the unoriginal generic bland tale of some unoriginal bland generic woman they really, really wanted to tell. Though some of the tiresome mechanics (gathering) and repetitive combat didn’t help, they succeeded in making a world of giant robot dinosaurs boring, and needlessly so.

      Which is maybe going to happen here. The main character, let’s be honest, is a bit generic, and they’ve already said about how it has a “heart wrenching tale”. The usual warnings of a “made for trailer” experience, though it might not be (trailers/articles often mislead).

      I really hope before the PS5 turns up there’s a single Sony first party PS4 game that isn’t another (usually sad) tale of bland people with residual gameplay and heavy focus on dialog and “movie like” elements (even Uncharted turned into more a blahblahblah game). Need one that’s gameplay first, story second. Kind of like Nioh, MH, DS, etc. etc. etc.

    • If story-heavy/dialogue-heavy games aren’t to your taste then there are other games you could be playing instead. Plenty of people play games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted primarily for the story and don’t want these games to change, they are the main target audience here.

      Horizon: Zero Dawn just passed 10 million copies sold which is a lot for a new IP single-player game that is only available on one console, so clearly a lot of people like it exactly the way it is. Changing games to appeal to people who never liked them in the first place tends to not end well for franchises that go down that route.

    • That’s the point, they’re all for the “story” crowd, while the “gameplay” crowd gets shafted. We haven’t had a single PS4 exclusive by a first party studio that wasn’t the exact same kind of game, which feels a bit limited.

      “10 million” isn’t much of an achievement for a game so extremely heavily advertised, practically given away in sales and actually given away with consoles.

      It’s not about changing the games for whoever, people who enjoy slow walking segments, endless dialog and unskippable cutscenes aren’t the same as people who play games for largely visual storytelling and gameplay. It’s just that all of the exclusives are catering to group one instead of a single one for group 2 which makes things lack variety. As group 2 also bought 13.3 million copies+ of MHW, almost exclusively on the PS4, at basically full price, released a year later, it’s weird to ignore them entirely.

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