Announced back in 2016, Days Gone wowed E3 and gamers over the world with its enormous zombie hordes and weaponised environments, and now, its release is almost upon us. I got to play a couple of hours of it recently, as well as have a chat with Bend Studios‘ senior animator, Emmanuel Roth.
There’s certainly no shortage of post-apocalyptic games out there, particularly ones involving some variant of zombie or brain-melting disease, so it’s always interesting to see how each one aims to set itself apart from the competition. In terms of Days Gone, Roth says his team wants to “fight the zombie game idea”.
“We want to tell you a big story where something really bad happened to Deacon,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV. Deacon, of course, is the player character, a bikie outlaw who met a girl and changed his life. Roth explains that Days Gone is less about smashing through hoards of zombies – called freakers in this instance – and more about telling a story in a world where they’re simply an element. An obstacle in the way of other things, if you will.
All in all, Bend is aiming for a combination of “big, heavy story with an open world and other elements,” Roth said.
I played through about two hours from the very beginning, so I didn’t encounter any of those huge hordes but did a good look at how the story starts out. All of the standard tutorial-like fare is there, walking you through how to shoot, craft, ride, sneak, etc. After that, the world opens up and allows players to choose which missions they’d like to pursue. Having not seen a lot of the latter, It’s hard to say what the end product will be like, but from what I can tell, it’s not going to reinvent the wheel or anything. That’s not to say it won’t be fun, all of the right elements are there and as long as they fit together, I can definitely see it working out for the better.
You’ll also have some choices to make during your journey through the world of Days Gone, but Roth says that while these decisions will change some small things, at the end of the day, they “have one story to tell”.
“It’s not like we’re doing a multi-choice ending, there is an ending with the story, but the way you approach an element in the story, yes, it has some importance,” he said. “But I’m not saying it’s branching, we’re not doing branching, we have one story to tell.”
The story itself isn’t anything groundbreaking, at least in the beginning, but there were enough question marks left hanging over my head by the end of two hours that I’m pretty keen to play more just to find out how it ends. Above all else, the story is the element that’ll push you through Days Gone.
I found the choice of 1 per center bikie characters pretty interesting, but it started to make more sense when Roth told me about how important Deacon’s bike becomes throughout Days Gone. While it’s obviously your main mode of transport, it also serves as a way to track progression, as you’ll be doing upgrades to the bike to further your abilities on the road so that you can venture into more hostile areas.
One thing I found particularly interesting during my playthrough was how the game is randomised throughout. As I stealthily worked my way through a gas station crawling with freakers, I popped the hood of a car and pulled out a filter which I could fit to my gun as a silencer. I ended up dying a short time later and had to venture through the same are again, but when I went back to that particular car, the filter wasn’t there. This is intentional, and not a matter of item carryover, but an effort to create a unique experience.
“We want to surprise the player,” Roth said. “Two people could be at the same location and have a completely different experience.”
I haven’t decided whether I like this or whether I hate it yet. I like the idea that it adds an aspect of unpredictability, but I can imagine it’ll be frustrating to die after finding some much-needed resources only to find that they’re not there the second time around.
In terms of what you’ll be fighting, it seems weighted towards rival camps and human enemies rather than the freakers, who, while certainly an enemy, act more like an obstacle of the world than anything else. They can even be “weaponised” against other enemies if you’re savvy enough.
I found the AI of the freakers a little wishy-washy at times, and it was hard to figure out if this is just an inherent trait or whether it’s something that needs ironing out. In some areas, they cottoned onto my existence almost immediately, while in others, it was almost too easy to sneak around them.
By the end of the playthrough, I had a little more of an idea in terms of Days Gone’s direction and story, and am keen to see how it’s all going to coalesce. However it turns out in the end, it’ll likely be the story which pulls you through more than anything else.
You can pick up Days Gone from April 26 on PlayStation 4.Image: Bend Studios