Days Gone Post-Patch Review

How does the game fare after more than 30GB of updates?

I’m sailing down the rain drenched hills of the bucolic Oregon countryside on the seat of my decked-out motorcycle. After 25 hours of play, I’ve criss-crossed between a handful of distinct open world locations, each with their own factions and tales of human survival in the zombie apocalypse.

Backs have been stabbed, mysteries answered and it’s all coming to a crescendo as I make my descent towards a pivotal showdown to decide the fate of protagonist Deacon St John and those he loves. The problem is, in this seminal moment, I’m not thinking about the story.

I’m thinking about the central issue that’s plagued my entire experience with Days Gone thus far: the abysmal framerate. This is after literally dozens of gigabytes of patches have been downloaded. Not to mention seven years of development from developer Bend Studio of Syphon Filter fame. The detail to take note of, however, is despite these technicals hiccups, I’ve pushed through to see Days Gone’s finale.

I’ve made it.

And it’s this duality that makes Days Gone the most polarising video game I’ve ever played.

Unreal performance

On one hand, Days Gone is a detailed and mechanically sound open world adventure, albeit with all of the sandbox conventions popularised by Far Cry 3. Enemy outposts, wild animals, open-ended design…you get the picture. On the other, the performance is broken. Steady framerates do sustain for long stretches of on-foot exploration and action, but once Deacon mounts his bike, it’s a total crapshoot.

Maybe you make it to your next objective with grace and fluidity, indulging in the pixel-perfect handling of your upgradable bike.

Or what’s more likely is gameplay becomes like watching a powerpoint presentation, where every frame is a new slide. Or maybe the game outright freezes on a single frame for upwards of 3 seconds, then resumes as normal.

It’s mind blowing how bad the technical performance is at times.

It brings into question Bend Studio’s decision to work with Unreal Engine 4, despite nearly all PlayStation-owned studios using their own proprietary engines.

As of writing, update 1.09 has thankfully lived up to it’s promises of improving world streaming and subsequent framerates. Arriving over one month after release, however, is unacceptable, and slowdown is still common.

Silver linings

Days Gone’s crown jewel is it’s horde mechanic; displaying hundreds if not thousands of zombies on screen at once. Confusingly, these encounters perform fluently.

You face these swarms in a variety of environments, from a huge old saw mill to the roadside of the ‘broken road’, as the back of the box puts it. Where you face the horde is as important as the weapons you’ve equipped to face them, because navigating structures and creating choke points is the easiest way to slow down and whittle away at numbers respectively.

In the first 20 hours, I felt intentionally underpowered to tackle the horde. It’s only once you unlock a variety of semi-automatic weapons and potent explosive crafting recipes that the strategy to take them down crystalizes. This often divulges into setting a path of explosives and leading the horde through said-path, all the while spamming any accumulated throwable explosives and spraying machine gun fire.

It’s a simple formula, but fighting the horde remains one of the more unique action experiences I’ve had this console generation.

They say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But in Days Gone it’s the opposite. Once you battle through the framerate of traversal, there’s tons of fun content to burn through.

The days of gone

Despite name-dropping Far Cry 3 earlier, Days Gone really aspires to be The Last of Us. The issue is, Bend Studio’s delivery of narrative is shockingly antiquated.

Cutscenes contain solid voice acting, performance and character model detail. Their jarring transitions between gameplay are less convincing, delivering a narrative framework similar to games from the 2000s (think Grand Theft Auto IV; approach mission marker, play cutscene, back to gameplay).

Contrasted with last year’s God of War, Days Gone’s narrative delivery falls flat. In particular, the lack of direct transition between cutscene and gameplay is disappointingly absent.

Grand Theft Auto V was doing so six years ago, and God of War crafted a narrative masterpiece around the concept more than a year ago. Days Gone appears stuck in a narrative style from the last generation, with bland fade-to-blacks and subpar in-game storytelling.

This leads to gameplay and narrative feeling like disparate elements that never truly coalesce. There may be an abundance of dialog that plays while riding around the open world, but seldom does it offer character-building that resonates.

It doesn’t help that an abrupt ending and weak antagonists fail to justify the main story’s runtime.

The performance and humanity of Days Gone’s narrative is clearly present, but the jagged mode of delivery falls short in packaging it for maximum impact.

What a wonderful world

I’m running through a mossy forest in the dead of night. The stars are shining bright in the absence of fluorescent street lights to dampen their glow. A bandit camp is highlighted on screen, barely one hundred metres away. I make my approach crouched, hoping to pick-off marauders meandering on the perimeter of the encampment. My plans change in an instant. I come across a horde of ‘freakers’, maybe two hundred strong. I’m quickly spotted and have to improvise. I sprint straight through the bandit camp, evading gunfire and spilling the swarm into their base.

I perch myself under a nearby bush and watch as the infected make short, delicious work of my gun-toting foes.

Developers boast of their dynamic, system-driven open worlds. Where firefights can be interrupted by pouncing cougars or goats swept from mountaintops by giant eagles. Rarely does this actually live up the pretence.

In this instance, however, the dynamic systems of Days Gone made for an unforgettable moment that reminded me why open worlds dominate the video game release calendar.

Gone fishing

If you can play Days Gone, I would recommend you do so. Download the obnoxious amount of patches, which hopefully continue to solve it’s copious technical blunders as times passes, and hope for the best.

If you’ve played Far Cry 3 and The Last of Us, you’ve played Days Gone.

It’s not a genre-defining experience or even console generation-defining. But it is a mechanically proficient action-adventure romp featuring an open world brimming with beauty yet light on meaningful side content.

The oft-terrifying horde mechanic is just original enough to set Days Gone apart, and will be the reason people remember it in years to come.

I intentionally downplayed my anticipation of Days Gone. Knowing developer Bend Studio hadn’t made a console game for 15 years, I was sceptical the transition back would be seamless.

Regarding storytelling and technical performance, I was right to be apprehensive. But ultimately, Days Gone remains a flawed gem, glimmering with charm beneath a layer of imperfect, anachronistic dust.