Video Game Reviews

Days Gone: Surviving the Hordes

Days Gone is a post-apocalyptic open-world survival game that focuses on the story of Deacon St. John, a “Drifter” who’s dealing with the loss of his wife. It’s a game I passed on when it first came out. I read the reviews, and most of them were underwhelming. They weren’t exactly bad, but they didn’t paint the prettiest picture. I figured I’d wait until the game was on sale before I gave it a fair shake.

Not only do I get burned out on open world games pretty frequently, but I also don’t always have the time available to dedicate myself to a game that could take over fifty hours to complete. I’ve got movies to watch, shows to binge, and other games that compete for my attention… that and my wife and kid.

Hello, Wife and Kid

I have to say, now that I’ve actually played Days Gone, I’m a little disappointed in myself for waiting so long to take the leap. I personally think it’s better than people were giving it credit for. While I do agree with some reviewers that it is not a perfect game–which I’ll get to later–I think that it deserves some attention for the strides it made in the open world arena. 

The Death of Side-quests

One of the most outstanding features of Days Gone is the fact that the developers effectively rid the game of side-quests. It actually blows my mind that they managed this feat and next to no one has mentioned it. 

I can see the Cosmos

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “How does an open world game get rid of side-quests, when open world games are essentially 90% side-quest?” The answer is actually pretty simple: they made the side-quests part of the main story. There are next to no random side-quests, only quests that expound upon a particular aspect of the story.

Days Gone consists of multiple “stories” that overlap. One of the first ones you receive is “He’s My Brother,” which involves your fellow drifter, Boozer. Now, any mission you complete having to do with Boozer’s storyline will complete a percentage of the “He’s My Brother” requirements. However, other storylines may well overlap with that. So, you may complete a mission given to you by one of the leaders of the survivor camps that dot the map. If the mission also involves Boozer in some way, you will get credit for both the “Brother” storyline and the storyline for the camp.

Even when a camp gives you a mission to hunt down a bounty–the missions that feel the most like random side-quests–it still feels like making progress on that particular camp’s story. The bounty hunts can get pretty repetitive, but there was usually enough content between these that I didn’t mind.

Overall, this system of storylines and the incorporation of side-quests as part of the main story is, to me, a huge leap forward in how open world games operate. It allows you to have an open world game without the usual side-quest fatigue that builds up over the course of a playthrough. It also gives the game a more narrow focus story-wise, allowing you to stay engaged throughout the course of the game.

Character Driven (Mostly on Motorcycles)

I really appreciate the amount of time and effort that was put into the characters of Days Gone. While they might not be the most multi-facetted characters ever written, they feel like people that actually existed in this world before the game and will continue to exist after the game is over. 

This is mostly due to the fact that Deacon has a history with almost every character you encounter, even if their relationship was “oh yeah, didn’t we see that guy that one time?”

Tom, right? Or Timmy? Something with a T… Or was it a G?

It makes the storylines a little more interesting because you’re coming into the middle of what was going on as opposed to meeting each person for the first time. This allows for the story to unfold in a way a little closer to reality than your usual open world fare. 

I’m also impressed by the voice acting, especially that of Sam Witwer, who plays Deacon. His pitch-perfect sarcasm, undertone of seething anger, and general sense of disillusionment makes the game worth playing. That’s not to say that the other characters don’t do a good job–they very much do–but without Deacon, they wouldn’t shine as brightly. 

While others have said that Days Gone is lacking in character development, I don’t actually mind that fact. The characters are pretty solid all on their own. Through multiple bits of dialog, it’s shown that almost every character has already gone through their character development moments. I’m cool with simply letting these characters loose on the story and seeing what happens, even if it means they don’t make any significant emotional growth. 

Could the developers have done better? Probably. Should they have? Most assuredly. But I still enjoyed the game. 

Marred by Mechanics

I’m just going to use this section to nitpick.

While I think the overall game design and characters are great, some of the game’s mechanics completely pissed me off. Here are just a few examples:

  • If I pick up a fire axe, I should be able to use it more than ten times before it breaks. What kind of axe breaks after ten hits? 
  • Everything you interact with is marked with the same triangle symbol, so if you scan a building you can’t tell whether the triangle represents an item you might need or a door. I’ve gone into too many buildings promising loot only to be met with five sets of double doors.
  • What do you mean I can’t loot ammo off of dead guys? I can pick up their guns, but I can’t take the bullets out of them?
  • Why does my bike run out of gas like there is a hole in the tank? It’s a motorcycle. I should be able to drive for more than five minutes before I run out of gas. 
  • When I fast travel, why doesn’t the game take me into the camp I traveled to? It always takes me outside the gates and takes me off of my bike. Why? So I can get on my bike and drive it in for funsies?
  • Oh, I got two radio calls while out on my mission. Let’s just play both at the same time so that I have no idea what anyone is saying. Sounds reasonable. 

These are just some of the issues that plagued me throughout Days Gone. They weren’t enough to get me to stop playing or ruin my enjoyment of the overall game, but I assure you I complained–very loudly–every time they cropped up. 

Explorers Need Not Apply

Another aspect of the game that is… let’s just say it’s weird for an open world game… is the fact that there is actually very little exploring to be done. 

If you were to hop on your motorcycle and ride off into the sunset hoping to explore interesting new locales and find a meandering adventure or two, well, you would be sorely disappointed. Days Gone is one of the few open world games that gives you very little reason to explore. Even if you come upon a location that might seem like a great place to investigate, you are likely to discover…

Most locations throughout the world are involved in some aspect of the story. You can duff around the abandoned towns all you want, but you’ll never find anything worthwhile until you come back to that location for a specific mission.

The first hour or two I was playing, I drove around to every little outcropping of buildings hoping to find something to do. Unfortunately, I was met with empty buildings and not much else. I eventually gave up and started progressing through the story, only to come back to each and every one of the locations that I had already explored.

So I guess the moral of the story is that if you’re playing Days Gone, forget the exploring and do the main story. You’ll eventually hit all the locations anyway. 

For the Horde 

One of the most celebrated aspects (rightly so) of Days Gone is the hordes that roam certain parts of the world. These are large groups of “Freakers,” as they are called, that take more than a little planning to overcome. You need the right weapons, abilities, and tools in order to take them down. 

Unfortunately, during the first several hours of the game, encountering a horde will either lead to your death or a swift retreat. I tried several times to take down one of the smallest hordes with some of the starting equipment and got completely mauled every time. I did, however, manage to take down half of one with the boot knife (your default melee weapon) because of an exploit that left the horde unable to come at me all at once.

….but only one at a time!

The thing that makes hordes so enticing is the sheer amount of planning that is required to actually succeed. There is also a paradoxical joy of failure in these moments. It happens when you plan out the perfect route, set up all of your traps, and think you have everything ready, only to fail spectacularly as you miss a button press or find that your plan had no contingencies.

While I believe that hordes are the highlight of Days Gone’s gameplay, I also feel that they should have been front and center far more often than they were. Let’s face it, the rest of the gameplay is serviceable, but once you’ve faced down the population of a small town all at once, the other fights seem to lack any kind of luster. 

Hitting That Dusty Trail

I’ll just end this review by saying that I think this game was underrated–not criminally so, but there are certain aspects that deserve acclaim. It tried its hardest to incorporate side-quests directly into the main story. It had stellar voice acting, and endeavored to create a world that felt plausible even when giant mutated zombies were running you down. And it told its story well, albeit slowly and with some serious pacing issues. 

I’m giving Days Gone a 7.5/10 as I pass it with my motorcycle… which I’ll have to stop and refuel in about a minute and a half. 

Video Game Reviews

Windbound: A Gentle, if Somewhat Stagnant, Breeze

I’d been looking forward to Windbound for quite a while.

The trailers marketed it as an open world survival game where you build your own Moana-style boat and sail around to various islands in pursuit of some great truth. 

It looked to have the aesthetics and game-play of Breath of the Wild, but with a Windwaker twist. The gathering of materials and building looked simple yet powerful, and the story seemed promising. 

Needless to say, my expectations were high. 

Nothing bad ever happens when expectations are high

Unfortunately, Windbound failed to live up to my expectations. That said, it did a lot of things right, and should be lauded for that. So, before making my final judgement, I’d like to go over what, I feel, make this game simultaneously great, and not all that great. 

The Wind Calls

By far the stand-out feature of Windbound is the sailing–which is good since it’s how you get around.

After a brief period of being shipwrecked, you will be able to build a boat and stick a sail on it without much hassle. While it’s not as intuitive as, say, Windwaker, which simplified its sailing for ease of game-play, the sailing in Windbound is nuanced and feels amazing.

You can raise your sail to any height you like, keeping in mind that a fully extended sail may grab too much wind and get you going too quickly for maneuvering around obstacles. You also choose how loosely or tightly to keep your sail tethered. A tight sail catches more wind, but could cause you to capsize, while a loose sail will slow you down more than you might think.

The trick is to balance these factors based on the direction of the wind and the direction you want to go. 

Going directly into the wind requires a lot of tacking (that’s sailor talk), which is basically going back and forth to ride the wind as much as possible while still heading in the right direction. This took me longer to understand than I would like to admit. 

What I would have given for one of these…

The most fun I had in this game was on the open water, seeing how fast I could get my little catamaran to go and searching for new Islands.

Run Aground

The islands are underdeveloped. They’re fun to explore for all of about ten minutes. Then you realize exactly how small they are and how little is on them.

Thrilling.

I never saw more than two larger animals on any given island, while the smaller animals and insects just seemed like they were there to make sure I had food to eat.

The crafting materials were equally sparse. This gives you a good impetus to explore different islands, but starts to feel tedious when you’re looking for one goddamn piece of clay and you haven’t found it after going to three different islands that all look exactly the same.

The developers did start throwing in some different biomes toward the end of the game, like desert and swamp, but by then it was too little too late. I would see the big islands and just pass them by because I already had everything I needed to get by.

Gathering supplies 

Windbound did a fine job of balancing the amount of materials you need for crafting versus the amount available. They didn’t do the usual fifty pieces of wood to make a storage crate. They just made it real hard to get the wood in the first place. 

And now to find that second tree…

Like, say if you were looking to make a kiln to smelt some metal in. Well, that requires three pieces of clay. Unfortunately, you might see a bunch of clay on one island, and then never again for several islands. Would it have killed them to increased the availability of the crafting materials? Nobody wants to spend an hour island hopping because they accidentally destroyed their clay reserves when they deconstructed part of their boat to make some improvements…

I’m still bitter about the clay thing. But I digress…

While you never get to craft anything too crazy–magic bows aside–you will be able to find and make everything you need to survive and explore. (I said survive, not thrive. Sometimes, survival amounts to finding enough grass to make a canoe so you can row your broke ass to the next island).  

Big Game Hunter

The combat was limited to the point that I would almost call it an alpha build instead of a finished game. I think I encountered seven different types of enemies, and each was pretty standard, offering minimal opposition.

The most exciting it got was the first time I encountered a Gloomharrow. The massive reptile was crawling its way between some trees when I hit it with an arrow. It turned, shot its tongue at me from across the forest, pulled me to where it was, and punched me in the face.

Get over here!

Before I could get in a counter shot, it then disappeared into a cloud of smoke.

It was neat, but it was also the only enemy with personality. Everything else was extremely predictable and fell flat. What made this even worse is that the combat controls are antiquated and stiff. 

Overall, I tried to avoid fighting if I could help it. It was rarely worth crafting arrows or spears to hunt when I could use those resources on other, more worthy, causes. 

Red Sky at Morning

Windbound felt like a demo for a game that could have been amazing. All the pieces were there. Unfortunately, they were hastily glued together at funny angles, making a game that ended up being less than the sum of its part.

I’m giving Windbound 6/10

It tried very hard, and was, at times, a sight to behold. But it ultimately ended up sinking beneath the waves.