Days Gone Attempts to Innovate the Open World Genre [E3 2017 Preview]

I didn’t know much about Days Gone until this E3, Barely aware of its existence, all I had experienced was the sub-par Twitter reaction to the gameplay at Sony’s press conference. And the demo that developers showed at the first day of E3 didn’t do much to help.

From intense snowstorms to infected bears, everything about Days Gone Pacific Northwest environment aims to diversify the open world experience. Though it might push the boundaries of open world design a little, it doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd.

“Everything about the world of Days Gone is living and breathing,” said Bend Studios designer Eric Jensen. And while that seems true, it didn’t feel different than the open worlds in Horizon Zero Dawn or Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain.

We were shown a modified version of the gameplay shown at Sony’s press conference, where bounty hunter biker Deacon St. John has to save his buddy, Manny, from the marauders that ambushed and captured him outside home base.

The various weather patterns will affect your bike’s traction and the time of day you decide to do something can affect what enemies are present. Like many other sandbox titles, you can approach missions at various angles. “Scenarios can play out in a number of ways, depending on who and what are involved,” said Ron Allen, another developer at Bend Studios.

Days Gone

And even though Days Gone clearly encourages you to play your own way, the demo shown had a few shortcomings that would suggest thinks aren’t as free flowing as you’d think.

During the Days Gone conference bit, Deacon is shown distracting an enemy camp with a bear trap before sneaking by unnoticed. In the demo we saw, Deacon uses a molotov cocktail to kill all the marauders after grouping them up with the same distraction. But before he kills them, one of the NPCs kills the man caught in the bear trap since he was making too much noise and could attract the ‘freakers’. It was an intense moment, especially if NPC characteristics could lead to similarly emotionally charged moments.

But the developers confirmed that the gunshot heard in the conference demo was the same scenario playing out, one NPC killing another after making too much noise after getting caught in the bear trap. You’d think that if you would approach the situation in a different way like we saw, between the press demo and the conference demo, that we wouldn’t see the same result unfold. But we did, even if it was off screen.

This gives me the impression that scenarios like this are few and far in between, being used as set pieces rather than naturally unfolding in player-driven scenarios. I also question other elements like the freaker mobbing scene seen in the conference demo, since that wasn’t featured in what we saw.

Outside my hefty concerns there, Days Gone looks like a solid open world game. Even if there is an overabundance of Zombie narratives among books, movies, and TV right now. Different elements like having to monitor your gas levels so you don’t get stranded really intrigue me. “You can run out of gas in the middle of the woods,” Jensen said. You’ll get left out in the cold, vulnerable to enemies. “You don’t have to look for trouble,” Allen said. “It’ll find you.”

Survivalist features like that will emphasis what the developers are trying to do with a more “living and breathing world”. The developers still need to work to make that world come to life. I don’t think Days Gone be able to offer a better experience to other upcoming sandbox titles, but I do think it’ll be worth watching as development continues.