In spite of the skepticism around it, Days Gone is shaping up to be a winner.
Sony has been on a bit of a roll with its early year releases for the last few years, often in the face of overwhelming skepticism. Horizon: Zero Dawn launched in early 2017, with people unsure about how the developers of Killzone, an arguably mediocre corridor shooter franchise, would handle an open world RPG. It overcame all that skepticism with one of the finest experiences of the generation.
Then, in 2018, God of War was put through the ringer—would this new take on the series, which seemed like such a drastic and dramatic departure from what made the series so beloved to begin with, be loved? It felt like God of War had abandoned its identity to chase after The Last of Us. And yet again, those doubts were silenced when God of War turned out to be one of the most beloved games of the generation.
And this year, we have Days Gone. Days Gone has been subjected to intense scrutiny ever since its reveal, and people remain wary of the game even now—it looks generic, they say, the premise looks uninteresting, the characters look uninteresting, the game looks like a mish-mash of every major AAA gaming trope: open world, zombies, survival-action, and so on. So can we expect Days Gone to continue the trend, and deliver an excellent experience for Sony and PlayStation fans, in the face of the skepticism that is being leveled at it?
It is, obviously, hard to tell for now. The game isn’t out yet, and any judgement on it, positive or negative, is premature. But I think there is a lot to suggest that those who have doubts about the game may end up having their fears proven unfounded. While I have no doubts that there are some of their criticisms that will end up applying to the final game—we can’t escape the fact that the game looks generic, for example, nor is it easy to escape that it looks significantly less polished than something like Horizon and God of War—I think Days Gone will end up impressing in a lot of other ways that will make it a winner for Sony and Sony Bend.
The most important thing with the game is that unlike most Sony games, Days Gone seems to be mechanics-focused and systems-driven. It’s not just The Last of Us set in an open world, that would be a terrible game, because The Last of Us does not have the mechanics to support something like that. Rather, it has a whole host of mechanics to truly sell the zombie apocalypse idea—your bike can run out of fuel, your guns can jam, your weapons can degrade, zombies travel in hordes and can chase you across the world, and so on. This systemic approach to gameplay is unique among Sony titles—something like Horizon or God of War, for example, had a defined set of interactions and encounters that the players could engage in. Days Gone resembles something like Monster Hunter World or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in that the open world is governed by a series of rules that govern interactions, but how things unfold will depend entirely on how players choose to sort off the dominoes.
This is actually something that potentially gives the game a longer tail than Sony games ordinarily have. A game with a lot of emergent gameplay potential, like Days Gone could potentially have if Sony’s statements about its systemic nature hold true in the final product, is the kind of game that can go viral on Twitch or YouTube, thanks to a whole lot of shenanigans that come with the systems interacting together. Think back to how Breath of the Wild continued to dominate gaming discourse long after the hype from the reviews and the Switch launch had died off, because of the unpredictable things that happened in game as its systems interacted. Days Gone could end up generating a lot of interest by becoming a streaming and Let’s Play hit, leading to people who otherwise may not have picked it up to look into it.
And there’s the beauty of it—if Days Gone is what Sony and Sony Bend promise us it is, then the game doesn’t actually need to review on the same level as God of War or Horizon: Zero Dawn. Good reviews, like in the low to mid 80s range, will be more than enough for it to get off to a good start, perpetuated by it breaking viral thanks to its potential for emergent gameplay. In this regard, while in terms of critical reception, Days Gone may not actually match even Horizon: Zero Dawn (a significantly less beloved game than God of War), but that wouldn’t matter—it could get a long tail anyway, and even its generic setting could become a boon for it in this scenario (since a generic setting is also universally inoffensive, which means less people will be put off by the very fundamental idea or aesthetic of it).
All of this is predicated on presumptions about the game’s qualities that are for now unclear. For instance, it’s entirely possible that unlike what I imagine, Days Gone ends up failing to be a systemic masterpiece, but succeeds greatly at storytelling—in which case that would drive its sales, much like previous Sony first party games. It is possible it does both storytelling and systemic gameplay well, in which case it could end up being one of the best games in Sony’s arsenal. It is possible it does neither well, in which case it may falter.
It’s hard to tell, the game isn’t out yet. But in spite of the skepticism and cynicism that it is generating, I feel like people will be surprised at just how well it ends up doing and being received—one way or the other.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.