Days Gone, Bend Studio’s open-world zombie romp, is now available on PC. After Horizon Zero Dawn, it’s the next PlayStation exclusive on PC, with Sony promising to bring over more of its back catalog.
Reviews for the game were fairly unenthusiastic, criticizing its bland open world and repetitive mission structure. However, at a technical level, Bend’s work was impressive, pushing PlayStation 4 hardware hard. Just like Horizon Zero Dawn, we expect Days Gone to be a visual treat on PC. But just how does the new version stack up to the existing PlayStation code? Let’s take a look at some of the key improvements.
A higher resolution and higher frame rates
The two biggest wins on PC are in terms of performance and image quality. On the base PlayStation 4, Days Gone ran at a more or less stable 1080p/30 FPS, albeit with dips below when bigger crowds of “freakers” made it onscreen.
High-end PC parts like the GeForce RTX 3080 deliver over 5 times the raw compute of the PlayStation 4’s ancient Pitcairn GPU. Bend specified support for “higher resolutions” and an “unlocked framerate.” Your specific PC configuration will determine just what this scale to. However, we do have some reference points. Days Gone’s official GPU requirements are the same as Horizon Zero Dawn’s, with the recommended specs calling for a Radeon RX 580 or GeForce GTX 1060.
This indicates that performance should be largely on par with Horizon Zero Dawn. If you have a GeForce RTX 3070/2080 Ti on up, this means that a locked 4K/60 FPS Days Gone experience should be viable, with some headroom to spare. This would mean better performance and image quality than the enhanced PlayStation 4 Pro port, allowing the high-quality artwork and animation to really shine through. These are easy PC wins, though, and Bend has indicated that it’s made improvements elsewhere, too.
It’s relevant to note here that the PlayStation 5 already runs Days Gone at 60 FPS via backwards compatibility. At double the framerate, the overall, moment-to-moment gameplay experience is much improved. On PC, we expect owners of high refresh rate monitors to hit even higher frame rates, assuming resolution is kept in check, open the door to a much more fluid gameplay experience.
Bend indicated that Days Gone will feature 21:9 support for gamers with ultrawide monitors. Open world titles with expansive vistas like Days Gone benefit massively from a wider presentation. While it’s not a must-have, ultrawide support is a great plus if you have one of those 34-in curved monster panels.
“Improved graphics”: Better LODs and higher quality shadows
Early on, Bend announced that Days Gone would feature “improved graphics” on PC, though it didn’t quite specify what that meant. A peek at Days Gone gameplay footage on PC gives us a clearer look, however.
In terms of visuals, we’re not really looking at a day-and-night improvement over the PlayStation 4 code. The PS4 version of the game was already one of the better-looking open world titles out on eighth-gen platforms. When it comes to the PC port, we’re seeing similarities here to Guerrilla’s work on the PC port of Horizon Zero Dawn.
Graphics improvements focus primarily on pushing level of detail and foliage rendering further out. Days Gone on PC features denser foliage with a significantly higher draw distance. In more open parts of the map, this can have a transformative impact on background visuals. Foliage isn’t the only area of improvement, however. Static and dynamic object LODs have improved. This means that high quality meshes are rendered in much further out into the scene, with minimal pop-in, something that’s furthered helped along by the move to SSD storage.
Shadow quality also sees iterative quality improvements. We’re looking at higher resolution shadows overall, and a more generous cut-off point for dynamic shadow cascades. This can make the games forest environments significantly more atmospheric.
Bend promised larger hordes of the game’s “freakers”/zombies. The PlayStation 4 code caps the onscreen freaker count to 300. This is a generous amount. However, the PC version dials things up, with up to 500 freakers rendered onscreen at time.
Bend’s crowd rendering tech was optimized for the PlayStation 4’s meagre Jaguar CPU cores. This means that higher freaker counts shouldn’t hammer current-gen CPUs that hard, fortunately.
Does Days Gone feature ray-tracing or AI upscaling on PC?
We’ve seen some console or multiplatform releases, re-release on PC with additional next-gen tech built in. Even on console, certain exclusives like Sony’s Spiderman received updates to enable ray-tracing.
Bend, however, has clarified that Days Gone on PC will feature neither DLSS AI upscaling or ray-tracing. There’s two ways to look at this. On the one hand, the lack of DLSS could be a problem for mid-range systems. If we look at PC performance in games like Horizon Zero Dawn, however, it’s clear that parts from the GeForce RTX 3070 on up will easily clear the 4K/60 mark at native resolution, making DLSS redundant. Moreover, the lack of ray-tracing could mean better performance across a wider range of hardware configurations. Sans advanced lighting, the visuals might not exactly stand up to current-gen standards. However, Days Gone was never a bad-looking game to start off with, so that’s largely a moot point.
Conclusion: an iterative improvement and a sign of what’s to come
Days Gone on PC isn’t going to be a revelatory experience. From what we’ve seen so far, it’ll hew to Guerrilla’s approach to Horizon Zero Dawn: minor touch ups to core assets, together with a more profound improvement to performance and image quality. At the end of the day, this is a PlayStation 4 game – running on PC isn’t going to magically turn it into a next-gen experience.
At the same time, it is an interesting portent of things to come. Sony’s newfound commitment to PC means that a whole host of other eighth-gen exclusives, from God of War to Bloodborne, could actually make their way over. And unlike older console ports (Dark Souls comes to mind here), the PC experience here isn’t fundamentally compromised.
From that perspective, Days Gone on PC is more about expectation setting when it comes to future PlayStation ports to the platform. What Bend has managed to do here makes us look forward to a higher quality bar for that Bloodborne port that just has to happen.
In terms of high-end features like ray-tracing, Days Gone indicates that Sony studios might not be looking at investing the time to add these in just for PC users. However, in the years to come, once the PlayStation 4 series is phased out, we’d expect to see eighth-gen re-releases targeted at both PC and PS5 that incorporate next-gen tech.