The verdict is out on Days Gone, and… it’s okay. It’s not a great game. It’s not a bad game. It’s a good, unremarkable game, that mostly manages to stand out due to its systems-driven nature, which makes it unique in Sony’s lineup of games. However, thanks to the mass appeal of zombies, as well as Sony’s marketing, and Days Gone’s inherent merits, such as they are, the game has thus far done well. It’s the biggest launch in the United Kingdom so far this year, and early reports for the rest of the world are encouraging too.
All of which makes it clear that commercially, Days Gone will do well, or at least well enough. That’s, of course, good news for Sony Bend, a small studio that nonetheless managed to put out a AAA-caliber game, albeit a less well-received one than the norm. It’s also great to see them having managed to put out a well-selling game after having spent two generations away from developing console titles. But the larger question does remain—is Days Gone a long term franchise for Sony? Should it be one? Of course, ideally, it is something that has been developed with the view of longer term sequels and franchising, but should Sony follow through on that? Or would Bend’s considerable talents be better spent working on something else, something that will be far better received, while also being high selling?
It’s tempting to say that they should be done with Days Gone by now. There’s no shortage of zombie games, or action-survival games, or open world games, or even systems driven games, on the market. Days Gone does all of this well enough, but it doesn’t particularly stand out in any regard. Even within Sony’s own lineup, we already have a zombie focused survival game (The Last of Us), open world game (Horizon), and action game (God of War). At which point, would Bend not be better suited to doing something new and unique?
Suffice it to say, it’s a convincing argument and I get it. But even with that in mind, I really want a Days Gone 2. Not because I am a particular fan of zombie settings—I’m not. I’m not much of a Days Gone fan either, I appreciate what it does well, but I could have gone my entire life not having played it, and I would never have missed it.
So why do I want a follow-up? Because within Days Gone there’s the seed for something bigger and better, the potential for something truly great. That’s been my takeaway from the game—it’s not particularly special, but given a second chance, it could be. That’s because it’s already got some amazing systemic interactivity and emergent gameplay, as well as a lot of player agency, but the things it is categorically poor at—generic design, poor storytelling and characters, and an utter lack of polish—are all things that Bend can now nail with a sequel, especially since the technical groundwork of laying down an open world is done.
Days Gone’s biggest failings, other than its story and characters, are its polish, and its average missions (as well as the generic setting). Polish is a function of time, and hopefully a sequel that doesn’t need as much work done to develop the basics has more time for the polish. Meanwhile, poor missions are a failure of game design—no, I absolutely do not want to be told in the middle of a mission that I am “leaving mission area”. It’s an open world game, let me have the freedom to approach it any way I want. The criticism the missions have gotten hopefully spur Bend to work on better missions in the sequel.
The setting is a bit harder to work with in a direct sequel, but even here, Bend can actually work on differentiating things, now that they have the basics down. Maybe they can introduce new kinds of freakers. Maybe they can move the sequel to a different location (Oregon is gorgeous, and its rendition in Days Gone is great, but visually, the setting is very alike something in The Last of Us). Even the characters could be less… dour in a sequel, and could be more “fun”, which similarly makes the world seem less bland, too.
In a lot of ways, what I am talking about is the kind of sequel to a good, but flawed, game that Assassin’s Creed II or Watch_Dogs 2 were. They both took the strong premise of the original games, built on them, differentiated, added some fun protagonists, injected personality into their worlds, and squarely addressed a lot of flaws the originals had been criticized for. Assassin’s Creed II is now regarded as one of the best games ever made, and Watch_Dogs 2 remains one of the strongest games put out by Ubisoft this generation.
Theoretically, a Days Gone 2 could be a similar improvement. A well-polished, more differentiated, improved sequel with better missions and a better story and characters, retaining the systemic strength and emergent gameplay of the current game, could truly stand out even on the PS5, were it to come out some years later. I feel like then we might even see the true potential of the concept.
Like I said, I understand why someone might feel there’s no need for a Days Gone sequel. It does nothing that some game or the other doesn’t account for already. But I do hope there’s a chance that Bend puts out a sequel—they’re very talented, and it’s surprising how much they got right at their first attempt at a modern AAA HD open world game. Given a chance to iterate and improve? Why, we might get one of the heavy hitters of the Sony stable.
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.