I’ll jump into this piece acknowledging full well that The Last of Us Part II is a technically superior “zombie” game than Days Gone in many regards. From it’s graphical fidelity, animations, acting, story telling, and presentation, The Last of Us Part II is leagues ahead of not only Days Gone, but much of the gaming industry. I don’t think the game is perfect, but it’s great. I also acknowledge that these are two very different genre of games, but I’ll just be comparing my experience with the two games.
I recently finished both Days Gone and The Last of Us Part II back-to-back on my PS5: 60 hours on Normal difficulty and 34 hours on Hard difficulty, respectively. During my playtime, I couldn’t resist making comparisons between both games when playing them in parallel. And I came away surprised on how much more I enjoyed my time with Days Gone than The Last of Us Part II.
Let’s talk about tone…
Both games are about the humanity of people living through a devastating post-apocalyptic zombie infested world. The Last of Us Part II is the harrowing revenge story between series standout Ellie and newcomer Abby. The story, as a whole, is oppressive, depressing and devastatingly bleak. The player doesn’t have a say in controlling the shitty decisions of these increasingly shitty people. And that was something that stuck with me through my play through. I hated murdering innocent people not directly involved with Ellie and Abby’s conflict — and I especially hated having to kill dogs.
There’s an interesting parallel between both anti-heroes where a player is supposed to empathize with either character akin to Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” It’s there, but I don’t think it helped me feel Ellie or Abby’s pain more than the disgust I was already feeling. The gameplay mechanics in The Last of Us Part II are serviceable enough for this specific game, but since it’s a linear gameplay experience, there’s not a lot of room for player choices narratively.
In contrast, Days Gone‘s open-world design provides the main character, Deacon St. John, with more options. First, Deacon isn’t on a revenge plot. He’s trying to find out what happened to his wife during the apocalypse and hopefully find her alive. In doing so, Deacon only ever kills thieves, rapists, murderers, religious nut-jobs, the freakers, and zombified animals. Yes, there are animals such as wolves that haven’t been turned to undead, but you have the option of running away from them. You never have to truly kill them.
However, through all the killing that Deacon does, it always felt like you were helping the Oregonian region somehow. You were clearing zombie hordes for safe passage for not only yourself, but for other survivors trying to pass through. And that feeling of leaving an area in a better state than when you got there is what I liked a lot about Days Gone‘s gameplay loop.
Stalkers and the Freaker Hordes
The combat loop of both games are similar in scope. The Last of Us Part II definitely has more complex movements and mechanics allowing Ellie to lay prone and skulk and kill in tall grass. Days Gone is much more simplified. Both games have the options for stealth kills or going guns-a-blazing, as well as crafting bombs and melee weapons from locally sourced bottles and scotch tape.
The Last of Us Part II has these amazing tension filled set pieces and cleverly designed levels to battle in. There’s a sense of freedom to “stalk” your enemies as they “stalk” you that definitely makes your palms sweat. But the one thing The Last of Us Part II doesn’t have is the freaker hordes of Days Gone, and those encounters make you shit your pants.
In The Last of Us Part II, there are these mid-bosses called “shamblers.” They are huge brutes, are poisonous on contact, and explode upon death. They are supposed to be deadly bullies on the battle field you have to adapt to. But since they are predictably placed in choke points in a level, I kind of knew when to expect them.
When I had to fight them, they acted more like boring bullet sponges. When I died against them, I always shrugged it off. I died only because I didn’t damage them enough or I accidentally threw a molitov cocktail over their head. No big deal, reload the last save point.
With the hordes of Days Gone, there is a brilliant dance of panic and improvisation to truly survive. Hordes roam freely over the land — mostly at night —and the player will bump into them in-between missions randomly sometimes. If you aren’t paying attention, a force of 200+ freakers can overcome you and your bike easily. One mistake while piloting your bike wastes precious getaway time and the horde is relentless as they swarm and climb over everything on their path to kill Deacon.
It’s incredibly stressful trying to escape on foot in certain missions like the sawmill — the game’s premiere battle playground. The brilliance of the horde is balancing the strategic planning and on-the-fly tactics needed to defeat it – and there are plentiful options that the open world provides the player to accomplish this.
You can set your own choke points, lay down mines to trap freakers, throw down obstacles in their path, or run into a creek to slow them down. Crafting health and bombs to survive precious seconds until you get to a nearby rooftop is essential and you have to decide quickly because the horde is constantly breathing down your neck.
A couple of times when I was fighting a horde, a pack of wolves or rogue bear roaming the area would be coming at me, and instead of decreasing my suvivability it actually increased my options. I could run back towards the horde to lead the animals as bait, or I could convert them into any ally with a residue bolt to create a distraction.
I was constantly weighing my options as Deacon’s stamina and weapon resources were running out. It’s exhilarating. And the feeling after defeating a horde is unlike anything I had to fight in The Last of Us Part II.
I’m sweating, my nerves start shaking, and the sense of relief from overcoming the odds over the last 10 minutes of fighting is sublime.
The Good Bad Game
Many players like to talk down to Days Gone because it’s buggy – and it’s popular to do so. I get it. But somewhere deep down in the bones of Days Gone is a genuinely real unpolished gem. It may not be a diamond under there, but it’s at least a ruby or sapphire. Like many uncut gems in the gaming industry, you need to take the good with the bad – and Days Gone is the best “bad” game I’ve played since Shenmue.
If you haven’t already, I really encourage PS5 owners to give the game a shot as it runs at 4K 60fps now and the power of the PS5 really irons out a lot of the performance issues that plagued the PS4 version.
The goals of both games are definitely different, but — at the end of the day — when I finished The Last of Us Part II, I didn’t think about going back immediately. I don’t even care to Platinum it right away. When I finished Days Gone, my dumb brain craved that dopamine hit of cleansing a freaker horde off the game map and checking that box on a quest line. I can’t wait to jump back in with an upgraded Deacon and fight on.
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