It’s funny, because I finished this game a good month or so ago, yet I still find myself thinking about just how bad the writing was, so I guess you’re just going to have to hear me complain about it a bunch so I can stop being annoyed by it in my head! Probably some mild spoilers to be seen here, though honestly I don’t think anyone is going to have any surprises ruined for them by anything said/shown here since every single aspect of the plot is so painfully predictable.
Let me first state that I did actually like this game quite a bit. The graphics are beautiful and the survival mechanics and combat are very well done. It has a ton of content and none of it was ever boring…at least when it let me play the damn thing. You see, Days Gone has A LOT to say and it’s going to MAKE you listen to almost every sloppy word of it. You had better get comfortable whenever you’re about to embark on a main story quest because you’re going to be in for some really long stretches of bullshit. A lot of it doesn’t even happen in standard cutscenes, much of it plays out in forced manual walking/riding sequences where you’re stuck moving slowly through an empty area as someone talks at you for a long, long time. Even worse are the few times that it sticks you in one of these and makes you sit through nothing but a cheap, sappy country song because it couldn’t think of any other way to convey to you that you’re supposed to feel sad and moody at this particular time.
And look, I’m fine with a lot of talking and story in a game, but man, this is one badly written game. Let’s start with the characters. Main character Deacon St. John is about as generic of a reluctant hero dudebro as can be. He treats everyone like shit and purposely pushes everyone away because he’s your typical emotionally wounded tough guy due to losing his wife when the outbreak started, as we’re shown in the emotionally flat intro to the game which lets us know that the title Days Gone refers to how many days it’s been since he’s been separated from his wife. Despite this, he still ends up reluctantly helping every single living human being he can find and makes sure to let us know at every opportunity that he has a strong moral code, especially when it comes to women. Boy, does Deacon love to tell you about how angry he gets about people messing with them poor womenfolk.
Naturally, none of the ladies in the post-apocalypse can stop themselves from swooning over him at every opportunity too. Literally every female NPC you talk to speaks to him like a television schoolgirl with a badly hidden crush. “Oh Deacon, why don’t you come by more often, we miss you!” “Take me with you Deacon!” Ugh. He even seems to turn gay women straight, as one of his buddies, a woman in a serious relationship with another woman, suddenly tries to jump him out of nowhere when she sees him with his shirt off. Luckily, this is never further explored or mentioned again, like so damn many of the pointless subplots in this game, but more on that in a minute.
Let’s get back to that wife. Despite all the evidence suggesting that his wife is dead, Deacon just can’t give up on her. Between that and the meaning of the title, if you’re not a small child or in a coma of some kind, you can probably already figure out what’s going to happen there. SURPRISE! SHE’S ALIVE! It’s already hard enough to care about such an overused, basic plot twist as it is, but it’s even worse when the wife is so fucking boring. Many of those previously mentioned forced walking/talking scenes involve flashbacks to your past when you were meeting her/getting to know her/etc and she’s just such an uninteresting, featureless character, and your courtship is so incredibly generic and bland, that I just couldn’t seem to give a single shit about being reunited with her (or any other similarly useless lump of a character in the game, for that matter). The only thing of significance you learn from all these scenes is that she was a scientist working on some vague and mysterious project before the mystery zombie outbreak started. GEE I WONDER WHAT RELEVANCE THAT COULD POSSIBLY HAVE? Again, if you haven’t been the victim of a mad scientists’ experiment in human/animal brain swapping, you can probably see where that’s going, and you’d be right. It’s exactly as cliched and predictable as every single other plot point in this game. You find out later that the outbreak is kind of all her fault and boo hoo hoo, but you know what, it doesn’t even really matter because again, once we finally learn this fact, it’s never, ever mentioned again.
That’s one of the other big issues with the writing, all the damn pointless dead end subplots. Wife being responsible for the outbreak is never explored or mentioned again. The closest the game gets to touching on that again is the revelation that her new research is secretly about curing all the zombies instead of killing them all, which is presumably motivated by her having been partially responsible for the outbreak, but we don’t really know because again, they don’t bother to get into it and this subplot is also immediately discarded and forgotten before anyone can think to question just how fucking stupid it would be to try to “cure” a bunch of flesh-eating corpses that have been rotting in a cave for the last 2-3 years.
There’s also another government research group running around doing secret tests on the zombies, which were supposed to be some kind of red herring so you’d think they were the ones behind the outbreak and your wife’s death/disappearance. They just vanish as soon you find her and learn the truth so ultimately they didn’t really serve any purpose.
There’s the fact that the zombies are apparently starting to evolve into newer, more dangerous forms, which sets up a single boss fight, and then never comes up again.
There’s the fact that the zombies are flooding into the last few populated areas faster than anyone can get rid of them and are about to overrun everyone, and Deacon and the mayor of the nice guy town whose name I can’t remember come up with the plan of blowing up the entrances to the major caves (where most of the zombies live and possibly where they’re migrating in from other states), except Deacon being the useless dickhead that he is steals the dynamite and uses it to mass murder a town full of cultists in a rage-induced revenge mission, and no one ever mentions how crazy this was of him to do and they all just forget that no one ever actually did anything about that pesky zombie problem, and Deacon just goes right back to looking for his wife again.
There’s also weird shit like the mysterious leader of the ripper cult, who seems to have a grudge against you and your buddy for unknown reasons. Later on there’s a big dramatic reveal of the identity of leader…except it’s someone we’ve never seen before. Apparently he used to be in the same biker gang as you, but got kicked out for unknown reasons, and I guess that made him mad enough to form a cult that extra-hates anyone who has tattoos because he got his biker tattoos forcibly removed? There’s never any scene introducing this guy beforehand, never any flashback that goes back and explains any of this, and he dies a few minutes after you meet him, so I can’t help but feel like something was missing here.
There also seemed to be some kind of lack of coordination between the writers and the game designers, as you see a lot of weird things like Deacon joining up with this military camp that he thinks his wife might be at, at which time he decides to lie to them about who he is and what he’s there for, so much so that he tells them he had a wife, but she’s dead and gives them a false name. Except…he has a giant fucking neck tattoo of her real name that you can’t possibly miss.
This same guy he tells this to also turns out to be wearing the highly noticeable oversized biker ring that Deacon had given to his wife before they were separated. This is obviously an attempt to make us think that they have captured her or that maybe she’s now with this new guy or something, but this is just another goofy red herring and it turns out that everyone that joins this camp has to give up their jewelry to join up, with the idea being that it’ll all get melted down to make weapons or something. That’s as far as they bother explaining how he ended up with it, but the weird part is when you watch this guy in cutscenes waving his hands around right in front of the wife and his anti-jewelry boss and the huge two-full-finger-sized ring is completely invisible to them. All these individually small details pile up into a noticeable mess pretty quickly and it makes moments like this really stand out as pointless and unfinished.
I can probably go on even longer because there’s just so much junk like this in here. Stuff like the incredibly awkward reunion between you and your wife where you both pretend you don’t know each other for seemingly no reason and she just kind of acts like she’s not at all interested in the fact that you’re alive and back until a few missions later when she suddenly changes her mind and likes you again. Stuff like your best buddy Boozer who goes through massive personality shifts throughout the game, from bitter, raving lunatic to nice guy best bud to generic action sidekick who even has one of those fucking scenes in the end where he drives an explosive truck into something to save the day and seems to sacrifice his life for a good cause and you VERY CLEARLY CAN SEE THAT HE DID NOT JUMP OUT OF THE TRUCK…except it turns out he did jump out of the truck and is fine because the writing in this game is just that shitty and lazy.
It’s weird, because this game very clearly wants so very badly to be like The Last Of Us, yet at the same time can’t be bothered to really even try. Everything is sooooo very overdramatic and overemotional, but very little of importance ever really happens and nothing of even the slightest relevance is said. The closest Days Gone ever comes to expressing a deep thought is when characters in it suggest that maybe you shouldn’t be friends with the next town over because of their whole forced work camp imprisonment policy, but then you just put on your backwards cap and say FUCK IT BRAH because they come help you shoot some dudes later. Ugh.
I think it’s best summed up with this snappy quip where Deacon tells a bad guy that basically “if he had to choose between him and the [zombies], he’d pick the [zombies] because at least they don’t kill unarmed woman”. The rabid flesh-eating zombies…don’t kill unarmed women? What? Get the fuck outta here…