It’s hard not to see The Last of Us all through Days Gone. Central character Deacon’s weary mercenary charm makes him a murderous soulmate to Joel’s callous world view. The world too, ravaged by zombies called freakers, and filled with desperate survivors that are just as much a threat, apes Sony’s other apocalyptic offering. But there’s a surprising Bethesda vein running through Days Gone's heart, creating a world filled with random events and encounters all varied by time of day, weather and even your own actions.
For example, Freakers don’t like the cold. So, while the Sony conference playthrough saw Deacon lure a swarm into attacking an enemy base to rescue a friend, my demo happened during a snow fall. That means no monster back up. Deacon instead stealthed his way into the compound under the cover of darkness (the different time of day adding an extra variation), first taking out a sniper and then using his silenced rifle to thin out the guards, before starting a full on assault.
So, where Sony’s demo saw a horde of barely human freakers wash through the camp killing everything in their path, I saw a cover heavy gunfight at night, with Deacon dashing between barriers and trees to flank the bad guys with an AK-47, prised from one of the people he’d sniped earlier. The difference in approach, and the altered look of the areas at night, meant it could have almost passed for a different mission entirely. If I hadn’t been told it was the same I might not even have noticed. That’s massively exciting because while it looks as good as the Last Of Us’ end of days action, that variation puts this so far away from Joel and Ellie's tightly scripted action.
Almost everything you saw in the Sony demo might play out differently for you or even not happen at all. As well as changes in the weather and a day/night cycle, there could have been different animals around; freakers could have been there in less, or more, numbers. Even the ambush that saw Deacon thrown from his bike by a tripwire was a random event. In this case it still happened, but this time Deacon clocked it in advance and circled around to turn the tables and take the attackers by surprise.
One thing Days Gone also shares with The Last of Us is that same sense of desperate brutality. Just like Joel’s famous hotel encounter in an early E3 demo, this saw an enemy pleading for his life on the ground after losing a fight. “You had your chance,” growls Deacon, before caving his face in with a boot. This is a game that doesn’t shy away from what survival means in a kill or be killed situation. There are unpleasantly brutal stabbings, judicious use of axes to necks, and lead pipes cracking skulls - whatever it takes to be the last man standing.
In addition to the random elements promised, there seemed to be a wealth of mechanics and tools to make use of. Deacon has a don’t-question-just-go-with-it sense ability that highlights clues, traps and resources to help make choices in any give situation. It’s colour coded (orange for traps, for example) to help read a situation quickly, and can open up new options if you think to use it. There’s also a recipe based crafting system - I saw a rag being grabbed to finish off a Molotov and tree branches harvested to make crossbow bolts. The availability of tools like that, as well as extras such as the bear trap seen in the demo, open up plenty of extra possibilities.
It’s a promising mix: The Last of Us’ uncompromisingly raw post-apocalyptic survival, where humanity’s a greater threat than the monsters, along with a Bethesda-like open world filled with unpredictable situations and surprises. All bound by consistent rules and mechanics you can use to live another day. While the main story and missions will obviously be the same, it sounds this has the potential to give everyone their own experience which is very exciting indeed.