Days Gone May Have Been Too Big for This World

There was a time, somewhere around the PS3 and Xbox 360 that we, as a community of like-minded hobbyists, decided that a bigger game world=better game. Back then were the heady days of Ubisoft’s first forays into giant game worlds as a marketing plan. Assassin’s Creed II was massive. You didn’t know you wanted to see like, all of Italy, until you played that game. The collectathon of our youths was being reborn as “serious games”, where it wasn’t goofy to collect every piece of every mcguffin to fully complete a game. I’m going to explain, in my own weird way, why I think Days Gone may have been the death knell of the giant open-world game.

Days Gone isn’t bad. Let me state that first up. It is one of my favorite games in the big open world genre – and I think that’s the problem. The big open world shouldn’t be a genre tag in and of itself. A well-thought-out world is much better than a big one. The thing is, Days Gone‘s world was well thought out. You play as a motorcycle gang member that was roughly forced into a zombie apocalypse. It’s some time since everything kicked off, and people are starting to rebuild the best they can. Settlements and outposts of the strong-willed and well-armed dot the Pacific Northwest setting of the game. It all feels right. There’s just way too damn much of it.

In the late ’80s, video games were kid’s fare. A fad. Something to keep the kiddies quiet while the adults did coke, or whatever it was people were doing in the late ’80s. As time has passed, we’ve all gotten older, and the hobby has grown with us. As we’ve grown, so have our responsibilities. When you’re a kid, it just makes sense to collect everything in Banjo Kazooie. You’re a kid, you’ve got nothing to do. It’s summer vacation. You don’t have a car. Might as well get everything in the game. You could brag about it to your friends when school was back in. “I got 100% in Donkey Kong 64“, could be worn like a mark of pride. Your hand would hurt from all the high-fives you’ve been getting.

Getting 100% completion in something like Days Gone isn’t an accomplishment. I mean, it is, in a technical sense, but if you announced to me, “Hey, I got 100% in Days Gone!”, I’d immediately leave the room and call someone to come assist you. To be reductive and crass – two of my favorite things – about it: I’ve got shit to do. Up until about a year ago, I worked a full-time, 50+ hour-a-week job, outside of my home. A lot of people in the community are in the same position. As a games journalist and social media manager, I can actually sit down and complete games now. I won’t 100% them for the most part, though. The time investment needed to see everything in some games is just too high.

Days Gone is good. I need to repeat that. I think a lot of the ire that Days Gone has drawn is due to its size. In a world where a new Call of Duty is released every 15 minutes, a 60+ hour open world game just ain’t it anymore. I could blame attention spans, or I could blame game companies for releasing too much, too quickly, but I think I have to blame Days Gone. A lot of talk has happened about a sequel to Days Gone. The talking heads of Youtube outrage bait will tell you that a sequel can’t happen to a game that bad. A game that sold *checks notes* 9 million+ copies, if their studio head is to be believed. Public perception of Days Gone is bad because everyone said it was bad too much is a hell of a take, I know.

There is a way to make a sequel. I’ll give you the secret: Scale it down. Pull back the game about 65%. Make it a more linear experience. The story in Days Gone was good if you had the time to see it all. It was well-written, the voice actors did a great job, and the world it built was engaging and interesting. Take those things, and remove the miles and miles of open landscape, dotted with the occasional abandoned gas station full of zombies. Seriously, the world in Days Gone was so big you had to put gas in your bike to keep going. I’m not even saying to not make it open world. There are small open-world games that absolutely kill it.

In some ways, I think Breath of the Wild and Grand Theft Auto 5 have poisoned the well a bit. “If it takes me less than 5 hours to cross your game map on foot it’s not good!”, you cry from your fortress built entirely of free time and a love of the plains. Listen, I live in the plains. It’s boring. There’s nothing here, and aspiring to catch the feeling of boundless nothingness isn’t the way games need to be made moving forward. I think that Days Gone caused a sea change in a way. Even Far Cry, a series known for having big worlds with lots to do, has scaled back from its previous entries. Moving forward, I think we’re going to see a lot of big stories told in smaller ways. You can have high stakes, you can have the end of the world. I just don’t want to have to drive through 200 miles of nothingness just to talk to an NPC who is going to send me back the way I came. That’s just lazy.

I hope Days Gone gets a sequel. I hope they see this – they won’t – and take my words to heart. Make a smaller game world. I’m tired enough wandering through the real one.