Bikers, freakers and bears, oh my… less than 24 hours since Days Gone roared onto the E3 stage to give us a fresh look at its open world gameplay, I caught up with Geoff Hammon, Technical Game Designer for Bend Studios to find out more about the world of Deacon St. John – and see a different take on that on-stage demo.
1. The weather can change everything
As the second play-through begins, it’s snowing, rather than raining. Seemingly a minor point, but enough to change the course of the action. This time there are no wolves to distract Deacon from the road, giving him time to spot the ambush up ahead, stalk through the woodland to flank the attackers and take them out.
“Depending on what region of the world you’re in and whether it’s raining, snowing or sunny – that’s going to impact what goes on in the world around you, how the bike handles, and the creatures you encounter”, Geoff explains, while scavenging the hapless attackers’ tripwire and weapons.
“As you move through the world, things change all the time. With the clothesline ambush, that isn’t scripted – you won’t always find those guys there waiting to ambush you. There might be nothing there, there might be a different event waiting to happen, or you might get jumped by them in a different way, in a different place.”
2. Freakers can be used to your advantage
The E3 demo showed Deacon spotting a swarm of Freakers, blowing up the walls of an enemy camp and setting them loose on the humans inside.
“Freakers will kill anything that moves, or at least will try to, so if you find them in the same area as humans, you can definitely use that to your advantage” says Geoff. “There’s a lot of variation in what you could find in different areas and it’s fun to play around with the combinations.”
To prove this point, and to further highlight how scenarios can play out differently, in our play-through, there is no swarm to weaponise. “Freakers don’t like the wet conditions so much”, apparently.
Instead, Geoff creeps through the camp and spots a human tormenting a Freaker that’s chained to a tree. With a deftly placed crossbow bolt, the chain is broken and it’s set free to wreak havoc, causing enough of a distraction for Deacon to take out the sniper nests that ring the camp.
From there, it’s an all-guns blazing assault, taking out enemies with the assault rifle that had been scavenged earlier – a very different approach than letting the Freakers do the work, and more proof that encounters can play out in multiple ways.
3. Your bike is your best friend
Across the plains and deserts of the Pacific North-West setting of Days Gone, travel is done via trails, tracks and forest paths rather than roads, making Deacon’s bike an essential part of his journey.
“Deacon takes the brotherhood and loyalty of a motorcycle club very seriously. It’s something he’ll risk his life for” explains Geoff. And as a result, his bike is a major part of the Days Gone experience.
“Deacon’s drifter bike is definitely not just for travel – we’re treating it as a character in itself. It’s special to Deacon, he’s crafted it over the two years that the world has changed and you’ll get to customise it and add upgrades. It’s his mobile inventory, so we’re fully integrating it into the game as much as possible”.
4. There’s still hope in the world
Despite the state that we find Deacon’s world in, two years on from the pandemic that ravaged humanity, there are still pockets of civilisation that cling on to hope. The demo begins in Copeland’s camp, and as Geoff explains, Deacon’s relationship with them isn’t straightforward.
“They’re an encampment of law-abiding – if there is such a thing anymore – people who want to carve out a life and try to get back what they lost. Copeland is their leader, but Deacon is a mercenary and not necessarily a law-abiding kind of person. He’s a drifter, he doesn’t want to stay in those places too long. And especially in the early game, Deacon is kind of rough, he’s had a lot of loss, and that’s reflected in his character”.
“When we start the game Deacon is very broken, very rough, he hasn’t accepted how things are, but one of our big themes is hope. And how you come back from what’s happened to the world”.
5. There are bears. Infected. FREAKER. BEARS.
Both the E3 stage demo and our alternative play-through ended at the same place, with a huge, savage bear wandering into the camp dragging barbed wire behind it.
“Infected bears aren’t afraid of anything, they’ll charge and kill anything they see and they’re very hard to fight” Geoff tells me. “I certainly wouldn’t try getting close enough to it to put barbed wire on his head”.
As the demo draws to a close, it’s clear that when Days Gone arrives on PS4, it’s a journey that will give us multiple paths to every destination – and I can’t wait to get started.