The Days Gone review embargo was a divisive moment in the video game world. While some sites, like our own, gave Days Gone praise and positive scores, others couldn’t get past some of the technical issues that the game had. Review copies were sent out about two weeks ahead of that embargo. By release day, update 1.03 was already live which fixed many of those issues, but by that time it would be too late. Reviews were already in the can, sent off to editors, and ready to go live, meaning that a good majority of those day one reviews were played using update 1.02 or lower. Reviewers didn’t go back to see if 1.03 (and we’re up to something like 1.07 now, I think?) resolved issues that they brought up.
Now our own review took these updates into account. In fact, Sony was aware of the issues and noted that performance problems—specifically on the base PS4 model—would be fixed by launch day. Unfortunately reviewers had a good week and a half of muddy textures, performance issues, and crashes to sour their experience, with the 1.03 update not releasing until just two days before embargo. By this time, most of these reviewers had completed their journey with Deacon (or not, we’ll get to that in a moment), and their impressions were set in stone. They weren’t about to pull a Jack from Lost situation here. They were done and moving on.
Truth is, we as reviewers, journalists, and people who do this daily don’t really have the time to go back. There’s a reason we don’t review games on both PS4 and PS4 Pro. There’s a reason we don’t really ever do re-reviews or follow up reviews. There’s always something else to do, something else to play, and something else to write about. So if you’d already had almost two weeks with the game, it’s a hard sell to say “go back and try it again, only this time with fixes. Those things need to be in place before being put into critics hands. You wouldn’t allow the press to see a movie before all of the special effects are done on it, or before editing is complete. The copy that reviewers gets needs to be as close to the day one final as it’s going to be.
Now I’ve covered the video game industry for going on seven years, so I’m well aware that it’s not nearly as simple as that, and I don’t want to create the false impression that it’s easy to just shift around dates or ship a perfect game right out of the gate. Many of the issues discovered were likely found after the game went gold anyway (and that was even after multiple delays to get to this point). Our own review noted the issues that we ourselves had with the game, but also had taken a small sampling of the post-patch game to see if it fixed issues (I had already rolled credits before the 1.03 update launched). Here’s where many reviewers found a tough line: do we rate the game based on the launch code, or the updates that fixed issues? What about people who buy physical with no internet?
We can only review based on our own experiences. Embargoes are tricky things, and it’s not like there’s a massive network of reviewers out there all colluding. That’s why you see multiple different scores. That’s why I felt totally confident and comfortable with my 9/10, while sites like GameSpot had no problem giving it a resounding 5 out of 10. Each reviewer then needs to decide for themselves how much they account for things like day one updates, how they weigh the presented narrative against gameplay, and just what their final verdict will be.
But Days Gone Reviews Needed to Go Out Early
Here’s the unfortunate catch-22 of the whole situation. Days Gone reviews needed to go out early. In my own experience, and that of many people I’ve talked to, Days Gone is a slow burn game that starts to really show how special it is over time. It’s a long experience, and a short review period would mean that many people may rush it or not even play all of it, missing out on some crucial elements, both from a story perspective and a gameplay angle. Reading through many reviews, this was the impression that I got from them. Some comments and statements made me feel like they had glossed over the point and not even played the same game that I had, which has me suspicious that some people may have taken shortcuts in the review process.
PS4 Trophies’ Brian agrees. He had received an early code for trophy guides, and felt that many of the critic reviews were incomplete.
I’m seeing a lot of Days Gone reviewers claim things about the story that are flat out lies, like they didn’t complete EVERY storyline path or rushed through it. The biggest and most exciting reveals come late and gives you greater understanding and character development
— Brian (@PS4_Trophies) April 25, 2019
Regardless of the mixed critical reception (though let’s be honest, a good majority of critic reviews are positive at 7.5 or above), it seems like users are liking the game a lot more than the critics. There are still some issues that people run into here and there—like this hilarious spontaneous horde spawn—and I understand that the narrative may not have caught on for some, but reception to Days Gone outside of the critic realm has been widely positive, much more so than the ratio created by some bigger outlets giving the game a lower score. I sincerely believe that if Days Gone reviews had been delayed and the majority of people’s playtime had been on update 1.03 and later, the messaging on the day of the review embargo wouldn’t have had the same negative tone. The discussion surrounding the game could have been more nuanced critique instead of snappy hot takes, glitch captures, and out of context bits of conversation.
I’m not saying that people need to like it, but I think the game was always headed for a good amount of negative critical reception by putting it into the hands of the press in the state it was in pre-update 1.03. It’s easier to be snappy about a narrative decision or a piece of dialog when you’ve been staring at poor textures, listening to audio issues, and experiencing crashes all the way back to the PS4 menu. It makes even the minor thematic issues turn into glaring problems, and then when a patch comes along and fixes the technical mess, your first impressions remain. Now that people are actually playing it with all of the fixes installed from the start, we’re seeing a whole new set of fans able to have that nuanced discussion about the game whether they like the game or not.
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