Days Gone: Meet The Freakers
We've already taken a look at several of the challenges and activities that Deacon will be partaking in during Days Gone, most of which will be complicated by the game's terrifying zombie-like freakers. However, they aren't the only threat Deacon will face in the Oregon wilderness. Players will find themselves at odds with a variety of other foes, both infected and human. Join us as break down all the enemy types we saw during our hands-on gameplay session, and detail what we know about them so far.
Days Gone's freakers may look like zombies, but they're not actually undead. Instead Sony Bend is going the 28 Days Later route with their post-apocalyptic lore; an unknown virus has infected humanity, turning its victims into primitive – but still very much alive – beings who will attack and feed on any creature in sight.
While most of our interactions with freakers involved stabbing, bludgeoning, or shooting them to death, we did learn a few more tidbits about them during our hands-on time. Freakers live in nests and tend to hibernate during the day, which makes getting stuck out in the wilderness at night a potentially deadly proposition. Freakers also exhibit swarming behavior, and congregate in massive hordes that roam the countryside. The trajectory of these hordes isn't random – like all living creatures, freakers need to eat, drink, and sleep, and will migrate between their sleeping grounds and potential food and water sources. Freakers will eat pretty much anything, including animals, your enemies, and even other freakers, so you can use their feral nature to your advantage. "They don't care that much about the player, they just care about the thing that they're most likely to get to," says game director Jeff Ross. "That gets into the strategic sandbox experience. You can go in and just try and fight them directly, but fighting them indirectly helps you juggle and manage the chaos."
Freakers proved to be formidable foes during our hands-on session. While Deacon can easily hold his own against one or two of them, any more can quickly become overwhelming. This threat is exacerbated by the durability of melee weapons (most will break after killing a few enemies), and fact that prolonged gunfire will often attract more freakers. Trying to sneak up and kill them quietly is advised, but freakers are more perceptive than the typical brain-dead zombie, so regardless of your strategy, don't expect dealing with them to be a walk in the park.
These surprising foes (seen at the bottom of the screenshot) are what happens when adolescents are infected with the devastating pathogen in Days Gone, and they are by far the most unsettling enemy type in the game. Unlike adult freakers who will attack you head-on, newts scurry on all fours and generally keep their distance. "[Newts] are one of the more interesting [enemy types] from a design sense, because they're not meant to be direct threats," Ross says. "They've got their safe havens, like perches on rooftops where they go to feel safe, and they come down to hunt."
There's a reason newts are skittish: They have an adversarial relationship with adult freakers, who will attack them on sight – another example of the interplay Sony Bend is crafting between Days Gone's various enemy types. Because of this newts are more scavengers than predators, and will wait for a (relatively) safe opportunity to make their move. "You have to be careful, because if you're retreating from another encounter and you have low health or you're searching around and are distracted looking for loot, that's when they'll strike," Ross says. "It's something where you have to be mindful, and as soon as you forget, they're going to strike."
During our play session, newts commanded an eerie presence in the environment; not only are their appearance and movement unnerving, but having them scurry around us while we attempted to stay hidden from the larger and more threatening adult freakers ratcheted up the tension. True to the warning Ross gave us, the pack of newts swarmed us when we least expected it; ignore them at your own peril.
Not all of Days Gone's freaker threats are human. Runners are massive, rabid wolves who have been mutated by the deadly pathogen. Their sprinting speed can even give Deacon's bike a run for its money, diminishing the sense of safety you get when cruising along on the open road. Runners are considerably more difficult to kill than a human freaker, so players will want to keep their eyes peeled while riding.
Our brief (and terrifying) encounter with a runner occurred during a bike-chase sequence – the galloping creature lunged at us out of nowhere, prompting us with a QTE button press to fend it off before it knocked us down. Chasing down our bounty instantly took a backseat to evading our own pursuer, who made several more swipes at us before we escaped for good. The encounter left a lasting impression, which is precisely what Sony Bend is aiming for. "They're a constant looming threat," Ross says. However, "looming" is the operative word. "We really want to mete these things out, so they're not constant, because they're going to lose their magic or suspense or [sense of] adrenaline if we just pulled them out every five seconds," Ross says. "They're designed to add tension and fear to the world, and to surprise you when you least expect it."
Runners can travel solo or in small packs, so you'll want to give them a wide berth if you're lucky enough to spot them from a distance.
Days Gone's default human enemy, marauders can be found throughout the world and operate out of their own established camps that Deacon will be taking on over the duration of the game. More often than not, however, marauders will find you. "We do stuff in this game that I don't think other games do, where we screw the player over a lot," says lead open-world designer Eric Jensen. "You're not safe anywhere. If you stand in one place too long, something's going to come for you."
Marauders bring the fight to Deacon via setting up a variety of ambushes, from nearly imperceptible clothesline traps that can knock him off his bike to pushing cars down hills at him as he cruises along unaware. In terms of traditional combat, marauders come equipped with the standard assortment of weapons, including pistols, sniper rifles, and melee weapons. Days Gone's combat is deadlier than many other action games, however, so you'll want to use stealth takedowns, traps, distractions, and even roaming freakers to your advantage when going up against your fellow survivors.
Another human enemy type, rippers have adopted a more Mad Max approach to living (and dying) in the post-apocalypse. Rippers have essentially deified the freaker infection, and are easily identified by the countless cuts and scars on their bodies – including the "R.I.P." acronym carved into their foreheads. Their beliefs have a direct impact on gameplay. "Rippers are not afraid to die, and their tactics are more intense [in comparison to marauders]," Ross says. "They come from a world where [victory comes by] any means necessary, even sacrificing themselves. They'll do whatever it takes to kill the player to serve their leader."
While rippers will take on Deacon and other humans with suicidal determination, freakers are a different story. "[Rippers] revere freakers," Ross says. "That leads to really interesting open-world encounters, where normally you'd want to bring freakers down on an enemy camp. If you bring freakers into a ripper camp, you're going to get a different response that reflects their worldview and cult belief, which is 'Do not harm freakers.' It's fascinating to watch."
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see this ripper/freaker dynamic in action – instead our interaction was limited to an early story mission, where a small band of rippers captured Deacon's best friend, Boozer, and proceeded to burn his tattoos off with a blowtorch in an attempt to purify him. That injury acts as a driving force for Deacon to go out and explore the world for supplies to help his friend early in the game – while hopefully avoiding more run-ins with the deranged cult.
We're still not sure why Sony Bend didn't go with the name "Zombear," but regardless, creative director John Garvin confirmed during our rapid-fire questions video that the infected freaker bear who offered up a roaring conclusion to Days Gone's E3 2017 demo appears both in the form of a boss fight and as regular enemies in the world. Based on the developer's approach to runners, we're guessing the same "more is less" mentality applies here as well – i.e., you won't constantly be running into freaker bears while exploring Oregon. Running for your life when you see one also seems like a pretty good bet – or luring them into enemy ambush camps if you can.
While these were all the threats we saw during our hands-on coverage, we know Sony Bend has at least one more enemy type up its sleeve that it wasn't ready to talk about yet. Not only that, but the freakers you'll be encountering with may have some additional surprises of their own. "One difference between our freakers and other zombies is that ours are mutating," says creative director John Garvin. "And not in a Resident Evil 4 way – we're trying to be realistic. [Like] having enemies that can suddenly – they're not afraid of the light anymore. It's one of the things that NERO is exploring and it's one of the things that the player is learning over time." While we don't yet know how freakers will be changing over the course of the game, it's clear that Deacon will have his work cut out for him regardless of who he's going up against.
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