WARNING: Major spoilers for Days Gone.
Days Gone's story is quite thrilling, but its ending twist ruins all the character development that Deacon St. John built up. It's a long path to redemption for Deacon (with six hours of cutscenes), set in the backdrop of the "zombie" apocalypse. Smartly, the setting of Deacon's story provides the opportunity for rich character moments and difficult moralistic choices.
But Sony Bend takes the easy way, opting to never force Deacon to truly grapple with the mistakes that he's made. Instead, he coasts by on his bike past any meaningful change to his self-righteous and obsessed loner attitude. Watching a character grow and become better is part of the reason games like The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Uncharted 4 are so satisfying. Deacon fits in the same archetype of those games' protagonists: gruff survivors with occasional quick wit. Yet when they all face the music, Deacon receives a "get out of jail free" card for his emotional growth.
Deacon begins Days Gone in pursuit of his wife, Sarah. He blames himself for what he believes to be her death, having placed her on a helicopter alone to a government facility. There are plenty of turns in Deacon's search for Sarah. Through doing runs and bounties for survivors, Deacon gets to better know the other people in his vast, bleak world of Days Gone, as well as the sacrifices they had to make. But like Deacon, Days Gone isn't actually interested in these subplots or side characters. People like Rikki and Iron Mike are just fluff, assistants to guide Deacon to his ultimate goal.
Days Gone's Ending Twist
In one of Days Gone's many twists, Deacon is revealed to have been correct all along in his obsession: Sarah is still alive. Not only is she still alive, but Deacon finds her without any pomp and circumstance. Their reunion is a strange one; the husband and wife have to hide that they know each other due to the militaristic regime in which they find themselves. It may make sense in context, but it is unpleasant to watch. At this point, Days Gone has spent over 20 hours building to this moment and it just... sort of happens.
While the two later make-up (and get some alone time), this scene still leaves a bad taste in the player's mouth. If Deacon's journey was meant to be cathartic, almost wish-fulfillment, then it seems like a poor choice to make their reunion so lackluster. And if the inverse is true, that Days Gone hopes to reveal that things have changed in two years and Sarah is not the same person that Deacon knew, then the commitment to this idea quickly falls to shreds.
When Deacon finds Sarah after two years of searching, she is working in a militia base on Wizard Island, Oregon. Apparently due to her abrasive attitude and a bit of post-government sexism, she is referred to as the "Wizard Island Witch." We are told that the end of the world (and the supposed loss of her husband) has hardened Sarah, but we never see it. Sure, she can fire a gun now, but she still relies on Deacon to save her numerous times.
All of this might have been forgiven if Deacon loses her again. The oppression of the post-apocalypse isn't just, but given the often bleak tone of the game, this might have been a more fitting ending. To find his wife alive just to see her die and be forced to come to terms with a new life. Instead, Deacon and Sarah defeat all the (human) bad guys and ride off into the sunset together.
Why This Days Gone Twist Is Bad
Perhaps the biggest shame is that this Days Gone twist is cushioned by two other twists that actually do a much better job of examining grief. The first being the reveal that the leader of the Rippers - and, therefore, the actions of the entire gang - is actually spurred by the actions of Deacon and Booker. The third is that Sarah's research at work was indirectly responsible for the freaker plague. These reveals fundamentally understand the ideas of obsession that Days Gone somehow seems to miss entirely.
When Booker and Deacon hold Jesse down in a flashback, and their Mongrel leader Jack burns off his tattoo, the audience has little context for the events. It's unfortunate that Sony Bend didn't make this a playable moment, forcing the player to actually make the active decision to hold Jesse and watch, perhaps more closely, as Jack branded him for life. This ultimately ends up being Jesse's (now Carlos) signature move, the scarring of survivors. His belief that humans should be more like freakers is directly tied to the horrific events that befell him before the apocalypse; he thinks we don't deserve salvation. But Deacon learns very little from his encounter with the Rippers, never visibly accepting accountability for the deaths his actions led to.
Sarah, like Jesse, also has a more complete arc than Deacon, even though it isn't fully examined. Her guilt over the creation of a zombie disease evaporates in the next scene. She has an emotional reaction to her attempt at a cure not working and then - poof. We get the happy ending. Days Gone doesn't appear to be interested in exploring any deep catharsis, and isn't that what the apocalypse is all about?
Deacon gets everything he wanted and never grapples with realizing what he wanted has changed. Sarah is alive; she still loves him, and they get to be together. All the friendships he has fostered, the work he has done, they really end up just being dressing to this main story. He uses people to get to his wife and there are no consequences to this action. Even when Boozer appears to have died after a self-sacrificial play, he quickly resurfaces. He's fine, the game assures you. Deacon has a happy ending.
But after all the bad that Deacon has done, and the setting of an apocalypse to explore it, it's disappointing that Days Gone doesn't ask a more important question than, "Will Deacon get the life he wants?" Deacon let people die just to find his wife again. He killed and he cared about no one but himself (and Boozer). So when Deacon gets the life he wants, why doesn't Days Gone ask if Deacon even deserves it?