This review includes minor spoilers about the mission structure and overall story direction. There are no spoilers for major narrative moments.
Around 10 hours into Days Gone, you're thrown into a hunting tutorial around nothing. The over-the-top libertarian character takes you out with a rifle and shows you how to track a deer, although you've already had a tracking tutorial. You're then tasked with getting more meat for you and your buddy because your supply is running low, something you never have to do again. You also do not cook or eat; You can only donate meat to camps around the map to earn a negligible amount of trust and money with them. After a little while, even stopping to get meat off the wolves that attacked you does not seem worth it.
Like many things in the days of Gone, hunting exists just to be there, an Idea that is picked up and then abandoned at random. Unlike hunting, some of these ideas are even good at the moment. But most aspects of the days have gone missing. Its many narrative threads flirt with being meaningful and interesting but never quite commit, with characters whose actions and motivations do not make sense. Riding a souped-up motorcycle through the world and taking out zombie nests and hordes is satisfying in the way that completing the open-world checklists is often, but by the end you're left wondering what the point of it all was.  The first act of the game – about 20 hours or so – sets up quite a few narrative arcs. Two years after the initial "Freaker" outbreak, biker buddies Deacon St. John and Boozer have become drifters doing odd jobs for nearby survivor camps and keeping them mostly for themselves. Deacon's wife, Sarah, was stabbed at the very beginning of the outbreak; Deacon put her on a government helicopter for a refugee camp so she could get medical attention, but when he and Boozer arrived, the camp was overtaken by Freaks, and Sarah was apparently dead. Deacon is understandably not coping with it well. Boozer suggests riding north and leaving the memories behind, but Deacon's bike breaks down and is subsequently looted for parts, so one of your main goals is to earn trust and credit at nearby camps in order to rebuild your motorcycle.
The motorcycle is central to everything you do in Days Gone. Getting anywhere, including by fast travel, requires your bike, and if you want to save while out in the world, you'd better be right next to it. Getting off your bike is a matter of both your entry and your exit; You need to stop far enough away from the enemies so they do not hear you coming, but you also need to be able to run to your bike quickly if things go south and you need to escape. And, as you're sneaking past the Freakers to loot things like bandages and ammo, you also need to look at a gas can and some scrap metal to keep your bike in top shape – if it breaks down or runs out of gas, you're basically screwed. That said, gas and other loot do regenerate if you leave and return to a location, so you will never really run out of anything until you put the time to look for it.
At the beginning you do jobs for two camps: Copeland's conspiracy theorist stronghold and Tucker's hellish forced labor camp. Copeland has a mechanic capable of upgrading your bike, while Tucker's has a well-stocked weapons merchant. Your starter junk bike gets about a mile per gallon, and you can not store a gas on your bike or your person, so you either have to return to a camp to fuel up or constantly scrounge for gas cans out in Freaker territory. This makes wandering around and doing things in the open world frustrating at first, so you do a lot of throwaway missions for the two camps to start.
Many These early missions consist of cookie-cutter bounty-hunting and rescue jobs in which you go to a place, track a person using your apparently psychic Survival Vision to highlight footprints and other clues, and then kill some bandits or freakers. Some of these require you to take the target alive, which often means chasing them on your bike and shooting at their tires with your pistol. If you happen to run out of gas or ammo, or if your bike is already weak and breaks down after a couple of bumpy turns, you auto-fail these missions and have to start over. You also accelerate with R2 and shoot with R1, which, while not horrible, is clunky and awkward.
One early scene involving a drug thief kicks off a series of missions like these that once completed, has no bearing on the rest of the game despite initial appearances; Once you track down the stolen drugs you have to choose which camp to return them to, but there is no consequence either way, and then the situation is dropped entirely. The only result is getting some trust and credits with one of the camps – I chose Copeland simply because I wanted money for a better fuel tank. A lot of the story missions going forward, as you find a third, more narratively relevant camp, follow the same structures as these earlier missions. But the focus on Tucker and Copeland specifically amounts to hours of nothing in the grand scheme of the story. Tucker's forced labor does not come back to bite anyone, and while Tucker and Copeland do not seem to like each other, doing work for one camp does not affect your relationship with the other. When you get to the third camp, Lost Lake, Tucker and Copeland cease to matter at all, not least because Lost Lake has both better mechanic and better weapons.
Once you upgrade your bike a bit , though, the world opens up. No longer bound by a low gas mileage and a weak arsenal, you can go further and handily take on enemy-controlled areas around the map. You clear ambush camps by killing everyone present and eliminating Freaker infestation zones by burning all their nests. In addition to trust and credits, clearing an ambush camp, you have the resources to loot, a map of the area, and a new fast travel point; Destroying an infestation zone allows you to quickly travel in the area. Unlocking the map and neutralizing the threats is satisfying in the way that the cleaning up of the clutter is bit by bit, and you can pay off your bike's upgrades. However, there's little variety between each ambush camp and the infestation zone, and they get repetitive early – especially since Deacon is dry-heaves and whines about the nests smelling horrible at each one.
The real motivation to do all of this is twofold . Earlier in the game, Deacon's best friend Boozer is attacked by a group of Rippers, a doomsday cult with a number of bizarre rituals. The Rippers sing a tattoo off Boozer's arm and leave him with third-degree burns, so Deacon's purpose in life is to keep Boozer alive and healthy. This involves finding sterile bandages and the one mission where you collect meat for him. On top of that, though, Deacon sees a helicopter belonging to the government agency NERO, which was involved in initial relief efforts, flying overhead. That gives Deacon a bit of hope that Sarah might still be alive, since he'd put her on a Nero helicopter after she was stabbed, so you start stalking the NERO soldiers and scientists to investigate further.