Death Stranding has been shrouded in mystery and speculation for three years now. When news came that the game would have you delivering packages across a fragmented America, many wondered if that was all. Even when gameplay was shown off, some wondered how this could be a video game. Of course, we really wouldn’t know what Death Stranding was till players got it in their hands and experienced Hideo Kojima’s newfound creative freedom. Now that we get to see the fruits of Kojima Productions hard labor, what Death Stranding really is becomes much clearer. Explaining what it is on the other hand is another task all together. As you can’t truly understand the feeling of lugging containers over a hill to see your destination on the horizon till you play the game. Even then trying to sell the idea of doing this not only once but for a whole game with a run time of 60+ hours sounds exhausting. In certain moments I felt that exhaustion as I managed my inventory or tried to navigate the sometimes-infuriating menu systems and map functionality. These moments though never were anything but inconvenience’s that slowed me from enjoying the gameplay and finding that next connection on my way east.
Struggle against Death
The “Death Stranding” itself was an event that left most of the world changed forever. The aftermath resulted in the world of the dead being connected to the world of the living. This caused a massive breakdown in infrastructure and communication, along with leaving much of humanity wiped out. Now the dead named BT’s (Beached Things) appear during weather events called Timefall. Which erodes anything it touches by speeding up it’s time. Leaving maned deliveries completed by Porters as the main system of transporting goods. Even then the danger BT’s present makes delivering a tough profession, as being caught by a BT can result in a Voidout. A massive explosion that can leave entire cities consumed and nothing but caters in the aftermath. The danger of these phenomena present has resulted in humanity hiding itself away in cities or subterranean shelters. Allowing nature to reclaim the remnants of America left behind.
It’s an interesting idea and something that immediately felt like a Kojima game. I automatically felt my curiosity tingle at the idea of exploring this untamed landscape before me. It does take some time to get there though and it’s during this point that I feel players might be turned off. My biggest suggestion to new players is to get to chapter 3 as quickly as possible, as this is where the game truly opens up. While The early sections are some of the most tedious and stops you from enjoying the exploration set up in the story. Which is important since getting out to the open world and making connections to other players or NPC’s scattered around is the biggest draw of Death stranding.
The Man who Delivers
Your connection to this world and its story is all through the eyes of Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Reedus. Sam is a “Repatriate”, an individual who can come back from the other side when they die. This plays a part in explaining away why he can come back from death but also is integral to his arc. How can someone feel nothing but alone when everything can die around you, but not yourself. When Sam ends up entangled with Bridges, an organization set to reestablish America, he slowly builds connections to a strange cast of characters alongside the player. Said Cast is one of the strongest I’ve had the pleasure watching. From Deadman and his fascination with making connections to Mama’s bluntness whenever Sam asks a question. They all have their moment to shine during your long journey west as you make deliveries to connect people to the “Chiral network”. A superhighway for information to travel along and with each person connected more of the pasts lost knowledge is uncovered. This leads to an all too familiar codex library, something games have used to fill in the gaps they can’t otherwise cover. While not needed for you to enjoy the story, there is important information that helps paint more background to the central story.
That’s all I’ll really say about the story as Kojima’s cinematic nature bleeds through here. And just like if you were to go to the movies it’s best done blind. Overall this is one of Kojima’s cleanest stories with no dangling threads left over by the end. During which I felt the highs and lows with Sam, this can be put up to Norman Reddus’s performance. While Sam doesn’t really speak a lot, it was the use of mocap that truly sold his interactions with others and most importantly BB. BB isn’t just your connection to the other side so you can navigate BT terrain. It’s a part of Sam that needs just as much care as the packages he carries. Take a nasty fall or remain in a stressful situation to long and BB will start crying, there truly isn’t anything more distressing then a baby crying. It’s played to perfection here as you slowly form your own connection to BB and seeing it in such a state can be stress inducing. I’ve even seen some on twitter express their discomfort looking after BB and it’s crying. They themselves being parents and having to deal with their own children left them wondering why they’d want to do it in a game. While I didn’t have as much issue looking after BB, it’s telling that it’s crying can have such an effect that it’s off putting.
What’s a Fetch Quest?
Much of the game focuses on micromanaging system’s like the BB’s stress level as you traverse not only rough terrain but sometimes enemy encounters. This is shown off early on in your journey to give you a taste of what to expect. But both BT’s and MUELS, rouge porters who steal cargo, never presented much of a threat. MUELS are more annoying then anything else, they can quite easily be knocked out even in the early game. You can also just run away from them which isn’t too hard, so long as you’re not too weighed down. BT’s are the more daunting of the two, getting into a scrap before you’ve unlocked equipment to fight back leaves you with no real option but to escape. This is if you get caught though, I found that navigating BT infested locations not to difficult even on hardest difficulty. The real enemy is Timefall which always accompanies BT’s. Nothing is more dangerous then something that can damage your cargo. It takes many forms in Death Stranding but Timefall is by far the worst with it eroding your containers then it’s contents. This is by far the only thing that I feel was affected by changing the difficulty. As it will drain your packages faster leaving you with few options but to either plan a different route avoiding the Timefall or coming equipped with the necessary gear to negate its affect.
Balancing your load for the delivery with your planned route is the most important choice to make, I just wish it wasn’t so finicky. When starting a delivery, you end up traversing a total of 3 different menus with another for vehicles if available. If this wasn’t enough, you can’t plan your route till out of these menu’s. The fabrication menu, used to make gear for the journey, does come with a map to see your destination but you can’t close off the side menu to see or interact with the map in full. After getting everything loaded up and ready it’s time to plan out your path. The map is another area that I feel didn’t get enough love since it outputs very little info. A topographical map with more info on it would have been more appreciated then the messy ability to turn the map 3D by holding down the touchpad. It all is just a little confusing why it is designed this way, with the map being such an important lifeline in your travels. Even then it never really stopped me from figuring out the best route to take.
After a couple of deliveries, you get into a flow and eventually you’ll be taking on multiple orders with a final destination in mind. During which you’ll pick up more orders on your way to your final stop. This is where the game was at it’s peak and as you connect more people to the Chiral Network the easier it becomes. This is where Death Stranding’s social Multiplayer showcases its ability to take strangers and turn them into lifelines helping complete your deliveries. Anything placed out in the world from ladders to structures built can populate another players world. Lost cargo and vehicles left behind will also be available to use if you so see fit. It is by far one of the most interesting multiplayer interactions I’ve every had. All in all, it is a strange sense of community as I’ve never encountered any of the players or even talked to them. But I still felt like they were there on the journey with me. Eventually you’ll unlock more equipment including weaponry for BT’s and Human’s, Leading to combat and its consequences.
I’m a Deliver not a fighter
Hideo Kojima has always pushed pacifism in his games, it isn’t about killing but instead doing what you can to avoid it. In Metal Gear Solid series this normally meant being found and overwhelmed with enemies leading to a game over screen. In Death Stranding it takes on a different more impactful form, as leaving a trail of dead bodies in your wake means an easy target for BT’s to cause a Voidout. These events cause massive craters in the world, marking your failure to avoid this outcome. The craters also form a wall around them making it impossible to progress forward and leaving the only option to go around. It’s an impactful consequence for killing and illustrates this isn’t a shooter, leaving me boggled why force gun combat on players at all.
During certain sections of the game I’ll call battle missions, your left no option but to pick up a weapon and use it. The first time this happened I chalked it up to a unique encounter but when it popped up another two times, I was left confused. Death Stranding is not a shooter, something Kojima himself has expressed, so why have these encounters at all. It is especially obvious with how the gunplay feels, it’s awkward and more times then not the crosshair would fly right past an enemy. I get the feeling that Kojima wanted me to hate using a gun as much as possible. Which is fine if your trying to send a message, but when certain points in the game require the usage of weaponry and leave you no choice but to fight. I question what the thinking behind such a choice is, especially when these encounters suddenly spike in difficulty. These spikes were the lowest points in the game for me. After one spike in difficulty I had unknowingly damaged my cargo till it only had 1% of health left. Being exhausted after the encounter Sam needed to rest for a bit, after giving him what I thought was enough time. I had him stand up only to comically but his hands out the side to try and balance himself and fall backwards, destroying the cargo. I was lucky enough that it put me right after the encounter because at that stage I was ready to walk away from the game. I’m glad I didn’t and instead got to finish Sam’s story.
Death Stranding is an ambitious creation from the Kojima Productions team and illustrates that even the most mundane of ideas can create something special. Through my 60+ hours I never got board of what the game was and only ever got frustrated when it tried to be something else. That’s impressive for a game loop kept incredibly simple. While not everything else is kept as simple and Kojima’s flare for cinema comes through repeated cutscenes. I still enjoyed every moment of my track through one of the most stunning game worlds to date.