With people connected now more than ever, it’s easy to find divisive opinions on video games. While some divisions are subjective opinions on the story, Death Stranding’s lies almost entirely within the gameplay. My objective today: to do my best to try and record why exactly the gameplay clicked for me.
The core gameplay loop surrounds a delivery system that rewards the player with “Likes.” Connecting cities or bunkers to the network requires (in most cases) a significant number of Likes. Cities are relatively thirsty to join the UCA (United Cities of America), but getting the Preppers (isolated people hold up in bunkers) to join makes some convincing. What better way to convince them than to complete deliveries?! You will receive a delivery grade based on satisfying the parameters of each distribution. You can choose to do a Premium Delivery, which has harder requirements, get the maximum amount of Likes possible, and fast track these connections.
I drew an insane amount of satisfaction from this loop. Watching numbers rise is an easy way to please me, and with the detailed tracking of statistics in Death Stranding, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers game. Each delivery made is progress to another connection, and it was fun to see how each person would react, or what gifts they would give me. More often than not, these gifts were beneficial bonuses that aided me in my deliveries. Some connections would give you keychains, but others would give you powerful exoskeletons that are of immense benefit when traversing the problematic terrain across America. These connections served to establish an essential metaphorical foundation within the story of the game. Teamwork is better than going at it alone. The metaphors the gameplay delivers tie into the overarching story; everything feels meaningful. At the beginning of the game, you are a lone wolf, even afraid of the physical touch others, but as you establish connections and grow, you understand the importance of unity. Doing it alone will always be harder, just as going through the game alone, no “strands,” no bonuses, and no help from your Bridge Link buddies will make the game far more demanding.
Another satisfying element derived from this gameplay loop was building complex travel networks. It began with my reconstruction of the roads, which was expensive and time-consuming. But this benefit aided not only me but other players that shared my world. There is an element of passive multiplayer that brings your creations into other player’s instances of the game. When players used my roads, I received Likes from them, and those Likes enabled me to expand my “Bridge Link” system and take advantage of other player’s structures within my own game.
While this gameplay can boil down to “Amazon’s 2 Day Delivery Simulator,” it’s worth noting that without a complex network of ziplines to sling you through the air, you will be doing most of your travel on the soil. The lands of present-day America located within Death Stranding are unforgiving, even presenting a significant challenge to the use of vehicles. During these times, you must go on foot. Traversing the world on foot might seem tedious to some, but for me, it was engaging. Using your odradek scanner, you can plan your direct route as you make your way between objectives. The odradek reveals unmanageable terrain allowing you to navigate to the best of your ability. This gameplay kept me engaged for my entire 100+ hours with the game. Paying close attention to the terrain and avoiding obstacles allowed me to feel like I played a more active role in each delivery, rather than merely moving my character from point A to B. While I enjoy this, I can also see how it can frustrate players. While it’s not immediate, the key to overcoming this difficulty, as I’ve highlighted above, is the progression in your connections. Utilizing the tools given to you will help alleviate frustrations the game puts in your way.
If you’ve played Death Stranding and loved it, I’m sure that you had a similar experience as I did with the gameplay, or perhaps you suffered through the gameplay to experience the story. If the gameplay put you off, or you are in the camp of folks that don’t understand why people enjoy this game, I hope that I was able to shed some light through my time with it, and helped to give you a better understanding.