Editors’ Choice: Death Stranding Delivers an Addictive Open World Journey

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Editors’ Choice: Death Stranding Delivers an Addictive Open World Journey

Kojima Productions' ambitious debut blends a compelling gameplay loop with a meditative, zen-like journey across America.

Where do I start?

Death Stranding, as is true of just about anything Hideo Kojima works on, has been the subject of intense speculation since it was first revealed on stage at PlayStation’s E3 2016 press conference. With Kojima-san striking out on his own, starting a new studio (upon which he has staked his very name), and entering a partnership with Sony Interactive Entertainment to publish his studio’s first project, expectations were high. Is it even possible to live up to that level of hype?

I think it is.

In particular, there are two kinds of players who I think will get a particular thrill from this bizarre, ambitious experience:

  1. Players who enjoy the organic, deliberate, and meditative qualities of open-world games.
  2. Players who love to optimize, min-maxing their way to victory regardless of the task at hand.

The world of Death Stranding is one that begs to be explored and discovered, home to sweeping vistas and hidden nooks alike, and dotted with Preppers: people who live their lives in isolated bunkers following a cataclysmic event known as the — you guessed it — “Death Stranding.” As rugged everyman Sam Bridges, your task is to find and reconnect these people and, with any luck, instill hope for the future of America along the way.

Preppers are generally few and far between, which means Sam needs to be well-prepared before setting out on a delivery. Planning your route is a surprisingly tactile and thoughtful process, achieved with the help of map you can tilt in 3D space by holding your finger on your DualShock 4’s touch pad. Of course, there’s always Plan B: set a marker for your destination and wing it. This becomes more of a practical option later in the game once you’ve unlocked plans to build more tools and vehicles, many of which are situation-specific, but all of which will ease your travels considerably. Delivering medicine to someone posted up in the mountains? Bring a few ladders and climbing anchors. Expecting to run into resistance from hostiles? Pack a Bola gun for quick, non-lethal takedowns. Think you’ll need to trek through an area plagued by supernatural, nearly invisible creatures trapped between the planes of life and death? There are ways to make that less daunting, too.

Making sure Sam gets rest between big deliveries or after a narrow escape is imperative to your mission’s success. Your stamina meter behaves mostly as you’d expect, but your maximum endurance will decrease over time as you perform more strenuous tasks, necessitating a nap in a private room located at any of the game’s major destinations. Stamina can also be recovered by simply letting Sam sit down anywhere in the world. If you spot a cairn in the wild, that means another player is resting there and you’ll recover more quickly there — a hint of Death Stranding’s asynchronous play at work. One nice touch: if you don’t interact with the game for a bit, Sam will take it upon himself to take a break wherever he’s at, making for a pleasant sort of quasi-screensaver while he rests up.

The way Death Stranding approaches character progression feels like a more organic and nuanced evolution of the traditional XP-based leveling system we’re all oh-so-familiar with. When a delivery is completed, Sam is graded in various areas like delivery time, cargo weight, and cargo condition. Excelling in these (and other) areas will make Sam more proficient at them, eventually granting him bonuses to things like stamina, maximum cargo capacity, and balance. Making multiple highly rated deliveries to Preppers will strengthen Sam’s bond with them, too, often leading to new tools and cosmetic bonuses gifted to him as he earns their trust.

This is an open world you can explore at your own pace — I spent over a hundred hours making deliveries all over America, strengthening bonds and hoarding materials to build roads and upgrade structures, before I decided to wrap up the main story. The gameplay loop here is an addictive one, especially if discovering new tools and upgrades to further tighten that loop sounds like your kinda jam.

But the real magic of Death Stranding becomes apparent once you realize you aren’t just building these structures and paving these roads for yourself. Everything you do has the potential to help other players during their own travels, and as you make your way further into Sam’s odyssey you’ll start thinking less about how to make your own trek easier, and more about how you can help those who follow in your footsteps.

The confidence with which Kojima Productions has executed on the vision of its namesake is admirable. Nobody has made a game like this before, but Death Stranding feels so absolutely sure of what it is, sending players on a journey that, in some ways, seems to mirror the one Kojima-san himself embarked upon a few short years ago: a quest to bring people together through sheer force of will, striving to deliver things nobody thought possible.

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  • I’m enjoying the story and world so far through 3 chapters, but my god I’ve got to force myself through the gameplay.

    • tbh no delivery is tedious in this game, you just have to plan the route and pick the right tools and vehicles

    • I felt the same way too but when you get to the main map of the game it got very good then, which I think is Chapter 3, the one called Fragile right?

      A wee tip, you probably know this but I didn’t. If you tap in the L3 button while driving a bike it goes double the speed, even the trucks. I only discovered this after completing it the other day lol.

      I also didn’t know if you hold up on the D-Pad, THAT is where you can equip hats and things. I got the otter hat in the game, never thought of how to equip it at the time and then forgot all about it. Only discovered this yesterday haha.

    • @ andrewsqual – Someone doesn’t read the tips/hints…haha.

    • @Welmosca Oh there is stuff the game tells you 400 million times while playing it, but I must have missed that one instance when it told me about the boost.

    • I missed the boost as well until I was well into a later chapter. There’s an upgrade in a much later chapter that completely revolutionizes how the game is played. I love the game, but I was getting a little tired of the grind, and the new equipment completely changed the game, making it new again and giving me a few days fun work in strategizing about how I was going to integrate it.

  • Hey!

    Hope everyone’s holidays are going spectacular! I wanted to comment on this game from an outside perspective. Death Stranding is one of the games I was most interested in getting my hands on and playing. In fact its still un-Wrapped waiting for me to dive deep into this foreign fantasy idealistic world. However, My fear is… is it too detailed where I will doze away. Im a huge RPG, MMO and open world fan. I applaud the team and developers on making this game happen. The problem I stumble upon a lot recently in open world games is the cut-scenes and story can take up a fine portion of these, as well as the tediously button display and being able to grab everything and anything which can make for a long game but for most people-Best realistic and a good story to get lost into :). I haven’t gotten around to playing it (I WILL after I survive the holidays with family.) but I was hoping I can get some positive and negatives about Death Stranding and what to expect going into it. Thanks!

    • Positives:
      – Gameplay evolves a lot over time
      – Story and acting are great
      – F** up world (lore) that is very interesting to deep dive into
      – Addictive, if like me you like to optimize stuff

      – Can become repetitive if you do everything. I’d suggest doing few side quests and focus on the main missions and exploration. Anyway there’s TONS of main missions and exploration to do.
      – Way too many animations. Wathever you do, there’s gonna be an animation and it’s always gonna be the same exact animations. Like when you complete a mission. Those animations are not interesting but there’s no way to auto-skip them, so you gotta skip’em a lot. I’ve probably skipped thousands of useless animations. Should be an option to auto-skip the useless repetitive animations.

      Having said that, this is my #1 game of 2019 by far.

  • Definitely my top game of the year. Such a strange and different game.

  • This is an amazing game and so worth it!! I highly recommend it to many people, especially those who like Kojima’s earlier work and those looking for something new.

  • GOTY 2019 without doubt,Death Stranding is in another lvl leave it to Kojima to bring something totally fresh to the industry…I just wanna point out some really genius thing in the gameplay design.The addiction to deliver cargos and pick up everything you see on the ground is really something but what stood out for me besides the deep meaning behind the game’s lore is the fact that you feel the suffering and pain Sam is going through when carrying lots of cargo and then when you deliver you feel relieved as if it was you carrying that cargo I mean…the immersion in that aspect can only be described as genius gameplay design.Also when you’re doing big deliveries and managing your cargo between vehicles or carriers,such a good feeling when you make a huge delivery…what a game!!

    Saw people saying that Kojima ran outta fresh ideas and Death Stranding is the product of that…damn we have people who dunno nothing about games in our community,Jesus.

    PS:What you said there in the end about Kojima’s own journey…that’s true,something I did not realized before.

  • Hah, yeah, right. I doubt anyone who thinks this game is worth jack even has any clue what the word “hackneyed” means.

  • Would someone who does delivery irl like this as a gift you think? (ie pizza deliver, ups, fedex, usps, etc.)

  • Goty!? Ahahahahh what a joke

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