We’ve already covered the very complicated storyline of Death Stranding, and now we will be trying to make sense of the gameplay. Most of this information will be based on what was shown in the 49-minute gameplay video below along with a few hints given in interviews and Hideo Kojima’s Twitter page. From mushrooms that grow where Sam pees, to a baby being carried in an artificial womb giving you Facebook-style ‘likes’ for doing good deeds – it’s good to see that Kojima has not lost the characteristic quirks and comedy in his games since splitting from Konami.
The Aim of the Game
Our earlier article focusing on Death Stranding’s storyline explained that Sam’s goal is to link cities and people to the Chiral Network, a form of the internet, in order to reconnect the world and prevent humanity from going extinct. Sam will mostly accomplish this by performing deliveries to these cities and then requesting that they join the network. The video shows a mission mid-way through the game and heavily involves navigating the wastelands of America to deliver packages.
Packages must be delivered in good condition as a damaged package will lower your mission score. The game seems to have multiple tasks for the player to accomplish; in the video above, Sam is tasked with traveling to Edge Knot City to deliver a package. However, along the way, he comes across an abandoned parcel that can be delivered to its rightful owner in the form of a side quest. The player can decide whether or not to complete this side mission though it’s been hinted that different actions will affect the storyline. The main objective of the game is to connect cities and rescue the kidnapped future president, Amelie.
When starting a mission, you will be shown a delivery order menu which lists the names of the orders you can take including how many ‘likes’ you will get from it, how much it will weigh, and a map of the journey. The video starts at the Bridges’ base which has a 3D printer that can print items for your mission (you can collect at least six different kinds of item building materials on your journeys). Sam can print items from four different categories; equipment, clothing, weapons, and vehicles. Kojima has continuously expressed how Death Stranding is a game about tools and how you use tools to navigate the world. This preparation is important because here you will choose what tools to bring with you on your journey. If you see that you have to navigate around or over a mountain on this mission, you can choose to bring ladders which can help you climb up it.
Speaking of how to deal with the mountain, before each mission you will also get to plan your route which will set holographic trackers for you to follow. Choosing what you bring with you is a vital aspect of Death Stranding’s survival elements. If you’re going on a long journey, then you should bring spare pairs of boots as these can break, hurt Sam’s feet, and ultimately cause blood loss. To compensate, bringing these extra boots will affect your carry load and stats. The stats that you have available are:
- Movement speed
- Rugged terrain resistance
- Sync level
- Battery capacity
- Stamina/fatigue resistance
- Carrying capacity
- Resistance to falling unconscious
- Lung capacity
The clothing you wear can have stat effects and so can how you carry your items. Piling everything onto Sam’s back will give him poor balance, but you can choose to attach things to his belt or have him carry them with his hands to improve this. Basically, the more items you take with you the lower your stats will be.
As said before, Death Stranding is a survival game. The levels you will need to keep an eye on during a mission include:
- Weight management
- Boot sturdiness
- Blood measurement
- BB’s happiness
The more stuff you pick up, the more this will affect your weight management. While navigating the bleak plains of America, you will need to use the L and R sticks to control Sam’s balance. Losing balance will result in Sam potentially falling which will cause him to lose blood.
While traveling you will need to manage your balance levels. If you fall then BB will become distressed so you must soothe him to bring his happiness level back up. Sam will become tired after too much walking and will need to rest, and you can rest anywhere in the world for a few minutes or you can stop at a safe house to fully replenish your levels.
Resting will allow you to release your bowels (yes, you read that right) which can then be collected and turned into ammo later on in the game (you also read that right). This is where blood levels come in because you will mainly be using your blood as lethal ammo against a BT, so blood levels are important to ensure you have enough to use if you get caught up in a battle.
Your mission score will be based on the condition of the parcels once you have delivered them. Falling, getting caught in a river current, or being attacked by enemies can cause you to lose items. If you do not retrieve these items you will get a low score for the mission. Extreme weather such as rain can also damage items so you must seek shelter to preserve them. However, you can also pack repair spray, but this will affect your weight management.
Scanning terrains will show you their level of difficulty and warn you of tripping hazards or slippery surfaces. When passing through a stream you will also be warned if the water level is getting too deep. Physics plays a huge part in Death Stranding and the modified version of the DECIMA engine being used allows for dynamic physics that accompanies the survival aspects and how you navigate around the world. Ladders and abseil anchors can be put down anywhere as long as it works with physics and they will stay in place if you leave them and then return to that spot – which conserves inventory space but also means you may be a ladder or anchor short if you need to use them again.
Kojima has stated that later on in the game the player will be able to craft or find vehicles, but these run on battery power which can drain quickly if in poor condition. They are also unable to drive across certain types of terrains.
From the combat shown so far – there are mainly only non-lethal approaches to taking out human enemies. In the gameplay footage, Sam comes across a camp of people who will try to steal the packages of deliverers. Because of this, the player leaves their packages away from the camp before attempting to sneak inside the enemy territory to have a look for any gear to steal. He is caught and must then use a variety of tools to incapacitate his pursuers, this includes ropes, stun weapons, punches and even throwing his own parcels (though this will damage the parcels). If caught, they will take everything you have, even your shoes.
The other side of combat we saw was as Sam entered a BT infested zone. Kojima explains that you know this because BB becomes restless and it starts raining. This is when we see Gazers up close, a type of BT that the player cannot see while moving but they also can’t see you and will detect you by sound. If caught, Sam will be grabbed by Hunter BTs which manifest from the tar around him and if he cannot get away they will drag him to another area to face a Catcher. The amount of luggage you are carrying will determine how successful you will be at getting free. A Catcher BT is a large cat-like creature that is incredibly hard to kill. Sam can again try and get away from the Catcher or can face it using his own blood and waste as ammo.
Death is not the end in Death Stranding. Upon death, you will be transported to the other side for a brief amount of time where you can scavenge for items, but when you come back to life you will return to the location you died in. The only loss in death is that you may have lost your luggage.
The Strand System
Kojima is known for his pioneering of the stealth genre in the early years of the Metal Gear franchise. With Death Stranding, he has taken another bold genre-defining move in making what he calls a ‘Strand’ game. Sam’s mission is to reconnect everyone, but this also means the player can connect with other players.
It’s a lonely trek across the American wasteland and you will always be doing it alone, but the social strand system allows players to interact with echoes of other Sam’s in other games. In the world of Death Stranding, your waste can become another player’s fortune. Leaving equipment such as ladders or bikes means that other players can pick these up in their own world. Leaving a ladder means that it will receive ‘likes’ based on how many people use it which displays how useful it was. Players can also leave each other signs which warn of bad terrain or point others in the direction of a useful resource that they may otherwise miss. When you come across an enemy camp, their stash of stolen loot is what has been taken off other players.
Players can also assist others during a fight, similar to that in Dark Souls’ multiplayer. If a gamer is struggling in a fight, they can summon a white ghost of another player who can then throw them weapons or resources to help them out.
Together you can build bridges and buildings by donating your valuable resources to projects, these creations could then become vital to the survival of other players. This will further increase your ‘likes’ status and may also become handy for yourself if you return to that area.
From this alone, it seems that Death Stranding will mainly consist of delivery quests with elements of stealth and survival. It is unique in that your main obstacles will be navigating rough terrains and it relies heavily on physics to make these obstacles challenging.