When you first enter the world of Death Stranding, it can throw you a little off-balance (just a goofy little quip there for those who have already played the game). It’s a strange game, even by Hideo Kojima’s prodigious standards, and a big part of that is the fact that it revolves so little around combat. Instead, the bulk of your time is spent lugging great heavy cargo across vast stretches of post-apocalyptic American wilderness.
It takes a bit of adjustment to appreciate Death Stranding. You need to unshackle yourself from the triple-A videogame doctrine that enemies must be killed at a rate of at least 100-an-hour. Death Stranding forces you to practice patience, which flies in the face of the more immediate gratification that many other games bombard us with.
But successfully adapt to what the game asks of you, and Death Stranding begins to shine, becoming one of the most rewarding and meditative gaming experiences in years.
It’s one of those games that starts off mystifying. Your first excursion to carry a body to an incinerator is a tough old slog as you get to grips with the game’s balance mechanics. The slower you move, the better your balance, which can be further stabilised by holding the trigger buttons. At first, it can feel outright unforgiving when you stumble over rocks or take a tumble off a ledge, so you’ll need to plan and plot your routes using the map to work out the best ways to a destination.
But slowly you’ll learn how to carry your cargo properly, and survey the landscape in search of possible shortcuts that open up through clever placement of ropes and ladders. Whether it’s a formidable ridge, the ruins of a tall building, or a mountain, it can be scaled in Death Stranding.
Choosing to go over a challenging natural feature rather than around it is not only a satisfying personal challenge and shortcut, but treats you to some incredible views over the American landscape (which really pops with the enhanced graphics and ultrawide resolutions supported in the PC version).
As you tirelessly go about your deliveries, you’ll find the game opening up to you more and more. For example, connecting bases to the chiral network and increasing your connection level with waystations will increase the amount of structures built by other players in your game.
Other players’ ladders, ropes, bridges and roads will pop up to your aid, letting you connect with others by leaving them Likes and helping them with their cargo.
Protagonist Sam Porter-Bridges isn’t going to be forever stuck on foot either, and just as his boots start to chafe, you’ll come across vehicles and special exoskeletons to speed him along.
Even when traversing becomes more manageable, the game continues to reward planning. Optimising delivery routes to pick up as much cargo as possible, taking the time to build bridges that you and other players can use, and setting up equipment to cross over rough terrain all remain vital endeavours that will make the game world more hospitable.
It’s fitting for a game obsessed with themes of connection and cooperation that Death Stranding becomes more enjoyable and in some ways easier the deeper into it you get. Your progression from stumbling courier in the wilderness to one-man express freight service in an interconnected world is a slow one, but stick with it and it becomes gratifying in a way that few games manage to be.