Nevermind Troy Baker's 15-foot tall goo panther coming this way. Nevermind the timefall, rain aging the earth wherever it lands. Nevermind Die-Hardman's secretive motives and nevermind getting my BB back (it's nothing personal, Lou). I'll get to Kojima’s cutscene buffet once I finish building an interstate across his game.
Paving a shipping corridor across North America isn't required, but it certainly helps. In Death Stranding, you're tasked with reestablishing the chiral network, a super internet where information is sent through purgatory, making information and materials appear instantly across vast distances. Imagine the ping.
Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather just drive. I've dropped everything, including my morals, to rebuild Death Stranding's roads.
Road to nowhere
To reconnect the chiral network, you as Sam Bridges will trudge around miles of rocky terrain, carrying supplies between preppers and waystations. Once you connect an area to the chiral network, Death Stranding's passive online features kick in. Step into an area on the network and Death Stranding will import a bunch of player-built structures into your session. Bridges, charging stations, ladders—what was once tumultuous terrain becomes a breezy walking park. We dominate the land together (in our fresh white joggers).
Paths begin to appear where players walk the most, criss-crossing the landscape with marks of our shared intuition. It really is a unifying experience, but once you unlock the ability to create roads, all that help you've received in the open terrain takes a backseat for better and worse.
At the start of Chapter 3, auto-pavers appear at set points across the map. Deliver a hefty amount of chiral crystals, ceramics, and metals to each and you'll create a paved interstate, which occasionally appear in other players' sessions. These often flank or pass over dangerous territory, where the ghostly BTs or delivery-addicted MULEs roam hoping to steal your cargo.
They're not minuscule upgrades either. Paved roads reduce travel time from one end of the map to the other from an hour or so to minutes. For anyone trying to complete more than the bare minimum of story missions, they are essential time-savers.
But once I got a few roads up, something happened. I stopped playing the story missions completely. Why make the trek to Mountain Knot City now when I can do it in the future on a cozy paved road? I'll put in a few hours of work now, probably more than it would take just to walk there once, so the first time I set out it'll be a breeze. And so I made trips back and forth on a motorcycle, salvaging lost cargo within my scanner's range, stretching that road out as far as I could. I spent an entire weekend making roads in Death Stranding, hypnotized by the relaxing, gratifying process.
When you finish a road, it rises from the earth, like destruction in reverse. Chips of asphalt run together and form slabs, and those slabs snap into one another and rise, its edges forever dissolving into the sky as if it's actively trying to return to rubble: a road is born. It's the romanticization and reduction of the physical labor required to make something so impressive, something that persists against jagged, untamed terrain while time-accelerating rain pelts it from above. It changes how we view the environment instantly. What was once a dangerous, uncaring landscape becomes scenery with a road. Infrastructure, baby.
I stopped thinking about the story altogether after finishing the stretch between South Knot City and Lake Knot City, exhausting every friendly trader's resources to build out what roads I could before resorting to making deliveries between major ports to build their supply back up again. Efficiency for the sake of progressing the story was out the window. Now I'm building roads impulsively for the passive notifications I get every few minutes from someone using one of my roads—my roads. I'm building them to uphold the basic concept of efficiency. But I think I'm primarily building them to kick the earth's ass. Have you seen a mountain? Terrifying.
I mean, even if my motive is selfish or misdirected, I'm contributing to something bigger than myself, right? But what, and at what cost?
Death Stranding threads the process of reconnecting North America with moral nausea. Labor addicted MULEs work strictly for the "Likes" (a popular social currency) and jack your cargo if they can. As you move further west, some MULE camps have become so dependent on Likes they resort to lethal violence for cargo. These are the same Likes I'm receiving in bulk from strangers for building my roads and boy do I like getting Likes. It’s the Influencer Wild West out here.
My road-building problem hits rock bottom when a newfound instinct-level desire to master the terrain takes hold. I'm not so different from the MULEs. Actually, I'm worse, because I've taken to raiding their camps for metals and ceramics for road-building now. They're a passive bunch as long as you're not carrying valuables. And I don't avoid them or stealthily take them out one by one. I roll in with a bola gun and hog-tie those poor bastards from 20 yards away, then run up and kick each in the head to knock them out.
As a cruel finisher I'll steal a truck and pack it with everything I can, leaving them tied up and unconscious beneath the timefall. I do this systematically, planning my approach, scanning the camp for a headcount, and rolling through without a care for the wellbeing of anyone. I must finish my roads.
Death Stranding led me to exploit and dehumanize this working class, addicted to labor by no fault of their own, for my own gain, my own gain being my own inexplicable desire to complete an interstate network. I tell myself I'm doing it for me, but I'm actually doing it for the president's assistant, Die-Hardman with his cool mask and foggy motives. And I got here because building roads was "relaxing". After a point, raiding MULE camps became just as relaxing as completing a new interstate segment. Videogames are wild.
And while I've built almost all the roads I can, trivializing a good portion of deliveries and story missions, I've also unknowingly shot myself in the foot. I prefer roads now. Travelling by foot feels like a major inconvenience, a slow and inefficient way of getting around. I've lost touch with a simpler life and I don't know if I'll ever finish Death Stranding now. All this to say: I think I should delete my Twitter account.
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James is stuck in an endless loop, playing the Dark Souls games on repeat until Elden Ring and Silksong set him free. He's a truffle pig for indie horror and weird FPS games too, seeking out games that actively hurt to play. Otherwise he's wandering Austin, identifying mushrooms and doodling grackles.