Some Disorganized Thoughts on Death Stranding

Posted: January 22, 2024

This isn’t something I normally do here, but after grabbing the Director’s Cut of Death Stranding, I realized I had some thoughts to scream into the void. Plus it’s been forever since I wrote something for my site, so hey. Everybody wins!

This is not a review, and do note that it contains spoilers for Death Stranding (2019) in general and some specifics to the Director’s Cut released in 2022. Obviously. If you don’t want spoilers I sincerely recommend you go play the thing, because it’s great, and then come back here. And for that matter I’m not going to take the time to explain the game or it’s world, really, so if you haven’t played you will be quite lost.

Back? Good. Let’s go.


A Game About Traveling

There are innumerable games, especially of the open world variety of which this is one, that involve getting from place to place. Most of the time, especially if I’m enjoying myself, unless the game gets especially annoying making me jump from one side of the map to another repeatedly, I don’t find myself using the fast travel mechanisms. In both of the Horizon games especially, part of the fun was traveling this enormous world, really getting the scale of the place you’re in, and of course the majestic views. I say all of this because in most games, this isn’t really expected. Or at least I don’t think it is.

Death Stranding flies straight in the face of this expectation. There is a fast travel, eventually. But it’s not without costs: Fragile can jump you across the Beach, but you can only transport yourself, no carried cargo (but you do transport your BB, your clothing, your jumpsuit, boots, equipped skeleton… don’t overthink it.) But this makes sense: what you’re going to be doing for the vast majority of this experience is: collecting cargo, transporting it over terrain, and delivering it. And repeating that ad infinitum.

With the occasional stunt jump in between. Also one of my few beefs with this game is <i>no motion blur in the photo mode. HOW.</i>
With the occasional stunt jump in between. Also one of my few beefs with this game is no motion blur in the photo mode. HOW.

At the end of my playthrough of the Director’s Cut I delivered over two thousand units of cargo. This shocked me. I mean I figured it had to be high what with me aiming to 5 star every shelter, but I never imagined it was that high.

So, where this game has it’s bandit camps, combat sections, and incredibly, sometimes overly long story sections, those are the background which may surprise you if you’re used to the uniquitous Ubisoft model of filling a game world with icons that correspond with things to do. Your map has plenty of icons, yes, but the lions share of those are player structures appearing in your world, with the second place going to the shelters themselves, and very occasionally, a bandit camp which come in two varities: MULE and terorrist. And instead of going to each one one by one and scratching them off a list, you end up going to all of them many times, for numerous reasons. And in so doing you become familiar with the world in an intimate way: odds are, you improve it as you do, while taking advantage of imrpovements other players have provided. And, in the combat sections, you’ll regularly find other players throwing you gear and supplies, so even if you went into a fight completely half-assed, you’ll probably make it out okay.

Some would say this defeats the point of combat, but I would counter that the combat really isn’t the point. The traveling is the point. Initially you find yourself stealthing around BTs timidly, trying to not be caught. Then by the time you’ve unlocked all your weapons you drive straight into them and pound them into the ground because they’re an excellent source of chiral crystals, and it’s just much less of a pain to do certain areas if you just bite the bullet and get rid of the damn timefall.

Similarly, as you begin your career you’ll find yourself struggling to get by on various bits of terrain or especially problematic areas. But, as you proceed, you’ll expand the chiral network which gives you access to more structures by other players. You’ll rebuild highways and connect the hub cities with them, which in turn make trucks incredibly useful. And, eventually you get Ziplines; machines that pick you up off the ground and fling you across vast distances, utterly immune from BTs and hostile humans. But all of these things have costs; and each time you forge new routes into the unknown, you must do it at least one time with naught but your boots on the ground, some ladders, and a well plotted route.

That is Death Stranding at it’s best. You’ll get missions with odd requirements; usually time, but other times it’s extremely fragile cargo. Other times you can’t use a vehicle. Other times, your cargo can’t be tipped on it’s side or it’s ruined (and what a waste of pizza!). And in one unique mission, you have to toss the cargo into tar whereupon it will sink and be destroyed. Why? Well it’s a nuke, given to you by the insane terrorist to whom you also deliver pizzas, and if you complete the delivery a city is blown right to hell.

It’s complicated.

But anyway… or, a tale of woe


So now I have to make a confession. This particular post has been sitting on my hard drive since the Director’s Cut came out. And I, the dopamine junkie I am, have actually completed another run through this game since I started it. And mainly I’ve come back because this game surprised me yet again in a completely different way: the combat got interesting.

About the time that the trailer dropped for the second game (If you haven’t seen it, go watch, it looks amazing) I had been feeling an itch for another go-round through the bizarre world of Death Stranding, and went for it, this time going for Very Hard difficulty (the highest I’m aware of it offers) and entrusting myself to 100% every shelter, including the off-beaten-paths ones. Now, Very Hard doesn’t just tweak enemies: everything gets more sensetive. Water puts you down faster, Sam trips more if you’re walking on loose terrain, you can carry less cargo overall, etc. However my first “Oh boy” moment was my first combat encounter, which happened to be the first interlude with the Combat Veteran.

Dear old dad he… he just whooped me. Just absolutely thumped me. Now, I said before the combat isn’t the point and I stand by that remark: Death Stranding is not about the combat, and that’s reflected in the fact that the combat just kind of… sucks? Like it isn’t bad, right, but compared to the polished movement and cargo mechanics, combat takes a distinct back seat. And fair enough, not every game needs it to be great. But I was determined. I wanted to taste this game at it’s worst and rise to the challenge. And I did. I think the first combat veteran interlude took a good couple of hours, and I wouldn’t even speculate on how many resets, it was BAD.

From there you make your way across the lake and the game properly opens up, etc., we have discussed this. But wow. I can’t say for certain this is true, but I would swear that the higher difficulty makes the highways both more expensive and porters from the network contribute less too, because I had a time getting everything hooked back up. And that longer period of time getting roads rebuilt meant a lot more overland travel with systems that, at times, had the distinct vibe they were legitimately trying to kill me, not the least of which were the MULES and BT’s.


Now, killing people in this game is a no-no. The intro teaches us: a dead body effectively becomes a ticking time bomb, and it goes off in such a way as to make it analagous to a nuke. This is a problem for everyone who is not Sam Porter, who is apparently unable to actually die and who will just wake up next to a crater. One thing I never counted on was killing people, though I did want to try it at one point, strictly because I never had. In my previous playthrough I shot someone with a lethal firearm, and true to form, Die Hardman gets on the radio and is like “Well, shit happens. Get that to an incinerator before it goes off.” You might be wondering why I’m bringing this up.

Well, one of the other things that I didn’t even remotely expect difficulty to touch was the phsyics of the game. And here I am on my first major raid on a MULE camp for ceramic, and I steal a truck and as is tradition, immediately ram it into a MULE. And… I get a call from Hardman. About a corpse. Oh. Oh no.

Oh no

Now to fully set the scene for how big of a fuck up this was in context: I hadn’t even gotten the road to the southern Distro Center built yet. I had nothing. Even the truck I had managed to kill a man with was a MULE truck, which are distinct in that they have shittier batteries, less carrying capacity, and cannot be repaired. I dispatched the comrades of my freshly made corpse and weighed my options. The cowards way out is to load a save, but I thought, fuck that. I want to cut my teeth here. I made a body, I gotta get rid of it. Where do I go?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Thanks to the wiki for this, by the way

I am on the red X, the scene of the justified act of self-defense vehicular homocide. The incinerator is green. The blue line represents the edge of my chiral network coverage, which is important:

So I drop every last piece of gear I have and don’t need in the mailbox near the Engineer, and return to the body with the truck. I grab it, throw it over my back, get in the truck with the PCM on my hip and a few misc. supplies, and set off. I can’t describe the anxiety as I leave the standard routes and venture into what is effectively the wilderness still: I know the area, but there is NOTHING here yet because I’m not really meant to be going in this direction. I watch the truck’s battery tick down, managing to find one generator along the way to get me as much charge as is possible as I cross the river into the wilds to the west. Thankfully, the incinerator is plainly visible on the map, even if I don’t have it’s map marker yet, so at least I know where I’m going.

I approach the edge of the chiral network, and pull off. The body bag makes all movement hard: not only is it damn heavy, it flops and wiggles, meaning it’s SO easy to fall over. Which I do, somehow managing to avoid damaging the PCM but do need to stop and soothe BB. I use the PCM to build my generator on the very edge of the network’s coverage, and once done, re-enter the truck, and pull it within range to charge. It does pretty fast, because again, this thing’s battery is not great, and we’re off into the unknown.

Now, without chiral coverage, you get nothing: no player structures, and the only things you can build are basic ladders, ropes, that kind of junk. It is impressive how empty this game feels once you leave the network, and nowhere in my two previous playthroughs was this more true than now. It honestly felt like the travel sequences in The Martian, where Watney is making his way across these vast landscapes, completely bereft of anything besides dirt and rock.

I eyeball my truck’s battery. The truck is a necessary asset; was basically the reason I was raiding the MULES in the first place. So, my plan is to go until the battery is at half, pull over at that spot, and hoof it the rest of the way. Time came. I turned the truck to the right and parked, got out, and unceremoniously began the hike to the incinerator.

A note on shoe durability: One of the many things you carry with you is shoes. Nautrally, you walk most places, so your boots take a beating. Now, I found this mostly an unobtrusive “thing to note” in previous playthroughs, but as it turns out, Very Hard cranks that shit right up too. Something I had noticed in the Eastern region but momentarily forgot in the heat of “oh shit I killed a man” that would now commence chewing on my ample posterior. I saw the incinerator’s looming stucture, the end was in sight. Then suddenly, something I’d not seen before: my boot condition turned red. They were all but gone, and I hadn’t even made the damn incinerator yet.

Numerous cusswords later, Sam began remarking on his feet, and his pace slowed. I did my best to avoid the rocks but, well, there’s only so much you can do. I want to stress: boot durability was a nuisance my entire rest of my time playing this game, it had never reared it’s head, and now it was legitimately causing damage to me because once you walk far enough on shot boots, your feet start bleeding. I arrive at the incinerator, I have to assume the smooth cement felt like heaven for Sam as he carried his burden within it’s concrete brutalist form, and laid it upon the table. It decends and the burners inside reduce it to ash. We’re halfway done.

We leave the building and plot a course back to the truck’s position on the map (thank FUCK it marks vehicles) and return. The damage continues. I’m pretty sure I burned through two blood bags just straight out of that poor man’s soles. We arrive at the truck, get inside, and the trials are over. The drive back is smooth, I re-power at the same generator I put down, then back to the MULE camp, steal all their ceramic, and leave them one man down, back to Lake Knot.


I snapped this to commemorate this madness.


I don’t really have a snappy ending for this. I guess the moral of the story is something about emergent gameplay. I love this game. I’m deeply excited for the sequel. No matter how many games I play, I feel Death Stranding will always have a special place in my heart.


If you got this far, thanks for reading, and have yourself an awesome day.