Death Stranding has played host to the most hype any game has seen for a long time. As many of us know – this is Hideo Kojima unchained. Cynics out there believe his separation from a controlling entity like a publisher (Konami) will lead to ultimate gaming pretension. A team no longer held back by Kojima’s pursuit of absolute perfection, only to over-bloat the end product. Many would cynically predict Death Stranding to be a game that never got tired of smelling its own farts.
In some ways, this has turned out to be true. Ironic then, that somehow, the game has turned out to be what many call a “FedEx simulator”. Every game prior to release runs the gauntlet. A game of chance where a buzzphrase could inform a fashionable scepticism of a game before its release. This has unfortunately happened with Death Stranding and the simple term “FedEx simulator” has no doubt damaged its initial sales. A thing no marketing team could have seen coming.
For those considering their first ever Kojima experience, this could be a deterring factor. As if the trailers themselves weren’t weird enough, many reviewers out there have doubled down on the cynicism. In my humble opinion, they had rather missed the point of the game altogether. I’m not alone in that thought either. Taking a look at reviews around the internet, Death Stranding scores anywhere between a ridiculous 3 out of 10 all the way up to 10, “masterpiece” boldly captioned below. For the record, if it was up to me, I would not give Death Stranding a straight 10 but it would come pretty close.
So, forgetting your existing biases either way for a moment, how can you really know which of these reviews should speak to you the most?
But You Just Deliver Parcels…?
It sounds very cliche but in a nutshell, it depends on what kind of gamer you are. Let’s break things down to a very basic level first. Then we’ll get into the meat and potatoes later. The other night, I was playing Destiny 2 with someone I’ve never met. Being a part of his clan, I have at least known his voice for a good few weeks now. When I started recommending my favourite games of all time, his questions were “does it have online”, “is it story heavy” and “do you get to blow shit up”? That last one was probably the most informative of the bunch. If your questions about Death Stranding are the same, then its logistical experiences will likely not be stimulating enough for you.
You’ve likely heard by now that Death Stranding is a “FedEx simulator”. If you already harboured cynicism around this game, that would have basically solidified it. But it’s a gross over simplification of Death Stranding. A game that demands thoughtful conversation is being pushed to the sidelines by commenters online regurgitating this as “… um but you just deliver parcels”. If we’re being honest with ourselves, do you really think it took Kojima of all people, over four years to create a game where all you do is deliver parcels? Really?
Those who played the game already and didn’t like it are likely getting ready to smash their keyboards in response to that last bit. Fine. It clearly isn’t for them. Being totally honest, there is a lot of slow, A to B, make a delivery stuff going on here. A lot… Really, Kojima has made use of the delivery mechanic to expose players relentlessly to the harsh world of Death Stranding. If I wasn’t forced to trudge about on foot with a 70 kilogram package for eight hours before getting the bike, it would have had a lot less significance. In other words, it takes a very, very long time to accomplish anything in Death Stranding. Being a FedEx simulator is only one gameplay mechanic among many others that make up the whole of Death Stranding.
Death Stranding Gobbles Up Your Time
Death Stranding is not a game that invites you for a quick, in and out experience. If you’re a very busy person who only has time for a few quick matches online before tending to the kids, Death Stranding will likely piss you off. That kind of busy family lifestyle does not and will not play well with the long, tense and arduous trips of Death Stranding. Indeed, if you pick this game up, you’d better be someone accustomed to hours’ long sessions. Or else, accomplishing anything in Death Stranding will give the impression that it takes “too long”.
If you’ve played Elite: Dangerous, you’ll understand this situation perfectly. In fact, I had to stop playing that game for the same reasons outlined above. Every single “mission” I chose to undertake took bloody ages. It took careful planning and a total understanding of the game’s complex systems in order to survive. Death Stranding offers very much the same kind of gameplay loop. As opposed to the typical risk/reward formula, this is all about plan/reward. The better you plan, the better off you’ll be. I didn’t stop playing Elite: Dangerous because I didn’t like it. I stopped because other games needed to be played and, heck, I still wanted to go out the door and interact with other humans.
On the scale, Death Stranding is about half as time consuming as Elite: Dangerous. So, if you still have the power to determine how your time is spent on the weekends, Death Stranding will fit in just fine.
Death Stranding Offers So Much More Than Just Walking Around
Understanding the game properly is going to take time. You have to allow for that. It’s not typical of other AAA titles today. Right now, video games prefer to dumb down mechanics, lower the skill ceiling and hand-hold players start to finish. A kind of spoon fed experience to sell to as wide an audience as possible. Heaven forbid someone turns the game off because they got stuck…
Kojima doesn’t give a hoot about any of that. This is his game, his vision. Depending on how long you’ve been alive and how much of that time you’ve been involved in videogames, Death Stranding’s distinct lack of hand holding may feel jarring to you. You may be so ingratiated in the accepted systems of video games today that Kojima’s way of doing things may come off as needlessly difficult. A kind of pointless indulgence in high realism that other games forgo for the sake of gameplay momentum. I believe that lack of momentum in Death Stranding is a big contributor to the “FedEx simulator” term. We’ve just had our attention spans throttled by the ruleset of other AAA games of today.
This pursuit of Kojima’s video game realism can be found in the classic stash mechanic. Think Division 2 or Witcher 3. If you’ve played either of those games, you’ll know, regardless of which of the stashes on the map you use – all your stuff will be there. There’s a similar stash system in Death Stranding but what surprised me is that it doesn’t operate in the same way. Each of the stashes are landlocked. I meant to travel across a mountain pass on my bike, only to find terrain got so rough, the bike was no longer an option. My plans for such a long trip were dashed and I was back to square one. A lot of essential stuff was on that bike.
I had to head back to base, leave a majority of my things there and hoof it all the way across the mountain pass. Getting to the other side didn’t mean I could use some magic gear teleporter for the things I had left behind. They were truly left behind. At least they’d be there for god knows when I’d pass through again. I found the journey of getting over this blasted mountain quite an engaging sequence of events. Surmounting it was very rewarding after all the planning and a dance with death and BTs. You may be different. If this kind of stuff is liable to annoy you, do not waste your money on Death Stranding. All of these events are semi-scripted, though. It’s the unscripted stuff that takes up most of your time in Death Stranding. More to the point – it’s got nothing to do with the Death Stranding Fed Ex simulator that so many voices out there have settled on.
A Bridge To My Heart
The real gold dust in Death Stranding is in what the game doesn’t directly tell you to do. I felt like the main missions and story were just foundation stones, propping up organic discoveries of my own. Those organic discoveries, perhaps, is what Kojima was really going for all along. I was in Chapter 2 of the game and I suddenly had the ability to fabricate structures. The first available to me was a bridge. That bridge structure would be my link to finally understanding the game properly… I suddenly wanted to build bridges all over the place.
Of course, they don’t come for free. I needed lots of resources. I also needed to help the local communities to have enough “bandwidth” to get the fabricator to work. My need for these two crucial aspects led to true dissection of Death Stranding’s systems. I figured I’d steal from the local bandits. I didn’t have any weaponry but it was raining. A significant factor, considering how they’re terrified of BTs which come out in the rain. They literally watched me steal all of their stuff as they hid inside their tents, terrified. No stealth or combat needed, just good timing. This was a huge risk, hoping the rain would hold up. Incredibly satisfying. All for what? To build a bridge across a ravine that annoyed me about two miles back. To think, all I had at this point was… bridges. What was yet to come? Still sound like a FedEx simulator to you?
Death Stranding Is Not Just About FedEx Deliveries
More to the point, what is yet to come? It’s not just me out there. If you think watching a game world change through community interaction sounds interesting then Death Stranding will likely fascinate you. When Kojima tells us this is a new genre, he’s not stealing the concepts of Paperboy and making them his own, no. He’s not saying a FedEx simulator is this new grand genre. It’s all about the above experience I had meshing with the experiences of all the other players.
These combined efforts make for convenient bridges, ladders and roads to appear. I watched grassy wildland gradually develop bridle paths in a couple of hours just because of how well travelled those areas were. I had to make a really long backtrack trip, dreading the rough terrain for my bike. Alas, other players built bridges for me and the trip was much easier. This “Social Strand” system of Kojima’s is utterly fascinating and frankly it’s a wonder my copy of Death Stranding doesn’t have to endlessly download update files to accommodate for this. It’s particularly interesting to see which areas were inconvenient to players and how their building solution just made life easier for literally everyone. I laid down a road in just the right place and now I’m informed of how many players used it and how many likes I got for building it. The more likes I get, the more passive abilities Sam develops.
Just what the game world will look like when I return to it after publishing this piece, I have no idea. It could be laden in roads with charger ports for my bike battery for all I know.
Does Not Being A FedEx Simulator Make Death Stranding Worth Your Time?
When you take all of these building distractions out of the equation, how long is Death Stranding? The general consensus from the few who have “finished” it is between 40 and 50 hours. This may sound super generous in an age of five hour long campaigns. But bear in mind, a lot of these hours will be spent slogging across the beautiful landscape with moody Low Roar tracks in the background. A lot of it will be looking at Norman Reedus crying or dicking about in the mirror of his private room. In other words, if long cutscenes annoy you, Death Stranding will annoy you.
Some say Kojima is a filmmaker first and a game developer second. This feels true in the case of Death Stranding, as he continues his mission to merge the mediums of film and video game. This is fine for me as I am a junkie for this kind of stuff. If you have a tendency to say “I want to play it, not watch it”, then I’m sorry – Death Stranding will likely be wasted on you. You’ll get to the playing of it and find that impatient desire for gameplay potpourri still not satisfied. It’ll take you at least a few hours to dig all the juice out of the Death Stranding lemon.
FedEx Mechanics Are But One Of Many In Death Stranding
So how is Death Stranding not a FedEx simulator? It takes massive amounts of time from you per session. There is next to no combat in it. It will punish you badly for not planning properly. All hallmarks of a delivery sim for sure. But it has so much more depth than simply taking things from A to B. Your one true enemy is the environment and learning how to “be Norman Reedus” is a controller journey in and of itself. You have an option to make the environment easier to be in, but it takes hard work. It takes the survival of a big learning curve before you “get it”.
The Social Strand system asks that you not be selfish and invest time and effort for no reason other than to help other players and watch the world change. That alone, should make you reassess how you play the whole game. If you enjoy the process of planning obsessively and then executing, Death Stranding will be a very satisfying experience. You’ll likely not be in need of a constant drip feed of gameplay mechanics as you trek across the Americas. The experience of the journey should be enough and if your attention span isn’t up to snuff, it won’t be. A journey dotted with your own self-made adventures, dodging paranormal monsters, stealing from bandits and building a new world with other players.
The Typical Human Reaction To Something “Different”
When something truly different comes around, human reaction tends to be one of prickliness. This goes for everything, not just video games. People are accustomed to certain things being a particular way. If their favourite musician changes style suddenly, they hate it. If radio suddenly comes under threat by this brain rotting thing called TV, people hate it. Freaking McDonalds changes their fries and people hate them. If Kojima makes a game that is literally a new genre, people predictably join the “edgy” parade to line up and badmouth it… I knew this nonsense would happen (cough cough, say hello IGN).
If the game is not for you, that’s just fine. It’s not been designed with the “as wide an audience as possible” attitude. This will give it a very niche, cult following in the end. But if you’ve not yet eaten McDonalds’ new style of fries, how do you know they’re awful? What I’m trying to say is, don’t be one of those guys who just says “uhhh… but you just deliver parcels”. Death Stranding has a heck of a lot more going for it than just being a FedEx simulator. If anyone reading this is at all familiar with Kojima’s approach to game design, they should know this as soon as they see his name on the box.