When Hideo Kojima said that Death Stranding was forming an entirely new genre, not a lot of people understood what that meant. The Social Strand genre, as it has been dubbed, is something somewhat new to games. Sure, the Metal Gear Solid roots are apparent, but it’s still a unique concept when measured against the other triple-a games on the market. Not to mention, Death Stranding arguably has one of the best social mechanics ever found in otherwise solo experiences, putting it in a unique camp of cooperative play.
It would take a book to fully explain Death Stranding, especially for those trying to understand what the story actually is and how it melds with gameplay. But peel back the layers, and there is actually a fairly simple concept there, something that some reviews have pointed out. The main character, Sam, is a human Jenga tower, and it's the player's job to ensure that the Jenga tower reaches its destination without toppling over. However, the uneven terrain, Beached Things, and bandits are all there to make that as difficult as possible. That's where other players come in.
Sam can only carry so much gear, and sacrifices have to be made. Luckily, the things other players leave behind - ladders, ropes, etc. - can appear in another player's world. If players come across some unforeseen circumstance that requires them to use one of their few ladders, they can still progress in the future, as there's likely another player that left behind the piece of gear they'll need to make it across any other obstacles that may halt their progress.
Multiplayer, in most games, has become obnoxious. In a lot of ways, it always has been. Anyone that survived a Modern Warfare 2 lobby can attest to that. While modern games have taken steps to stop toxicity, like Rainbow Six Siege censoring offensive language, it's still a problem that plagues many online experiences. Death Stranding, on the other hand, doesn't have a direct way to communicate with other players, instead just giving players the ability to communicate with signs left around the world, simply indicating basic emotions or upcoming hazards.
So far, it doesn't seem like players have figured out ways to really mess with each other yet. Sure, there are some ladders that don't lead anywhere scattered here and there, but, in general, players seem to mostly be helping each other out, some even avoiding the main story to lend other Death Stranding players a hand. It's a rare moment of comradery in what can, at times, feel like an overwhelmingly-negative community. But it hasn't been an issue in this playthrough of Death Stranding. In fact, it may restore some hope in the hearts of those that are especially jaded.
Setting out from Capital Knot City, one of the first locations in the game, players may actually see bridges, generators, and a lot more helpful pieces of equipment scattered about. Not only that, but players can see how many likes an object has earned, and for many of them, they've begun to rack up pretty high tallies. In a way, it's incredible to watch a community rally around something as simple as a ladder in the middle of nowhere, but that's part of what makes Death Stranding's multiplayer element so special.
Even something as simple as coming across a generator in an area where the motorbike's battery is begging to run low is enough to restore some faith in humanity. Considering that most multiplayer elements rob players of that faith, that's a serious mark in Death Strandings favor. It raises the question of what other multiplayer elements Kojima could've planned for the game, and if they would've helped or hindered fostering a helpful player base.
Kojima himself is an incredibly unique creator. Without a doubt, how integral the social aspect of the game should be to the core experience was a matter of debate for Kojima Productions. However, the game appears to have struck a near-perfect balance, negative Death Stranding reviews aside. Players can have faith that they'll be able to find a way across the terrain thanks to the efforts of other players, but they may have to rethink their strategies on the fly if they make mistakes and waste their gear.
That dance, constantly having to plot, rethink, and re-implement is what makes Death Stranding a unique game. It's a clever mechanic that forces players to work together, whether they like it or not, and makes for a wonderful multiplayer experience - all without ever laying eyes on another player. Death Stranding is, by its very nature, big and empty. Seeing the marks left by other players can be a reassuring reason to press on, to find out what other players have discovered just over the next hill.
Only time will tell how that feeling takes shape in the future. Maybe the groundwork laid by the first generation of players will make the journey easy by the time more players begin their own journies to reconnect the United Cities of America. Then again, maybe the game will get significantly more difficult as the player base steadily dwindles.
All that can be confidently be said is that Hideo Kojima knows how to take a risk. While not everyone will enjoy Death Stranding, nor do they have any obligation to, it's hard to deny the fact that Kojima has run what will likely be remembered as a successful experiment. One that may have lasting implications for the games industry as a whole. It remains to be seen whether or not those changes will have a tangible effect, but it may not be a bad thing if they do.
Death Stranding is out now for PS4 and will be out on PC in Summer 2020.