Death Stranding and the Art of Connecting People in a Single-Player Experience

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Death Stranding, the new action game developed by Kojima Productions, is, to put it bluntly, incredibly strange. To be frank, after reading initial reviews I thought I would dislike the game. The gameplay sounds fairly boring and the mechanics seem more cumbersome or stressful than engaging. While there is some truth in that concern, there is one thing about that game that has made me fall madly in love with it – the connection you build with other players.

To clarify, Death Stranding is a single-player game, but it would be impossible or extremely difficult to complete on your own. That is by design. The story of Death Stranding, at its core, is about connection. Sam Porter (Norman Reedus) is tasked with helping to rebuild America after the devastating event called the Death Stranding. To complete this task, Sam has to deliver equipment, medicine, information, computers, and just about anything else you can think of to remote areas in order to reconnect people to the chiral network, which is more or less a complicated wifi network. To do so, he has to traverse difficult terrain including rivers, mountains, mud, and steep slopes. He also encounters various enemies like Mules, thieves hellbent on taking your packages, and the BTs or Beached Things, otherworldly entities that are stuck between the world of the living and the dead following the Death Stranding.

In addition to reconnecting the country, Sam finds himself connecting to those around him despite having previously shut himself off from his family. The game follows Sam’s journey of learning to trust the various characters you met throughout the game but the bond he builds the most is with his BB, Bridge Baby. In the game, a Bridge Baby is a baby that has been taken from a stillmother, a mother who is dead. The baby allows users to see BTs since it is connected to the world of the dead through its stillmother’s womb which is stimulated through a portable pod. Sam’s BB, who he later names Lou, can get stressed, give you likes and also becomes your greatest ally when taking on BTs. Your connection with BB can grow stronger over the course of the game by doing everything from successfully winning BT encounters to taking a joyride down a zipline.

The theme of connection within Death Stranding threads directly into its gameplay. While traversing the landscape, you come across other players’ ladders, ropes, and later on, their structures. Initially, this aspect of the game gave me serious anxiety. I tend to avoid games that have any multiplayer or even co-op aspect. Even when playing Devil May Cry 5, a game I adore, knowing a different person was playing alongside me as another character gave me pause. For the most part, gaming is therapeutic for me, expect multiplayer. When trying to play Battlefront I actually had a panic attack. Ever since, I have been terrified of playing anything that forces me to interact with strangers and have only recently warmed up to playing with people I know.

But in Death Stranding, that anxiety wasn’t there. Seeing other structures from players didn’t make me feel like I was being judged. I instead felt like I was part of a community. Throughout the game, I became obsessed with completing roads, building structures, and installing zip lines or other pathways that I knew would make other players’ lives easier. Completing roads takes a large number of materials and therefore time. When I completed my first road, with the help of other players, I felt incredibly accomplished. I knew all of us on the server were going to be able to save so much time with deliveries, save the batteries on our exoskeletons, and so forth. Never in a single-player game have a felt so invested in the other people also playing said game.

Sam Porter standing on a bridge built by another player

In addition to using other players’ structures, you can also “like” them as well. “Likes” are the currency of the game, you get them from NPC, including you BB as mentioned above, and other players. These “Likes” are received for completing deliveries, completing said delivery in a reasonable amount of time and with little or no damage to your cargo, building structures, liking other players’ structures, using other players’ structures, and of course, having other players use your own structures.

And while you can’t use them to purchase things, they are essential to becoming a stronger Porter; i.e. building up your stamina, increasing your load carry, and so forth. Once I took hours out of my playtime, avoiding the story just to build roads, my levels quickly jumped because so many other players were using my structures. My actions affected so many people’s playthroughs and the game rewarded me accordingly.

My Porter grade after completing a delivery and receiving all my “Likes”

Similarly, toward the last act of the game, Sam is forced to navigate really difficult mountainous and snowy regions. While scouring Reddit, I found multiple people working together to find the best way to build zip lines in order to help themselves and other players navigate the region. A lot of games have subreddits, but it is hard to imagine another single-player game having such an active community working together in the way Death Stranding has encouraged.

I highly doubt I will jump back into a multiple player game soon, but Death Stranding did do something I didn’t expect: it did make me feel better about playing with complete strangers. I never felt anxious playing the game and while it might not be my game of the year, it will absolutely hold a very special place in my heart.

Sam Porter standing next to a zip line built by another player

Over the course of Death Stranding, Sam learns he cannot rebuild America alone. In addition to rebuilding its infrastructure, he builds bonds with the many people he meets. Brilliantly, this game cannot be played alone and as much as I wanted to hate it and be alone in my room, just me and my PlayStation, I couldn’t. I had to rely on other people. Throughout my playthrough of Death Stranding Sam and I had a similar journey. I started recognizing many of the Gamertags of the structures I saw. While I have no idea who these people are, I do know they were with me every step of the way – and for that, I am grateful.