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Gameverse | August 25, 2019

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What the hell is going on in Death Stranding?

Robert Endyo

Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima’s first game developed outside of the wiry fingered death grip of Konami, and it has finally has a release date – November 8, 2019.  Some are surprised that it’s so soon, but the speculation that it would release this year goes back quite a while.  Kojima himself gave it away last December when he was quoted “Is 2019 the year of the Whale? Please look forward to Death Stranding” in an issue of Famitsu.  However, the four short years since Kojima Productions released Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and restructured separate from Konami, many thought there would not be time to develop a full game.

Even with a trailer and a release date, there are many questions as to what is going on.  I tried to identify some details and piece together the nature of the story and the gameplay.  This is what I’ve got so far:

The setting takes place in a somewhat-post-apocalyptic United States.  You take the role of Sam (played by Norman Reedus) who is apparently in some way related to the President.  A photograph depicting him with her and a pregnant woman along with the fact that he calls her “Bridget” implies that he may be her son in law.  Sam appears to work for an organization called “Bridges” with the slogan “United Cities of America”.  Combining that slogan with the torn landscape seems to mean that only certain cities are safe from the threat of whatever caused the destruction.  This slogan may also be the new name or the United States.

Sam’s role, and the gameplay as a whole seem to center around delivering packages between cities.  There seems to be some significant value to his deliveries, both from Bridget’s claim that he must “Make America Whole” and the people that ultimately are coming after him with electric polearms.  While he does have a motorcycle in many scenes, it doesn’t seem like it’s prominent throughout the gameplay.  This may be something you have to acquire or something you have limited use of either from terrain or as a facet of gameplay.  In traveling, Sam makes use of a couple of distinct items.  The first being an extendable ladder (ladders played roles in previous trailers as well) and a spike used as an anchor for descending a canyon.  Overcoming these challenges and getting to your destination is clearly one of the cornerstones of the gameplay.

There seems to be a number of different elements inhibiting Sam in his journey.  Climbing and descending mountains and canyons are obviously important given his tools, but the people attacking him may be part of the stated militant separatists’ group called “Homo Demens”.  It is unclear why they are lashing out beyond the will to maintain the independence of “Edge Knot City”.  A man in a golden mask (seen in previous trailers) also is part of this group.  However, it the prominent antagonist and probably the source of the catastrophic effects in this world are the “BTs”.

Not much can be derived from any trailer about what the BTs do, or where they came from.  They can’t be seen unless connected to a Bridge baby, which has been featured prominently in content related to Death Stranding.  These baby creatures connect the user to what is referenced as the “other side”.  The implication here I believe is that the BTs are some sort of afterlife-associated creatures.  Encounters with them drag their targets into a fuzzy depiction of wars in the past.  This becomes part of the gameplay, forcing the player to survive these trips to the past – prompting its own use of stealth and combat.

As far as the mechanics of the gameplay are concerned, I do think that we’re going to see some callbacks to the good parts of Metal Gear Solid V.  The use of close combat melee as well as third-person shooting is reminiscent of that model.  In addition, there are several cases in the trailer where Sam is stealthily moving through tall grass and trenches.  I can’t imagine that it would be as in-depth as MGS games in regards to the stealth gameplay, but I believe it will be familiar to fans of the modern games in the series.

Death Stranding’s veil of mystery hasn’t been lifted completely yet.  While we can derive some details, it still has plenty of enigmatic elements to send everyone off into speculation.  Many characters, most notably Cliff (played by Mads Mikkelsen), are appropriately still in unknown roles related to the story.  Given Hideo Kojima’s propensity for elaborate stories, this game doesn’t seem on track to change that.  I’m sure that in the coming five months we’ll see more gameplay and at least another trailer to send our heads spinning with a whole new load of confusing bits and pieces.