One of the most common factors that we look for in a workplace is the commute. Who wants to travel long distances every day just to check-in? As such, we human beings have a tendency of leaning towards the path of least resistance. That sentiment also carries over to video games as well. More specifically, of the open-world genre. Unless there is an incentive to take a longer route, players will usually avoid it. As such, developers often have a habit of giving these incentives to encourage exploration. It can be a grind for better equipment, secret sidequests, collectibles, and etc.
Death Stranding is a game that defies that logic. Unlike most open-world games where traveling is a necessary chore in order to accomplish an objective, travel is the objective in this game. As Sam Porter Bridges, you take cargoes and deliver them from Point A to B. His job is literally about commute itself. In fact, there isn’t much incentive to taking a harder route in this game unless you want more cargo to deliver. While there is more to it than one initially expects, that is the main gameplay of Death Stranding. So what is it about this game that makes it so good, almost intoxicating?
It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As a porter, Sam has to take care of the cargo to ensure that it doesn’t get damaged, stolen, or left behind during his journeys. Among the threats he encounters are the rough terrain, cargo bandits, and the mysterious phenomenon known as “death stranding.” On any other game, this would put a heavy emphasis on action. And while Death Stranding does have action segments incorporated into its gameplay, you’d often have to trudge through a rough commute as well as inventory management to get to it. And to many, this can come off as unappealing.
More Than Just a Delivery Simulator?
There is a certain addiction to delivering your packages. It isn’t fun delivering standard orders between two locations. And yet, there is a compelling force that just keeps us making those deliveries. Perhaps it’s the grind? Pushing yourself through the repetition rewards Sam with better ways to make deliveries. One can akin that to cleaning the floor with a handkerchief only to be rewarded with a mop for the next time you do it.
From the outside looking in, one could ask why anyone would find that fun. The grind here isn’t really about getting stronger and more equipped to take down foes (though that is also a factor in Death Stranding). It’s about easing the journey towards your destination to make maximize making deliveries. Each time you complete a delivery, people award you with likes And when you get them enough, people give you equipment to help ease your journeys.
One could also akin that to finishing quests in an action game for better weapons. But shooters are universally fun. If Death Stranding can be fun regardless of the chore, then does that mean everything can be fun as long as you put in a grind? Players do have more motivation to finish quests when they have something to grind for. Well, not really.
For starters, Death Stranding has a few things going for it that makes it just more than a “Walking Simulator” as the internet has gotten around to calling it. Beautiful and gorgeous graphics certainly help encourage players to chew the scenery, providing artistic comfort when making deliveries. If it’s one thing you’ll never get tired of, it’s looking at just how beautiful yet terrifyingly lonely the world of Death Stranding is.
Death Stranding also has an interesting concept behind its fetch and deliver quests. It is no secret that we are attracted to mystery. And the Kojima team has certainly played that out wonderfully with its cryptic and mysterious advertising that people were just dying to figure out. It did wonders into getting people to dig through trying to solve the mystery of the Death Stranding, a mysterious phenomenon that bridges the living and the dead together.
Combat in Death Stranding is also particularly well made. When making deliveries, bandits known as MULES will occasionally attack you. While it isn’t the most complex combat system out there, it winds up both being fun and challenging as you try to protect yourself and your cargo from these enemies.
It is because of these challenges that push the player to grind. The thrill of making work easier ironically pushes us into working harder in order to combat the challenges Death Stranding offers. As you continue to do more work for NPCs of the world, you’ll eventually be able to carry heavier cargo, better ways of combat, and perks that make the journey easier. And that right there is the motivation behind the grind.
The Mystery of Death Stranding
And yet, for all the appeal of grinding it won’t be anything without the story the game offers. Hideo Kojima has always been a master of storytelling, as his work for the Metal Gear Solid series can attest. Combine that with the amazing soundtrack and game design Death Stranding has, and players can almost forgive the game for being painstakingly lengthy.
Death Stranding is a game that is more artistic than fun. As to where other action-adventure games would have you mindlessly shooting in blind fun, Death Stranding forces you to consider your options more carefully. It is a game that makes you work to find out the mystery behind the game. And whether or not that works to wheel you in is up to you entirely. But you must have been interested in the concept of Death Stranding at least. I mean, you’re here reading, aren’t you?