Death Stranding immediately earns points for putting a fresh spin on the post-apocalypse. Its stunning, sprawling open-world is clearly edging towards its end of days, but there’s nary a nuclear winter or zombie trope in sight. That’s not to say its carefully crafted universe doesn’t pack a foreboding punch. On the contrary, its potential to fuel future nightmares is easily on par with any fallout-scarred earth or undead dystopia. In fact, because its disturbing elements – from its creepy pod babies to its unnerving, ethereal entities – are so unfamiliar, they’re often more frightening.
The originality of Death Stranding’s world and its inhabitants doesn’t just support its atmosphere, but also its ambitious, albeit beyond-bizarre, story. The aforementioned Bridge Babies and Beached Things will sit in your psyche long after you power down your PS4 for the night, but they’re much more than one-off props meant to shock. Every last element is organically woven into the complex narrative, connecting each encounter and interaction to the world’s menagerie of mysteries.
Of course, the game’s biggest mystery might be how it manages to mine compelling gameplay from one of the medium’s most maligned activities. As Sam Porter Bridges, you essentially play a glorified errand boy, obediently ferrying packages from point A to point B. There’s ample opportunity to engage in more traditional combat and execute stealth tactics, but carrying cargo is what Sam does best.
A highly original experience that’ll either blow your mind or leave you scratching your head.
This core concept largely side-steps becoming a series of boring fetch quests, though, because it’s realised with the same level of originality that makes the world and story stand out. The seemingly simple act of delivering crates from one destination to the next is actually layered with enough nuance and depth to keep even the most seasoned RPG fan invested and engaged.
It’s difficult to recognise at first, as you’re not monitoring mana bars, managing weapon stats, filling out skill trees, or slotting enchantments into swords, but the many systems and mechanics involved in bringing a box to its destination can be just as involved and absorbing. Your mileage may vary here – acquiring a reliable pair of boots or successfully balancing Sam in hip-high water might not grab you like looting a new bastard blade of smiting.
Another welcome level of depth comes courtesy of the game’s social side, an asynchronous multiplayer component that allows players to help each other by leaving tips and sharing supplies in the world. Similar to the system in the Dark Souls series, it encourages you to engage with the larger community, while still letting you forge your own path in a solo adventure.
Death Stranding is a highly original experience that’ll either blow your mind or leave you scratching your head. If you’re expecting a familiar, open-world action adventure, you’ll likely land in the latter camp. If you’re craving a fresh take on the genre, however, it more than fits the bill… and that’s before you even begin crafting grenades from Sam’s bodily fluids.