‘Death Stranding’ Review-In-Progress: The Slog Of Slogs

Death Stranding Review
Credit: Kojima Productions

Death Stranding is a very strange game. I’m fascinated by it but I’m not at all sure that I actually like playing it. It’s not just that it isn’t fun. It often feels like a chore, like the game is doing its level best to keep you from having a good time.

Maybe that’s the point?

As the headline suggests, this is not a complete review, but rather a review-in-progress. I have two reasons for this.

First, I can’t play this game in long stretches. I’ve never been a “fast” reviewer, preferring to take my time with games. This is one that requires lots of time and a great deal of patience.

And since I’m possibly a little OCD when it comes to completionist stuff, I find myself getting off-track from the main story frequently and spending a lot of time delivering stuff, or building stuff, that I don’t really need to in order to pen a review. I can’t help myself.

Second, I want to play the game “in the wild” for a bit before giving it a score. Yes, there have been reviewers and other players out there in the game during the review period, but this is just a small sampling of how many players will be out there after launch. What will the game look like then? It’s an asynchronous multiplayer game, meaning other players’ structures, cargo and so forth will appear in your game and yours in theirs. You can help them deliver stuff for you. I think the only way to review a game like this–or any multiplayer game–is to test it in real world conditions.

So there are my reasons and here are my impressions of the game’s early hours. I’ll continue to post over the coming days (weeks?) until I’ve finished the game and fully absorbed its story/mechanics/etc. and post a final arbitrary number as a score at the end of all that.

I think this will be an interesting test of what it means to be a video game critic. The thing is, I don’t really like Death Stranding. But....

It’s grown on me–I’ve certainly left behind the “I hate this game with a passion” phase–but I haven’t ever said to myself “Boy I sure am glad I’m reviewing this game!”

It is fascinating, however. It’s strangely engrossing.

Loading up your cargo, figuring out how much you can carry and where to go first, and what you’ll need to get there. Every delivery is a puzzle. The right tools for the grueling, brutal terrain make all the difference. And patience. You’ll need that in spades. The story, also, with all its vagueness and bombastic nonsense and ridiculous Hideo Kojima ticks. It’s undeniably interesting–and just as confusing. This is Kojima unchained. It’s honestly a shame that the fascinating story wasn’t paired with a better video game with actually good combat. We’ll get to combat in a minute.

First, let’s talk about terrain.

I’ve never played a game with such an emphasis on terrain before. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild had some interesting terrain mechanics, but this goes far beyond anything in that or any other game. The rocky, despairing landscape of Sam Porter Bridges’ America is simply a nightmare to get across, whether on foot or in the vehicles you encounter, all of which are infuriatingly ill-suited to traversing rocks, ditches, cliffs steep embankments, narrow streams and all the rest.

At first you won’t have vehicles or any sort of enhancements to help you over this rocky scrabble and if you’re like me it will drive you crazy with boredom and frustration. The tedium is overwhelming. Trudge from this location to that location to deliver some cargo then listen to them praise you for being such a swell guy.

You’re named Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus). Sam is your name and you’re a Porter working for the Bridges organization (led by the weirdly named Die-Hardman) so I guess that’s how Sam gets his full name. I would be Erik Writer Forbes under this system. Hmmmmm. Not the worst.

In any case, Sam is a grudging helper to this Bridges group thanks to his familial ties to the President of the United Cities of America (UCA) and he sets out to link up a bunch of cities and outposts with weird names like Capital Knot City or Port Knot City to the “chiral network.”

You’ll hear a bunch of apocalyptic fantasy mumbo jumbo in this game which is why I’ve compiled this glossary of terms and explanations which you can reference for either your own amusement or to help you understand what we’re talking about here.

The game opens to Sam out in the wild. After the credits role, and Norman Reedus’s brief introduction, we find him riding on a motorbike faster than you will ever ride one. He even makes a snazzy jump that I’m pretty sure is impossible in the actual game–you just never move fast over this game’s terrain.

He crashes when Fragile (Léa Seydoux) appears in front of him, and his bike goes over the edge of a cliff, which is why you have to hoof it for so long after this point. You make your way to a cave where you and Fragile meet and hide from a BT. It’s a very scary moment.

Then it’s off to make your first delivery.

Almost immediately the song Don’t Be So Serious by Low Roar kicks on as you clamber along your rocky path. It’s a gorgeous song, and it’s a powerful opening to the game. It’s probably the best thing that will happen over the course of the next ten hours.

The Slog Of Slogs

Those hours are spent delivering cargo for various holographic people to various points across the map as you unlock new tools to help you in your journey, including weapons made from your sweat, blood and bodily waste. Yes, you have #1 and #2 grenades in this game. All these grenades are used against BTs, while nonlethal weapons like the bola gun are used against MULEs and other humans, though these humans are usually very easy to beat even with just your fists.

You’ll be sent to remote bunkers to bring 30kg machines. Some of the missions are timed. Some are based on how damaged the cargo gets. You’ll scale mountains and sneak past terrifying BTs–wraithlike beasts from the land of the dead, also called the Beach.


You’ll unlock a ton of tools that you can craft at most cities and outposts. Ladders to help you scale sheer cliffs. Ropes to help you climb down. PCCs that you can use to build anything from bridges to super-useful generators that can charge your vehicles and machine legs.

You’ll also meet a bunch of different characters, from Deadman and Die-Hardman and Heartman (I sense a trend with these names) to Fragile and Amelie. I won’t spoil any of it for you. It’s all very strange, but it sure looks good.

It really is a breathtaking game, though as beautiful as it is it’s never lovely. It’s more of a despairing beauty. The beauty of a wilted flower, of birch trees in winter, of cemetery rows. It’s a hopeless landscape and a lonesome one and you spend most of your time alone with BB, trudging along trying to stay on your feet and not get killed by BTs and not have your cargo get busted from a fall or from the Timefall–rain that accelerates time for whatever it touches.

It’s a slog, man. But it has a certain rhythm that I have, after many hours, started to enjoy in an obsessive-compulsive sort of way. I enjoy the puzzle involved in getting from X to Y. I enjoy it less when I have to keep retracing my steps–and there’s a lot of that, unfortunately.

It is nice to have the asynchronous multiplayer. Having other players help with things like ladders and bridges and generators is great–and it’s nice to know that the structures you’ve built can help others, too. It’s a bit like Dark Souls in that regard. In that game you can leave little messages helping (or hindering) other players. You can also summon or invade other players, something not present whatsoever in Death Stranding.

There are other odditites you encounter, like the fact that Monster Drink is what you drink to replenish stamina, both out on missions (it’s in your canteen) or in your private room where several cans are prominently displayed. I find this . . . incredibly tasteless–a garish, immersion-breaking inclusion that might have earned Kojima Productions some extra cash, but at the expense of the game’s integrity.

There’s also a prominently displayed ad for AMC’s ‘Ride With Norman Reedus’ TV show that you’ll see whenever he goes to take a dump.

You can make Sam urinate outdoors. You can make him go #1 and #2 in his private room, and you can have him take a shower–a shower that spends a great deal of time focusing up and down the length of Reedus’s naked body, leaving only a very small percentage to the imagination. It’s weird. Some of Reedus’s fans might have a little too much fun with it.

My Take So Far

As I noted previously, I’ve gotten past the “good lord I hate this game” phase into something more like grim determination. I want to deliver the goods. I want to see what happens. I want to learn more about this mysterious world and its peculiar cast of characters and its haunting creatures.

The game is mechanically tedious. The terrain might be more fun if there were better combat on the other side of its ponderous navigation. Hell, I think someone should take the terrain concept from this game and create a really cool RPG adventure that takes into account weight limits and whatnot and really gives players hard choices about loot and treasure and weapons and armor and so forth. There is the skeleton here of a very fun game.

This game, though. I guess we’ll see.

It’s not great or terrible. I can’t get on board with the critics singing its praises as a 10/10 masterpiece or those who say it's the worst game ever. Except when my truck gets stuck in a ditch and I have to reload because nothing I can do will get it out. That’s annoying.

Nor do I think “But it’s art!” is a great counter to tedious gameplay. Who cares? Just because something is “art” doesn’t mean it’s good. There’s good and bad art, and yeah–it’s all pretty subjective. Some people will love this game and some will hate it.

I’m going to finish it so I can write a final review. Maybe it’ll continue to grow on me. Maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll finish it hating the thing more than ever. Maybe I'll be singing its praises from the mountaintop.

So far, it’s a mixed bag. There are many other games I’d rather be playing. But there’s something about this dead world and this bizarre obsession with delivering cargo, and with getting “likes” from other players and NPCs, that makes me want to keep coming back. Maybe I’m just a masochist. Then again, I always thought of myself as more of a sadist.

I’m a critic, after all.

More to come, and soon. Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts on the game once you’ve played it for a while. You can always find me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Death Stranding is a very strange game. I’m fascinated by it but I’m not at all sure that I actually like playing it. It’s not just that it isn’t fun. It often feels like a chore, like the game is doing its level best to keep you from having a good time.

Maybe that’s the point?

As the headline suggests, this is not a complete review, but rather a review-in-progress. I have two reasons for this.

First, I can’t play this game in long stretches. I’ve never been a “fast” reviewer, preferring to take my time with games. This is one that requires lots of time and a great deal of patience.

And since I’m possibly a little OCD when it comes to completionist stuff, I find myself getting off-track from the main story frequently and spending a lot of time delivering stuff, or building stuff, that I don’t really need to in order to pen a review. I can’t help myself.

Second, I want to play the game “in the wild” for a bit before giving it a score. Yes, there have been reviewers and other players out there in the game during the review period, but this is just a small sampling of how many players will be out there after launch. What will the game look like then? It’s an asynchronous multiplayer game, meaning other players’ structures, cargo and so forth will appear in your game and yours in theirs. You can help them deliver stuff for you. I think the only way to review a game like this–or any multiplayer game–is to test it in real world conditions.

So there are my reasons and here are my impressions of the game’s early hours. I’ll continue to post over the coming days (weeks?) until I’ve finished the game and fully absorbed its story/mechanics/etc. and post a final arbitrary number as a score at the end of all that.

I think this will be an interesting test of what it means to be a video game critic. The thing is, I don’t really like Death Stranding. But....

It’s grown on me–I’ve certainly left behind the “I hate this game with a passion” phase–but I haven’t ever said to myself “Boy I sure am glad I’m reviewing this game!”

It is fascinating, however. It’s strangely engrossing.

Loading up your cargo, figuring out how much you can carry and where to go first, and what you’ll need to get there. Every delivery is a puzzle. The right tools for the grueling, brutal terrain make all the difference. And patience. You’ll need that in spades. The story, also, with all its vagueness and bombastic nonsense and ridiculous Hideo Kojima ticks. It’s undeniably interesting–and just as confusing. This is Kojima unchained. It’s honestly a shame that the fascinating story wasn’t paired with a better video game with actually good combat. We’ll get to combat in a minute.

First, let’s talk about terrain.

I’ve never played a game with such an emphasis on terrain before. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild had some interesting terrain mechanics, but this goes far beyond anything in that or any other game. The rocky, despairing landscape of Sam Porter Bridges’ America is simply a nightmare to get across, whether on foot or in the vehicles you encounter, all of which are infuriatingly ill-suited to traversing rocks, ditches, cliffs steep embankments, narrow streams and all the rest.

At first you won’t have vehicles or any sort of enhancements to help you over this rocky scrabble and if you’re like me it will drive you crazy with boredom and frustration. The tedium is overwhelming. Trudge from this location to that location to deliver some cargo then listen to them praise you for being such a swell guy.

You’re named Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus). Sam is your name and you’re a Porter working for the Bridges organization (led by the weirdly named Die-Hardman) so I guess that’s how Sam gets his full name. I would be Erik Writer Forbes under this system. Hmmmmm. Not the worst.

In any case, Sam is a grudging helper to this Bridges group thanks to his familial ties to the President of the United Cities of America (UCA) and he sets out to link up a bunch of cities and outposts with weird names like Capital Knot City or Port Knot City to the “chiral network.”

You’ll hear a bunch of apocalyptic fantasy mumbo jumbo in this game which is why I’ve compiled this glossary of terms and explanations which you can reference for either your own amusement or to help you understand what we’re talking about here.

The game opens to Sam out in the wild. After the credits role, and Norman Reedus’s brief introduction, we find him riding on a motorbike faster than you will ever ride one. He even makes a snazzy jump that I’m pretty sure is impossible in the actual game–you just never move fast over this game’s terrain.

He crashes when Fragile (Léa Seydoux) appears in front of him, and his bike goes over the edge of a cliff, which is why you have to hoof it for so long after this point. You make your way to a cave where you and Fragile meet and hide from a BT. It’s a very scary moment.

Then it’s off to make your first delivery.

Almost immediately the song Don’t Be So Serious by Low Roar kicks on as you clamber along your rocky path. It’s a gorgeous song, and it’s a powerful opening to the game. It’s probably the best thing that will happen over the course of the next ten hours.

The Slog Of Slogs

Those hours are spent delivering cargo for various holographic people to various points across the map as you unlock new tools to help you in your journey, including weapons made from your sweat, blood and bodily waste. Yes, you have #1 and #2 grenades in this game. All these grenades are used against BTs, while nonlethal weapons like the bola gun are used against MULEs and other humans, though these humans are usually very easy to beat even with just your fists.

You’ll be sent to remote bunkers to bring 30kg machines. Some of the missions are timed. Some are based on how damaged the cargo gets. You’ll scale mountains and sneak past terrifying BTs–wraithlike beasts from the land of the dead, also called the Beach.


You’ll unlock a ton of tools that you can craft at most cities and outposts. Ladders to help you scale sheer cliffs. Ropes to help you climb down. PCCs that you can use to build anything from bridges to super-useful generators that can charge your vehicles and machine legs.

You’ll also meet a bunch of different characters, from Deadman and Die-Hardman and Heartman (I sense a trend with these names) to Fragile and Amelie. I won’t spoil any of it for you. It’s all very strange, but it sure looks good.

It really is a breathtaking game, though as beautiful as it is it’s never lovely. It’s more of a despairing beauty. The beauty of a wilted flower, of birch trees in winter, of cemetery rows. It’s a hopeless landscape and a lonesome one and you spend most of your time alone with BB, trudging along trying to stay on your feet and not get killed by BTs and not have your cargo get busted from a fall or from the Timefall–rain that accelerates time for whatever it touches.

It’s a slog, man. But it has a certain rhythm that I have, after many hours, started to enjoy in an obsessive-compulsive sort of way. I enjoy the puzzle involved in getting from X to Y. I enjoy it less when I have to keep retracing my steps–and there’s a lot of that, unfortunately.

It is nice to have the asynchronous multiplayer. Having other players help with things like ladders and bridges and generators is great–and it’s nice to know that the structures you’ve built can help others, too. It’s a bit like Dark Souls in that regard. In that game you can leave little messages helping (or hindering) other players. You can also summon or invade other players, something not present whatsoever in Death Stranding.

There are other odditites you encounter, like the fact that Monster Drink is what you drink to replenish stamina, both out on missions (it’s in your canteen) or in your private room where several cans are prominently displayed. I find this . . . incredibly tasteless–a garish, immersion-breaking inclusion that might have earned Kojima Productions some extra cash, but at the expense of the game’s integrity.

There’s also a prominently displayed ad for AMC’s ‘Ride With Norman Reedus’ TV show that you’ll see whenever he goes to take a dump.

You can make Sam urinate outdoors. You can make him go #1 and #2 in his private room, and you can have him take a shower–a shower that spends a great deal of time focusing up and down the length of Reedus’s naked body, leaving only a very small percentage to the imagination. It’s weird. Some of Reedus’s fans might have a little too much fun with it.

My Take So Far

As I noted previously, I’ve gotten past the “good lord I hate this game” phase into something more like grim determination. I want to deliver the goods. I want to see what happens. I want to learn more about this mysterious world and its peculiar cast of characters and its haunting creatures.

The game is mechanically tedious. The terrain might be more fun if there were better combat on the other side of its ponderous navigation. Hell, I think someone should take the terrain concept from this game and create a really cool RPG adventure that takes into account weight limits and whatnot and really gives players hard choices about loot and treasure and weapons and armor and so forth. There is the skeleton here of a very fun game.

This game, though. I guess we’ll see.

It’s not great or terrible. I can’t get on board with the critics singing its praises as a 10/10 masterpiece or those who say it's the worst game ever. Except when my truck gets stuck in a ditch and I have to reload because nothing I can do will get it out. That’s annoying.

Nor do I think “But it’s art!” is a great counter to tedious gameplay. Who cares? Just because something is “art” doesn’t mean it’s good. There’s good and bad art, and yeah–it’s all pretty subjective. Some people will love this game and some will hate it.

I’m going to finish it so I can write a final review. Maybe it’ll continue to grow on me. Maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll finish it hating the thing more than ever. Maybe I'll be singing its praises from the mountaintop.

So far, it’s a mixed bag. There are many other games I’d rather be playing. But there’s something about this dead world and this bizarre obsession with delivering cargo, and with getting “likes” from other players and NPCs, that makes me want to keep coming back. Maybe I’m just a masochist. Then again, I always thought of myself as more of a sadist.

I’m a critic, after all.

More to come, and soon. Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts on the game once you’ve played it for a while. You can always find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

I write about video games, TV and movies.