Death Stranding hits different in a pandemic. When COVID-19 hit, many found themselves in lockdown situations. You sat at home in “bunkers” of your own making, relying far more on deliveries than ever before. Even now, traveling might not be a possibility, you might be on a first-name basis with a regular delivery person. Now Death Stranding Director’s Cut is on its way to the PS5 and makes the original game less cumbersome to play, more appealing to return to, and prettier than before.
Sam Porter Bridges is a mostly ordinary delivery man in a far from ordinary world. He gets people things they need after an apocalypse. But he’s also related to the president of what’s left of the United States. Because of that, he’s tasked with a mission: to bring the country “online.” Armed with a Q-pid that lets him connect people across the country to the internet-like Chiral Network, he heads out to get people things they need, rebuild infrastructure, and come bearing a connection. But that isn’t all he’ll do. Armed with a Bridge Baby, he’ll have to use its abilities to sense supernatural and hazardous BTs that roam the world. He’ll also have to deal with antagonistic humans who don’t have peaceful intentions.
What follows is a game that is about safely exploring the world. Your goal as Sam is to make deliveries. This can be done on foot, though eventually you’ll be able to build or use bridges, roads, and ziplines you and other people have built. Occasionally you encounter foes, both human and inhuman, that you can dispatch with both conventional and unconventional equipment. It’s simultaneously relaxing and strategic, given much of the time is spent trekking across scenic locations peppered with hazards. And on the PS5 especially it looks gorgeous.
Now, I feel it is important to note that saying Death Stranding Director’s Cut makes the game easier on the PS5 isn’t exactly accurate. (Though, if someone does pick Very Easy, it isn’t at all troublesome.) Rather, many of the changes feel designed to help make the early chapters more efficient. Like yes, the mountains are going to be a bit of a slog if you aren’t getting your zip lines in place or using new elements like the Chiral Bridges. But the way things are handled feel a bit better balanced. When I played the original game, I recall being more frustrated at certain deliveries and in specific situations, and that didn’t happen on my second run.
For example, in one fell swoop you get two pieces of equipment that can make it easier for Sam to explore the world and both access and handle the new area. These are the Maser Gun and Support Skeleton. The gun is primarily for people dealing with Mules while making deliveries. It can stun an enemy, eliminating concerns about killing them (and needing to make a trip to an incinerator). It does what you expect, though if you already were doing well managing opponents, it probably won’t feel revolutionary. It is very handy for Mule invested areas. When I could, I still tended to resort to my fists because I liked the degree of control, but I appreciated this option. Though if someone does guns, that and using the firing range to practice your attacks can be helpful. People might have otherwise been out of their element when such things came up, and this safe training space helps. And the firing range also has the added bonus of making something of a minigame out of the experience, given you can earn badges in ranked courses.
But in general, I also felt like the Haptic feedback was extraordinarily helpful in Death Stranding Director’s Cut. It seemed like I had a better sense of when I was in danger. I could more easily feel and react to Sam’s burdens, uneven environments, and BT threats. Not to mention it made everything feel more immersive. You can tell what kind of terrain you’re exploring even without looking at it. You can better sense the dread that comes from BT encounters. I might not be easily able to travel and hike, given the state of the world, but the feedback here offers a similar sort of experience.
Some of it feels like Kojima Productions is giving us additional opportunities to be silly. I mean, we have a whole landscape and area of the country to explore. It’s usually pretty empty and all ours. But some of the additions embrace the “opportunities” you could have that much land. Like building the Racetrack is genuinely fun, and I didn’t have too much trouble building it up. When I attempted to build Jump Ramps, they never seemed as “practical” as I hoped. (Or maybe I was just that terrible of a driver.) But there’s this rush that comes from goofing around.
And the Buddy Bot is revolutionary. This is the robot that can carry cargo (or you) around America when conditions are right. Granted, we saw them before. You could have the automated bots running Standard deliveries for you in the original release. But now, you can have one with you. Frankly, I found it to be the best when I was engaging in the optional activities. Maybe I purposely targeted a Mule camp, so I could get materials for building roads and resources around the world. I could load ceramics and metals up on the buddy, then have them deliver the goods to a location so I didn’t have to carry it. I also tended to avoid and not bother with “lost” deliveries I’d see around the landscape. But with my “buddy” around, I’d actually pick some up because, well, it wasn’t like I was carrying the load anymore.
But I think the biggest takeaway now is how differently Death Stranding Director’s Cut hits as a result of the pandemic. This is an interesting game, to be certain. It always offered a lot of takes on concepts like relationships between people and technology. It is fascinating. There are many messages. It forces you to connect with characters in the game, with strangers you don’t know and can’t see that are also playing, and perhaps even with yourself. It might make you smile when it gets goofy. There will be times when you get frustrated due to delivery requirements. And even if you did play the original game and are questioning if those few new inclusions make it worth it, there are additional details to unearth as you play.
While I took a lot away from it the first time, Death Stranding Director’s Cut affected me far more and left an even more positive impression. Regardless of whether someone likes it or not, it sticks with you. Even if the story doesn’t click, the underlying concepts stay with you. And at a time when we can’t easily travel or connect, having this game where you can and make a difference in strangers’ lives online is very welcome.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut will come to the PS5 on September 24, 2021.