Death Stranding is, on the surface, a lonely old game. It’s filled with an air of melancholy that seems to drift down from those stunning mountains surrounding its open world to ruffle Norman Reedus’ flowing locks, as he delivers invaluable cargo to cities across America.
But that poignant feeling of loneliness that pervades this post-apocalyptic cargo-carrying adventure never reaches the point of oppressiveness, and that’s all thanks to its strange asynchronous multiplayer.
While you never actually see other players in your game, you’ll feel the impact of their actions, just as they’ll feel the impact of yours.
Death Stranding’s unique form of cooperative play builds upon ideas popularised in the legendary Dark Souls, where players could leave short messages for each other and even replay the deaths of other players by summoning their ghosts.
A big part of Death Stranding is building structures, laying ropes and ladders, and paving roads to make traversal of the terrain easier. As you progress, the landscape slowly changes from a beautiful but barren wilderness to an interconnected world. And as you do these things, you don’t just improve conditions for yourself, but for other players too.
So as you explore the world and improve your reputation with different outposts, the structures built by other players will become increasingly visible in your game. You can then send ‘Likes’ to these players, which will improve their character’s stats in their own game.
It doesn’t end there. At any outpost or postbox you find, you can donate items to shared lockers for other players to use. Who knows? Those spare bola guns or that extra ladder you don’t need may just end up saving another player’s life. You can also leave excess cargo in shared lockers, giving you a smaller amount of Likes while another player completes the deliveries.
There’s only a finite number of players whose game worlds will overlap with yours, and you’ll eventually start recognising certain names coming up again and again. Using Bridge Links, you can see which players have crossed through your game, how many Likes they’ve earned for their contributions, and how many Likes each of them has sent you.
From here, you can pick players to set up Strand Contracts with, which will ensure that their structures appear in your game more often. You can do this with your existing friends too, creating the strange sense that you’re in the same game world, only at different times or in some kind of parallel dimensions.
It’s all very fulfilling, especially when you start up a session and get blasted with all the Likes that your structures received while you were gone. Even though there’s beauty in the solitude of your journey in Death Stranding, the ethereal yet significant impact of other players on your game creates a strong, silent feeling of community, there to nudge you along in your times of need.