Going Astray in Death Stranding

Having completed Death Stranding with the utmost care to obey its logic and comply with its suggestions, I decided to start rebelling in the epilogue to see what happens. Here are my findings.

Experiment 1: Murder

People claim that Death Stranding is a pacifist game. It teaches you to be non-violent, and punishes you for killing anyone. Even your enemies don’t kill you, they say! They’ll just mug you and leave you somewhere instead. People in the world of Death Stranding are terrified of dead bodies because they enter necrosis and can cause voidouts. To emphasize this, the game starts with body that needs to be disposed of immediately, and we watch as it jitters, shakes, and eventually melts into the tar as a huge monster appears. That was scary. People also say that the dead will turn into BTs, which sounds different than causing a voidout, but also not great. I don’t understand what the exact consequence of dead bodies is, I admit.

I did kill a couple of MULEs along the way during my normal mission, but it was out of desperation since I didn’t have non-lethal weapons on me. I was worried that there would be a voidout within minutes, or perhaps the next time I rested and time jumped forward. But nothing happened. Nobody even scolded me about it, and I thought it must be some kind of misunderstanding on my part. Maybe I shot the person so that they were critically injured, but because they had a bunch of friends around the camp they were stabilized and never fully died.

In the epilogue I decided to go on a kill spree and wipe out an entire camp of MULEs for the sake of science. Having heard so much about the pacifist nature of the game, and being warned to never kill people, I assumed that killing a whole camp of people would result in some kind of permanent consequence on my record at the very least. The fact that Bridges would know about my kills would surely mean that I’d lose reputation across the network, or something. People would no longer want to have deliveries from me, or — how about this? — I’d lose access to their private quarters at cities. That would teach me a lesson. Maybe I’d be cut off from other people’s ziplines or storage units until I proved that I could be a responsible porter. Until then I’d practically be an outlaw, a madman, and a terrorist.

Isn’t Higgs considered the world’s #1 terrorist because he kills people and lets them necrotize? Isn’t that part of engineering voidouts?

The results were shocking. When you kill somebody in Death Stranding, the first negative effect you’ll notice is that BB becomes very sad. He’ll go into his catatonic state and remain that way. I hadn’t even considered BB’s reaction to seeing the violence, and I became worried that I was permanently ruining my connection with it. What would that mean?

As it turns out, I was wrong about the dead guy being stabilized and all the other bad things I feared. Having my grenade launcher equipped, I picked off guys one by one, eliminating a whole camp in a way that would make even Higgs blush. Boom! Boom! Boom!

Ashamed but curious, I completed a delivery in progress to see what the recipient would say. Whatever happened, I trusted that I could load an old save file if this one was no longer viable…

“I’m always happy to see you, Sam. You’re a hero.”

It turned out that nobody cared. Even Bridges accepted me as a hero still, and my fickle little BB got over the whole murder rampage thing as soon as I took a nap. This was very hard for me to believe. I’m not kidding when I say that. Since when does a Kojima game entirely revolve around a concept, but not enforce it in the gameplay? What about all that condemnation of sticks and the new philosophy of ropes?

Experiment 2: Killing the innocent

Maybe killing MULEs and the terrorists was considered self-defense, right? They’re crazy bad guys, after all. Even though I considered it unthinkable during the normal game, I now had to go even further: I had to kill friendly Porters and see what happened.

For the longest time I assumed Kojima didn’t include friendly NPCs in the world and forced us to only deal with holograms because he knew that troll players would kill everyone they could, and that would break the illusion of the “strand genre” being a shared world. But when I saw the friendly porters I realized they were not only physical beings, but also vulnerable.

The ones I met were at a bunker of the Engineer, just outside his door. They seemed to be completing a delivery. Weapons are not authorized within the direct raidus of the shelter, so I stepped just outside the protective barrier and aimed my rifle at them. Bang! Bang! Two clean headshots. They hit the ground right in front of the guy’s front door, and I noticed that I lost 10,000 “likes” for each of them from the Porter union. Uhhhhh…. Kojima?

Being a gentleman, I put the poor souls in body bags and left them there. The Engineer was still thrilled to do business with me, and my rank was still five stars. The rotting corpses of the two dudes who just brought him valuable goods were his problem now. If he didn’t care, why should I?

A little while later as I delivered more packages to my adoring fans, I got a call from Die-Hardman saying that Corpse Disposal had removed the bodies from in front of the Engineer’s house, and that I should do it myself next time. Apparently the bodies were close to going necro and “we came very close to disaster”. They docked me 200 “likes” each for the hassle. I suppose I learned my lesson?

Experiment 3: Leaving corpses around

I’ve currently killed at least 30 people around the map, clearing out multiple MULE camps in succession and leaving all of their bodies in place. I’ve also started killing every Porter I see on the map. There’s death everywhere, and the little icons for them are getting a bit annoying, so I guess that’s a type of punishment, right? I got a call hours ago from Deadman saying that I immediately needed to go and dispose of the bodies at the first place where I killed, and I haven’t done anything with them. How’s it possible that “we came very close to disaster” before when Corpse Disposal found the Porter bodies, but these have been around way longer and nothing is happening?

I’ll let you know if they ever go necro and something bad happens. As I’m typing this article Sam is taking a nap on top of that same pile of corpses. He seems to be resting comfortably.

Here’s a video I found testing the same stuff, just not to the same extreme.

Experiment 4: Desecration

Of course, we all know by now that you can throw piss and shit grenades at the MULEs, and laugh at their discomfort. Having already crossed over into the dark side and surpassed Higgs as the most evil man in the world, I decided I should probably try desecrating their bodies after I killed them as well, just to see what would happen.

To my dismay, Sam refuses to piss anywhere near a dead body. What is the point of an on-demand piss function if you can’t even take a leak on the enemy you kill? We can blow their head off with a shotgun without provocation, but we can’t take a leak on their body bag? I’m learning a lot about morality today. 10,000 likes subtracted for first degree murder of a government employee, 200 subtracted for not burning their bodies, but Sam refusing to even dignify the notion of pissing on a corpse really opens my eyes. Of course, Bridges and the rest of society don’t care about any of it, so Sam’s sudden pang of guilt is even weirder. He’ll even say something like, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” to himself if you try.

Oh, and you can still throw grenades at them, including your shower residue, blood, piss, and shit. Just throw it right at their dumb corpses. So… Yeah, I don’t get it.

Experiment 5: Pushing the limits

As I wait for the world to blow up from all the corpses I’ve littered across the USA, I decided to go exploring. For some reason I’ve lost my childlike love of reaching the edge of the map in my old age, but I had to find out for myself what was out there. Death Stranding is the ultimate game of exploration, right? Ladders, ropes, and bridges everywhere. Maybe there would be Easter Eggs, secrets, hidden merchandise, special unlocks, or some kind of bonus emails and conversations at least.

I’ll cut to the chase with this one, since it’s both boring and disappointing: you can’t go anywhere, and there’s no point in trying. Even tiny little ridges that I’ve navigated a thousand times in the normal course of travels are impossible to climb when it’s near an area the game doesn’t want you to go. Huge sections of the map simply give you “Outside the acceptable construction zone” message (I’m paraphrasing) when you try to put down a ladder near these areas. Other places look like they have real ledges with vast areas of land beyond, but they are death traps that go nowhere.

The whole first region of the game is walled in with absurdly high vertical cliffs, making a small tunnel you have to go along. At first you’re so weak and stumbly that you blame Sam, or the cargo you’re always carrying, or your own lack of creativity, equipment, and ingenuity. But I’m playing in the epilogue, when I have everything, and these cliffs are literally impossible to climb. The early Eastern portion of the game is a narrow hallway, and that’s that. Rotate the map using the middle pad button and rotate the controller to see it for yourself. Think about how ugly, illogical, and badly designed that whole region is in the context of Death Stranding’s premise of exploring America and freely navigating the land using your tools.

And why I haven’t seen a single person comment on the fact that Canada and Mexico are literally erased from the planet in Death Stranding? They don’t exist. Gone, eh. Adios, muchacho. They’ve been replaced with oceans. America is literally an island in Death Stranding. And nobody — I mean nobody — brings up this fact in the course of the normal story. I traveled to the Northenmost point of the country and climbed down to the shoreline where Canada should be. Calm waters for as far as the eye could see. Above me, however, were a handful of those pointless testicle balloon monsters for no reason at all. Being a gamer, I figured that maybe they had some significance and popped them all with my gun. But that didn’t even spark a conversation. In Death Stranding your “Codec” is a one-way communication device for telling you about dumb shit, not an opportunity to call your support team and find out about geography, history, and people you’re interested in. With such a rich history of showing off when it comes to the Codec, it’s genuinely saddening to think about.

Experiment 6: Failing to the max

Having filled myself with guilt for being evil, and driven myself to despair by finding out that the USA is the last piece of land on Earth, I decided to punish myself by suffering as much as humanly possible in the game.

Causing Voidouts

I decided to get myself caught by BTs and eaten by a goop monster. This causes a voidout in the area, as I found out early in the game when I made sure to test it out. At that time it wasn’t really a problem at all, but I assumed they were just taking it easy on me because it was so early in the game. Think about how it works: you encounter BTs by trying to take the shortest route, but when they catch you they drag you away from the critical path to a location that doesn’t matter at all. If you cause a voidout there, the BTs stop showing up in the area and you’re safe, plus you can now take a relatively normal path around the crater it makes.

In other words, causing voidouts is a a benefit in Death Stranding. If you disagree, please email me and tell me how I’m wrong. What, you lose your cargo? You’re inconvenienced? It’s an “epic fail”? By deliberately causing a voidout as quickly as possible, it’s actually faster than slowly crawling through and trying to avoid everything. It doesn’t hurt my pride, because it’s a sound strategy with a long-term benefit. And there’s nothing less scary in game design than a goop monster, so I sure as hell don’t care about that. When it really comes down to it, you’re stupid if you don’t cause voidouts.

Dying and Bleeding

Death Stranding doesn’t punish you when you die, so this was a tricky thing to try to flagellate myself with. Normally you just respawn with everything you had before, no worse for wear. You even get the chance to float around in spirit and scout the surrounding area, looking for new paths and taking a new vantage point. And, frankly, dying has measurable perks: you get to meet new people whose bodies are floating in the “Seam” as well, and if you connect with them you’ll respawn with new supplies.

Still, I got myself killed in various ways. Jumping off cliffs, being shot by terrorists, and drowning. Nothing mattered, though. It really raised the question of how Sam’s body even makes sense. What if he swallowed cyanide? What if he got cancer and died of natural causes? What if he caught a flesh-eating virus and died slowly over the course of weeks? When does he get restored to? Does he always come back with perfect health? At least in Groundhog’s Day he wakes up at the start of the day, not 10 feet away from the place he died with all of his stuff right there.

The only way to truly die painfully, I reasoned, would be to bleed to death by literally having my feet kill me. Yes, death by foot. That would do it.

Imagine if Death Stranding was actually a difficult game and the map wasn’t tiny. Your boots might actually deteriorate in the course of going between your destinations, and you’d have to walk with busted shoes, or even barefoot. This is what I wanted to simulate. My boots were about 90% damaged anyway, so I just let it happen and jumped across as many jagged stones as I could find. It took forever, but I finally got them to break. But strangely, it didn’t seem to hurt anything. Sam kept jogging at a good pace, jumped normally, and plowed through snow like an ox. Of course I never ran around with broken boots before, but now I realized it was okay.

Surprised (but not that much, since nothing else in the game has serious consequences) I took off the boots and began the impossible task of traversing without them across mountain terrain and snow.

But that turned out to be trivial as well. It took forever to bleed, and twice as long for the bleeding to kill me.

Would you guess what happens when you die from bleeding feet? I was highly curious, because my stamina was at zero, my BB was unconscious, my blood bags were discarded, and I had bled out slowly over the course of 20 minutes. Even if Sam was respawned, what could the game do? Fix my feet? Give my back all my blood? If it did, that would be the ultimate admission that there are no consequences for failure in this game. It’s one thing to spare the player a headache because they accidentally slipped off a ladder or go hit by an enemy grenade, but this? This was monumental incompetence. Gross negligence. Criminal stupidity. The game could at least make me regret this course of action, couldn’t it?

No. No it couldn’t. The worst possible design is the one that prevails, and Sam is brought back to full blood meter with no harm done. Just keep on keeping on, as they say.

No thanks, Death Stranding. I don’t feel like keeping on anymore.

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