Death Stranding Isn’t Exactly a New Genre
One of the biggest questions leading into Death Stranding’s launch was — does Hideo Kojima’s first post-Konami game actually introduce a new genre, as Kojima claimed it would before launch? Now that we’ve had plenty of hands-on time with Death Stranding, we’ve been able to determine firsthand whether the ‘Strand Genre’ really is its own thing. And the answer is: not quite, but the way it evolves certain gameplay ideas are absolutely worth being explored in other games, which is something Kojima called for as well.One of Death Stranding’s most significant — and in my opinion, best — mechanics is its Social Strand system. It’s a concept we’ve seen in other franchises, most notably in From Software’s Bloodborne and Souls games, but the way it’s been expounded upon makes it both an essential part of Death Stranding’s gameplay and an intriguing asymmetrical multiplayer experiment.Every IGN Kojima Game ReviewWhat Is the Social Strand System?Every person playing Death Stranding plays as their own Sam “Porter” Bridges, but as your Sam begins to explore the United Cities of America, items will start to appear in the world that neither you nor NPCs built. And whether it’s from sora2792 or someone else with a PSN name they regret making a decade ago, these items are put into your version of Death Stranding because they were placed in that exact spot by another player in their game.These items can range from dropped cargo abandoned on a trek to ladders placed over a precarious river to buildable objects like bridges, postboxes, and more. Death Stranding randomly puts players together with others, and while you won’t see every single thing another player creates in all likelihood, you will see plenty of creations along your way. Though, notably, you won’t see specific item types until you’re able to make them yourself, so a bridge from another player won’t spawn until you build one.You will gain the ability to create stronger links to a limited number of players of your choosing, but outside of that, the primary way you’ll interact with one another is through a “Likes” currency system.Yes, one of the things that helps you survive the Death Stranding is a social media-esque liking system. Every order Sam completes in the game earns him likes, which can be awarded to other players or NPC’s structures in the game. Come across a particularly useful ladder from that sora2792 fellow? Give him a couple of dozen likes to show your appreciation.Every IGN PlayStation First-Party Exclusive ReviewThe more likes you give, the more you’ll likely receive in return in a bit of a cyclical, quite true-to-life system. The more feedback you give the more you’re likely to get but, because this is a Kojima game, , there is a deeply embedded lore reason for it. Buried in the documentation Sam amasses is a passage referring to Likes as an endorphin rush a person gets in the Death Stranding universe. It’s a positive emotional stimulant, and in a world so bogged down by devastation, time that can age you to death, and mysterious ghostly, gooey boogeyman, you’ll probably take positivity anywhere you can get it.Other players can also affect your game during boss battles. Any time you fight a large BT, other players can randomly pop up as avatars from the BT slime to deliver helpful items, like ammo or blood bags.So…Does This Make Death Stranding a New Genre?I’d argue that, no, Death Stranding’s social elements don’t create a brand new video game genre, but they feel depply integral to the experience that it does make Death Stranding difficult to categorize.Other players affecting a single-player experience isn’t a necessarily new idea. It’s one we’ve seen time and again in From Software’s library of Soulsborne games, and even in something like thatgamecompany’s Journey to a certain extent (although that game featured live, randomized multiplayer.)The idea of strangers helping one another is absolutely core to the themes and ideas explored all throughout Death Stranding, though, so it makes sense that the Social Strand system would feel so integral to the whole ordeal. Sam’s stated mission from early in the game is to reconnect the United Cities of America, speaking to and appealing to strangers throughout a truncated North America to bring them into one union. His metaphorical bridges (being built by someone working for Bridges, in case you didn’t get it!) are being built in the lore of the world while players are building literal bridges, and many other items, in the Death Stranding world, connecting themselves to one another while also helping to further Sam’s main quest.How Death Stranding’s Future Could Define Its GenreIn all honesty, there’s a part of me that wonders if the makings of a new genre just haven’t set in yet. Death Stranding’s world is definitely defined and shaped by the amount of stuff myself and others create. I truly have no idea what this world may look like another 50 hours in, or even six months of real-time in. How the number of players and the number of creations affects the world truly could be something that will pay off in the weeks and months to come, and I’m eager to see more.I’ve built plenty of structures myself, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so thankful for an expertly placed timefall shelter or generator that saves Sam’s deliveries while I’m on the run from MULEs or sneaking through BT territory. And because the system is entirely based around positivity — I can’t downvote someone’s structure — it encourages a cycle of paying it forward. Getting likes in Death Stranding makes me happy to know I’ve helped someone out, but it also makes me want to then give out those likes to others. And, to take it a step further, particularly helpful structures have trained me to be on the lookout for places to put my own beneficial creations.And the same goes for delivering someone else’s cargo, either dropped throughout the world or left in “shared lockers” at each delivery point. Those deliveries help boost my game, and so now I go out of my way to share some ancillary cargo or even resources and tools when my stock is too large.I do think the system makes battles far too easy. What were once hulking, threatening BTs have now become grenade fodder that I seek out whenever I need some resources knowing I can easily take them down.But for the most part, the system feels vital to getting through the harsh world of the Death Stranding. I don’t think it necessarily makes for a new genre, but it does evolve ways I’ve played in other games with a mechanic that is intriguing, essential, and also rife for imitating. Sam isn’t going it alone, even if it may seem that way sometimes, and though Death Stranding may be a single-player game, its multiplayer ideas are both thematically and mechanically integral and refreshing.For more on Death Stranding, be sure to check out our comprehensive Death Stranding walkthrough, IGN’s Death Stranding dictionary to help you parse all of the game’s new terms, and a suggestion of movies to watch after you play Death Stranding.And of course if you haven’t already, read IGN’s Death Stranding review, and the experiences of several IGN editors of the opening hours of Death Stranding
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, Podcast Beyond! host, and currently 50 hours into delivering packages in Death Stranding. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.