Piecing Together the Enigmatic World of ‘Death Stranding’

Tom Regan
Games PlayStation
Games PlayStation

As a small child, every day spent exploring the world feels just as baffling as it does fascinating. When you sit down for lunch, you’re told that these cute animals are our special friends, but that those cute animals are food. That it’s important to be kind… while your parents repeatedly ignore that homeless man lying on the street. With all these strange, often contradictory rules, after each new bit of information you’re fed, the world around you seems to make less and less sense.

Thanks to Hideo Kojima, we find ourselves feeling a bit like that baffled four-year-old once again. Ever since the enigmatic PlayStation exclusive was first revealed in 2016, Death Stranding’s marketing has been intentionally obtuse, with each new head-scratching trailer raising more questions than the last.

Just when you wondered whether Kojima was calming down in his old age, he names one of the game's key characters 'Die-hardman'.

Featuring characters with groan-inducing names like Die-hardman, something called ‘action strand gameplay’, giant beached whales and, er, floating foetuses, attempting to piece all these elements together feels a bit like watching a foreign language film while your head’s underwater.

In order to make your life easier, then (and for the sake of our own rapidly dwindling sanity) we’ve decided to thread together everything we know so far about the mysterious world of Death Stranding. Strap your foetus in, grab your favourite harmonica and get ready to lose yourself in Hideo Kojima’s wonderful captivating nonsense.

What is Death Stranding actually about?

As you’ve probably gathered, there’s quite a lot going on in Kojima’s latest, so we’ll start off with a fairly broad synopsis. Set during an undisclosed time in the near future, a series of unexplained explosions called voidouts have rocked our once peaceful planet. If that wasn’t worrying enough, these mysterious bombardments have also brought with them a wealth of horrifying spectral creatures known as beached things – or BTs for short.

Thanks to being invisible to the naked eye (and seemingly having a lust for human flesh) these BTs have somehow become stranded on our world, all but bringing about the mass extinction of our species.

With the BTs seemingly able to flit between the world we know and another mysterious realm at will, to be blunt, mankind is looking pretty boned in Hideo Kojima’s latest. The name of this series of horrifying events? The Death Stranding. Cue dramatic music.

Who Do We Play In the Game?

Death Stranding's Sam Porter Bridges
Norman Reedus plays mysterious protagonist, Sam Porter Bridges, in 'Death Stranding'.

As you’ve probably gathered from all the teaser trailers released so far, you’ll be put in the shoes of one (sometimes naked, always foetus-clutching) Norman Reedus – aka Sam Porter Bridges. While we still don’t know much about Sam’s past, we do know his mission. Following the havoc wreaked by the death stranding, America is now in disarray. With cities in ruins and most people cut off from the wider world, in a bid to restore order, a company called Bridges has tasked Sam with reconnecting each state in the United Cities of America (UCA). No pressure then.

In typically post-apocalyptic fashion, however, not everyone who’s cut off wants to be reconnected. These anti-connection anarchic groups will serve as the human foes that you’ll face on your journey, with one particular militant organisation – the Homo demons – rumoured to be able to cause the BT-producing Voidouts at will. Hey, stop sniggering back there.

So, why Sam? Well, it turns out he’s not just any old hunky delivery guy. Although Sam can’t see BTs with the naked eye, he does have the ability to sense them. He also has an impressive resistance to another horror that the death stranding has brought with it – Timefall. But more on that later.

Intriguingly, in several of the trailers released so far, a character known as Fragile states that both she and Sam share something called DOOMs. Unfortunately, both this and the briefly mentioned trait Sam possesses known as the ‘extinction factor’ are still complete mysteries.

Can We Talk About the Portable Foetuses, Please?

Death Stranding's Bridge Baby
Despite appearing in almost every trailer, Bridge Babies are still one of the game's biggest mysteries.

I mean, we’re going to have to, aren’t we? As you’ve probably gathered, these little fellas are pretty integral to the world of Death Stranding. Know as Bridge Babies (or BBs) the exact purpose of them is still a bit of a head-scratcher. What we do know, however, is that these seem to be key to warding off of the BTs.

As we see in the rather terrifying short below, a Bridges member chucks one to Sam, seemingly saving his life after the gigantic BT decimates everything else in its path. After the incident, Sam wakes up elsewhere, unharmed. Are these BBs clones of whoever they’re tethered to? Does Timefall help them rapidly age, ‘succeeding’ their original host after each Voidout? That seems to be the current theory, but so far, nothing has been confirmed.

Right… But What the Hell Do You Actually DO in Death Stranding?

While this was undeniably the question for two years, thankfully some recent extended gameplay demos and trailers have given us some much-needed clarity.

As we mentioned earlier, Sam is a delivery man, and players’ main goal in the game is to journey across America reconnecting the country. With Kojima borrowing the Decima engine that powered Horizon Zero Dawn, unsurprisingly, this is also an open-world adventure.

Death Stranding open world screen.
Functioning as a mix between a relaxed walking simulator, a terrifying horror game and some kind of dystopian Fed Ex adventure, 'Death Stranding' is unlike anything out there.

Much like in the director’s last game, MGSV, before venturing out into the world players will need to carefully consider what equipment they’ll need. Instead of an array of weapons and stealth camo, however, this time you’ll be prepping the ultimate weapon… a giant backpack.

With each journey Sam embarks on, it’s up to you to carefully plan his loadout for the perils ahead. While that may not sound massively exciting, players will also be able to tinker with and swap out Sam’s suit, adding specialised attachments for his arms and legs to make life easier. One type of power armour we’ve seen so far, the ‘Active Skeleton’ looks to be a lifesaver, allowing Sam to run faster and jump further.

Death Stranding equipment screen.
Carefully planning the weight of your loadout is essential to survival.

Like any good delivery driver, planning your route is key here. Thanks to a handy topographical view, you can meticulously plot your path to each communication node, noting where you’ll need ladders, boots and even anchors to reach your destination. Once again though, the more over-encumbered Sam is, the slower and more vulnerable he’ll be.

Thankfully, Sam can enlist the help of some time-saving tech to make his life a little easier. Whether it’s a cool-looking bike, a floating palette-esque carrier, a truck you’ve hijakced or even a hoverboard, you’ll be relieved to hear that you don’t have to embark on this mammoth adventure entirely on foot. You’ll also be able to stop off for a nice relaxing bath en route, so, don’t say Kojima never did anything nice for you.

Is There Actually Any Action in This ‘Action Strand’ Game?

Death Stranding boss fight.
A rare glimpse at one of 'Death Stranding's boss fights.

Thankfully, yes. While traversal and exploring seem to make up the main bulk of the Death Stranding experience, this odd adventure won’t be short of danger. With BTs known to appear without warning, Sam will often have to hold his breath, with players moving as little as possible in order to remain hidden from these terrifying spectres.

While avoiding them altogether is wise, if seen Sam will have to shed a lot of his gear, using a mix of the originally named Anti-BT handgun and EX and Hematic grenades to slow these deadly apparitions down. Thankfully, once the BTs have moved on, you’ll be free to go back and recollect your discarded gear.

The recent Tokyo Game Show demo also seemed to show what looked suspiciously like a boss fight, with Sam lobbing grenades at what appeared less like the humanoid BTs pictured above and more akin to the giant dog-like spectres we’ve seen in various teasers. Whether you’ll actually be able to defeat these creatures or just have to survive their attacks, however, remains to be seen.

Outside of the BTs, Sam will also find himself accosted by those pesky militant groups we mentioned earlier. Here, combat gets a tad more traditional, with a mix of melee, vehicle and weapons letting you shut down these opportunistic ambushers. It can’t all be peaceful strolls and hot spring baths, can it?

How Do the Online Elements Work in Death Stranding?

As you may have heard Kojima mention, there’s a huge social element to the game. While you won’t actually encounter other players in the gameworld, their footprints will be all over it. Both figuratively and literally. As you embark upon your long journeys to connect the next node, you’ll stumble upon tools used by other players to traverse the landscape.

Whether it’s ladders, bridges, ropes, shelters or vehicles, you can take full advantage of gear that other players have left behind. Much like Dark Souls, you then rate how helpful these player contributions were to your journey, giving them a ‘like’ for each useful contribution.

…But, er…. What About All the Other Crazy Stuff?!

Valid question there. Here’s a rundown of some of the other elements/confusing jargon you may have come across in one of the game’s many nonsensical teasers.

There are of course, five mysterious figures who have appeared ominously in several of the trailers released so far. While these look a lot like BTs – and seem to appear whenever they do – these seem to be something separate, taking on a more deity-like role in the game.

Tar is also a big no-no here, as it seems to drag Sam to hell. Unsurprisingly, BTs seem to kick up this tar  but more interestingly, so do the game’s humanoid villains. With these militant groups also able to cause Voidouts, tar, Voidouts and the passage of time seem to be intrinsically linked.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, the Death Stranding has also brought about with it a new deadly type of weather for humans to contend with – Timefall. While at first glance it looks like little more than rain, exposure to this nasty little liquid rapidly accelerates the passage of time, ageing anyone it touches by decades in a matter of seconds.

Unsurprisingly, this terrifying phenomenon is linked to the BTs. Yet at this point, it isn’t clear which causes which, only that one’s appearance follows the other.

“The timefall fast-forwards whatever it touches,” says Fragile. “But it can’t wash everything away. The past just won’t let go.” There you have it, folks.

Death Stranding vehicles.
Vehicles look to make your life a hell of a lot easier.

With the game now only weeks away, we’ll be adding all the new information we uncover about Death Stranding as we get it. While we find ourselves just as confused as we are intrigued, we can’t wait to dive into this wonderfully bizarre game on the 8th of November.

Tom Regan
Having written for everyone from Trusted Reviews to The Guardian, Tom is a London based writer who can't stop talking about games. Now he's joined the team at FANDOM as gaming editor, we have to constantly remind ourselves that he's not actually Ed Sheeran.