I’ve been thinking a lot about the game Death Stranding lately. It was a polarizing game when it came out back in 2019. It’s essentially a game where you just walk around and deliver packages to people. There’s some combat and stealth, but it’s mostly walking and navigating the terrain. But there’s just something about the world and atmosphere of the game that completely pulled me in. It’s one of the few games that could so fully convey a feeling of loneliness and isolation, while at the same time drawing some sort of beauty from it.
Death Stranding is set in what remains of America after a cataclysmic event brings about Beached Things, ghostlike entities that consume what they touch, and Timefall, a rain that rapidly ages whatever it touches. Much of the outside world is heavily deteriorated, in addition to being extraordinarily dangerous to traverse. So, most people have isolated themselves, either in remote and disconnected cities, or on their own in prepper shelters.
Your job is to brave the ruined world to deliver packages to people. That’s it. In just about any other game, this wouldn’t be particularly compelling, unless you’re really into delivery simulators. But Death Stranding’s world is what kept me invested, and what totally enraptured me.
It’s a lonely, desolate world. The terrain is difficult, Beached Things threaten your survival if you wander into where they’ve made their home and the packages you carry constantly weigh you down. The few people that are out there have lost their minds and try to steal your packages. For the most part, you’re on your own.
Without much in the way of action most of the time, and without someone talking in your ear every few minutes, you’re just left with something so simple yet so human: the act of walking and thinking to yourself.
Death Stranding reminded me of that same sensation that came over me when I’d walk the city streets alone at night. The feeling of being utterly alone, yet somehow connected to everything. The world looms over you, and sometimes it can feel totally overwhelming. But despite its scale, you’re still a part of it, even when you’re isolated from people.
The lack of people out and about in the world helps to cement the game’s theme of human connection. Without others around, you miss the people that might be with you in other games. Your only real company is the baby you have strapped to your chest (don’t worry about it), and the music that comes in at key moments to break the silence.
It’s like taking a deep breath before a sigh. Death Stranding’s world pulls beauty out of desolation, it’s impossible to not stop and admire the mountainous terrain, the rivers, the forests, all of it, really. Death Stranding reaches its peak, not in its few bombastic action moments, but in the long walk, when your destination comes into view and a gorgeous song slowly fades in to welcome you.
It’s an experience that’s stuck with me since I first played it. I still listen to the soundtrack pretty regularly, and I’m always reminded of the world that Death Stranding had me walking through and admiring. For a world so totally destroyed, there was still great beauty in it. It never hurts to bask in beauty, even as the world is falling apart. What else are we here for?