Death Stranding 2 needs to be an exercise in restraint. In many respects, that would be antithetical to the modern sequel – which expectations dictate must be a bigger, bolder, and brasher experience than that of its predecessor. But if Hideo Kojima really does plan on returning to his apocalyptic vision of the United States of America, then I’d quite like to see it presented in a leaner, smarter, and sharper package.
You might be wondering why we’re speculating about Death Stranding 2 right now. It has nothing to do with the incoming E3 2022 festivities and everything to do with Death Stranding star Norman Reedus breaking protocol, noting in an interview with men’s magazine Leo that he has “just started the second one”. This has likely scuppered Kojima Productions and PlayStation Studios’ plans, as the developer and publisher pairing would have wanted to keep the sequel a secret until it was ready to be shown to the public – c’est la vie.
Death Stranding has been perhaps the most divisive game attributed to Hideo Kojima in his 35-year directorial career. On one side of the fence, a crowd who will vehemently defend it as a masterpiece; on the other, those who believe that it’s little more than a 60-hour exercise in indulgence. As for me, I’m sitting somewhere in the middle – an uncomfortable position, but after running through the original game on PS4 and much of Death Stranding Director’s Cut on PS5, I don’t know where else to go.
It’s been three years since Death Stranding made its debut, and time hasn’t made it any easier to parse. I think there’s an exceptionally good game hidden away in Death Stranding, but it’s buried beneath layers of esoteric narrative concepts and tired combat systems. While these are elements of design that can be refined, I’d rather see both stripped back – if not out – from the experience entirely.
Walk on the wild side
Movement was always the main attraction of Death Stranding, and the boldest thing Kojima Productions could reasonably achieve in a sequel would be to lean further into the walking simulation and social connection aspects that underpin the entire concept. Split across 15 ‘Episodes’, Death Stranding is at its best when it asks you to hike across a vast distance with little consternation. Challenge is born out of survival – not from ghostly apparitions which grind the game to a halt, but from the elements themselves.
Wind and rain can be real killers, gradually eroding the quality of your gear and degrading the deliveries strapped to your back. This is one reason the social elements of Death Stranding work as well as they do; the feeling of relief when you stumble across a player-made shelter in the wilderness, with your resources and patience depleting, is practically unrivaled in this type of action-adventure experience. If Kojima Productions were willing to risk it, I wonder whether a larger emphasis on social connection could carry Death Stranding 2 further than any big narrative concepts ever could – the first game was so lacking in nuance that it stands perilously at the border of parody.
That would necessitate a wider, more uneven play space to explore. In asking you to travel from east to west, across a hauntingly sparse USA so clearly modeled on Icelandic territory, Death Stranding gives you the opportunity to get lost. To get truly lost. In a way that big-budget video games rarely do. It’s admittedly rare for AAA productions to place so much trust in its players, but it’s the lengthy, isolating hikes that made Death Stranding worth investing time in, something a sequel would do well to remember.
Three years later, it isn’t the performances, combat encounters, or delirious ending that stuck with me – it’s the journeys I participated in. That palpable feeling of exhaustion as you’re forced to reorient a crawl through craggy mountains and deep waters once you realize you’re ill-equipped for your approach, and the relief as your destination slowly comes into view on some distant horizon. It’s walking for miles in relative silence, an adventure soundtracked to the unpredictable rhythms of the wind. It’s the moments where Death Stranding revealed itself to be something different, distinct – and if we are to receive a Death Stranding 2, Kojima Productions would do well to remember that this concept is at its best when it veers far from genre conventions and industry expectations.
Will Death Stranding 2 appear at Summer Game Fest? It’s anybody’s guess, but for more details on the showcase you’ll want to check out the full E3 2022 schedule.