Stranded Solace

I find Death Stranding’s postgame to be wonderfully meditative. I realize that the tranquility I suggest sounds quite incongruous with the game, one that I’ve said before manages to capture the terrible wonder of the sublime. But when you’ve finished the main story, uncovered the central mystery, and become quite adept at avoiding the ghostly BTs, the game is all about taking a hike.

In my continuing effort to get every trophy for the game, I’ve been hunting Memory Chips. They’re little collectibles with data from before the Death Stranding, taking the form of pictures of motorbikes, figurines, music albums, and movie posters (like Dr. Strangelove!). I used guides online to point me in the right direction so I’m not searching in vain, but I don’t look up the exact location so there’s still some exploring to be had.

So I climbed a mountain southeast of the Timefall Farm. I charted my path and slowly made my way up.

At this point, scaling mountainsides has become a somewhat mundane affair. Put a ladder here, climb there, don’t fall down. The America of Death Stranding is one ravaged by time and isolation, the only signs of humanity are the ruins of the old world and survivor’s bunkers, alongside the few Knot Cities and constructions by other players. It’s a very lonely game, but beautiful in its isolation. It’s just you and the wilderness, figuring out how to ford rivers and scale cliffs, avoid terrorists and navigate crags. There’s little more important than getting from A to B. The real goal is the journey you had along the way. 

As I neared the summit — and the purported memory chip — I noticed something artificial at the top of the mountain. Not something built by another player, but something intended to be part of the world. I crested the mountain and found a torii, a Shinto gate.

I crossed the threshold, and a song started up. Now, there are a lot of songs in Death Stranding, they usually play on a cue prompted by setting out on a special delivery or when first reaching some narratively important place. It’s always a beautiful moment; the other sounds of the world fade away and the song’s info is overlaid on the screen. It invites contemplation and slowing down for a minute, taking in it all.

It wasn’t the first time Silent Poets’ “Asylums for The Feeling” played in the game; it’d played before much earlier during my approach to Port Knot City. Yet the song, which like many of those featured in Death Stranding, is a melancholic tune, the sort that so wonderfully encapsulates the mood of the game. From this mountain, just past the gate, I could see the ocean stretching off towards the horizon. Behind me I saw the Farm and other mountains I’d climbed before and, not far past them, the towering incinerator. I could see before me the world I’d been crisscrossing for months. I turned around, and past me was the a world, and an ocean beyond. The totality of it all hit me there, a sensation of being very small, and very accomplished.

There’s little in the game pointing you in that direction, besides the presence of a totally optional Memory Chip. The peak doesn’t stand between two destinations, nor is there any delivery that takes you there. It’s something you essentially find for yourself, another part of the game that’s more about the journey than the destination. Death Stranding is a walking simulator, sure, but it’s a game that makes that walking wonderful. Sometimes you need to be able to slow down and just take in the world.

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