Ubisoft released the first Assassin’s Creed in 2007. At the time of release it was a game shrouded in secrecy. We knew it took place during the third crusade, stealth and climbing were involved, and that you played as an assassin, but larger themes and elements of the game’s world and story were kept vague until (almost) the day of release. The near-future science-fiction angle of the story, following Abstergo’s efforts to peek into the genetic memories of the assassins’ ancestors was a surprise to many.
After that initial shock, players were introduced to more on-screen civilians than had ever been placed in a single video game environment up to that point. Assassin’s Creed also featured impressive climbing animation and… a lot of identical missions. The world was huge, but mostly barren, and the lead-up to the titular assassinations involved a lot of the same repeated tasks. You could also collect flags for no discernible reason. Fun!
The final result was a technically impressive first effort for what served as a template for sequels and even other Ubisoft games for years to come, but that first experience felt somewhat incomplete. Laying the foundation and establishing the technology was clearly Ubisoft’s priority and, though it makes returning to that original Assassin’s Creed tough in 2019, there is no denying the gamble paid off.
All of this is to say that Death Stranding reminds me of the first Assassin’s Creed.
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With a few caveats in place (I have not finished Death Stranding at the time of this writing, for example), my experience exploring the United Cities of America is similar to what I felt back in 2007. Much like I did with Assassin’s Creed, I am enjoying Death Stranding — admiring the dense groundwork laid for it bizarre world, and the lonely treks between destinations an excellent soundtrack as my accompaniment. But I sure am doing a lot of that trekking. Not to mention each journey only feels marginally different from the one before it.
In that way it feels like Death Stranding is a first (admittedly large) step in what I hope becomes a larger franchise. The technology and core gameplay loop is there, and I like it, but it feels limited — barren. More can be done with the base idea of delivering packages on-foot across a wasteland infected with marauders and ghosts (how about we install some package-flinging trebuchets?). This first game just needed to blaze the trail, like its own 3D printed roads, and lock in the core ideas. Kojima Productions can now (hopefully) expand it in the future.
Neither Sony nor Hideo Kojima have a confirmed a sequel is in the works, but speaking with GameSpot, Kojima did say “I think it’s better that I keep it going in a sequel,” when asked if he imagines Death Stranding as a series. Even without having finished the game, I am eager to see what’s next for the delivery simulator and, as was the case with the jump from Assassin’s Creed to Assassin’s Creed II, I really think a “part two” could take the off-road road trip established here and sprint downhill at full speed — without dropping a single package along the way.