Death Stranding was a divisive game, but there was often one common criticism between the two factions: The game’s opening hours are quite prickly. And those hours are key in hooking people since Death Stranding is already an obtuse game that doesn’t fit into any familiar holes. Re-releases have the chance to correct the sins of the past and many don’t. And not only does Death Stranding Director’s Cut address that uneven intro, but it also improves and adds to the game, making it a more well-rounded classic.
The aforementioned prickly bits are mostly because Kojima Productions throws players into the deep end without much help. Combat is poorly explained and hard to get used to. Protagonist Sam “Porter” Bridges can’t carry much cargo without toppling over like he’s chugged multiple canteens of Timefall Porter instead of Monster Energy Bridges Energy. It’s already such a weird game and these opening hours give the impression that it’ll be a tedious journey throughout, falsely offering weary players a decent enough reason to leave all the knots forever disconnected from the chiral network.
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The Director’s Cut’s first act still has all the weird story bits filled with laughable jargon — that much pure, unfiltered Kojima Nonsense™ can never be cut out or designed around — but the gameplay in those sections is more significantly more digestible. Sam now gets access to an electric stun gun capable of non-lethally incapacitating human enemies with a few well-placed shots. Giving players a gun earlier on means they’ll be capable of dealing with threats instead of being almost forced to flee. There are even a handful of new melee moves and give brawls more variety and strategy and keep them from getting overly mashy, as was the case in the base game.
While the game does gloss over almost all of its many mechanics at one point or another and doesn’t directly tutorialize many of them, the new firing range lets players try out these systems in the field without actually being in the field. Having a safe area to try out combat techniques, fire guns, and toss grenades helps since it lets players explore the mechanics and armory without risking anything or getting into real danger.
The Director’s Cut also goes one step further by implementing drills that put live enemies inside of the simulation. If the firing range lets players experiment with the game’s tools, the drills amp up the stakes and puts those skills to the test against BTs, MULEs, or Terrorists while still mitigating risk. The main game suffered because it didn’t let players practice with its various tools and therefore made the punishing combat something to avoid rather than a system to engage with. Aiming is still overly weighty, equipping weapons in the heat of battle remains occasionally clumsy and unresponsive, and, as ironic as it is given the studio, stealth is still incredibly limited, so aggressive tactics aren’t exactly encouraged, but they are at least better supported.
Combat isn’t a huge part of Death Stranding when compared to making deliveries, which is also more welcoming to new players. Exoskeletons are such a huge part of the job and holding the first one until the second area unfairly front-loads all the tedium. The new Support Skeleton solves that by showing up early on. This middle-of-the-road exoskeleton doesn’t excel in power or speed, but provides more support for those amateur Porters by adding 60 more kilograms to Sam’s maximum capacity and helping him keep his balance. It’s of little use later on since it has only one version and doesn’t upgrade alongside the player as deliveries get harder, but it’s yet another gadget dedicated to sanding off the rougher edges in those first dozen or so hours.
But the Director’s Cut isn’t solely aimed at inexperienced Porters as many of its additions are for more seasoned Porters, too. These additions are most noticeably found in its new tools (and the existing and surprisingly useful Half-Life and Cyberpunk 2077 ones from the PC version). Cargo catapults provide safer ways to transport cargo over long distances; effective for launching packages over enemy territory, waterfalls, or steep hills. Buddy Bots are like floating carriers but with a much bigger potential payload. Although they can struggle with steep terrain, they’re flexible robotic companions that can follow Sam, make deliveries on their own, and become impromptu taxis that can carry Sam back to a knot if he’s too tired or out of battery.
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There are many more additions — like the flashy jump ramps, thin Chiral bridges for unusual gaps, a trike with a trailer, overpowered jetpack, and the highway that conveniently leads directly into the mountains — and they all have a helpful function that contributes to what Death Stranding does best. The game was already full of different variables that all made each trek different from the last. The interplay between each of its many components and the freedom to finely tune loadouts from a wealth of choices was one of the strongest parts of making each and every delivery. Adding even more handy tools to the toolkit like this further expands those options and, in turn, the potential for player-driven creativity.
Many of these big additions hog the spotlight yet sit alongside dozens of UI changes. Premium delivery requirements are more clear in multiple ways. The health of structures is easier to see from the map. Players can now see what orders are at each terminal without having to go there first. Footwear now has differently sized health bars that accurately demonstrate their durability; long for durable shoes, short for flimsy shoes. None of these (and the many others) are individually game-changing tweaks, but they collectively work in tandem and result in a better and smoother user experience.
In addition to the Very Hard difficulty from the PC port and new stationary turrets at enemy camps, the most hardcore Porters aren’t completely left out in the cold near Mountain Knot City as there are multiple ways for veterans to go against each other. Ranked orders, drills, and races all test players’ delivery skills, aim, and driving acumen. Races seem to benefit the most from this as the odd, if temporarily entertaining, time trials are rather short-lived without something to continually grind against. Death Stranding runs on its optimistic, cooperative spirit, but these competitive corners of the UCA still have their place and provide something slightly more serious for those who want it, even if the rewards aren’t that alluring.
Strangely, the new story missions are the weakest part of the Director’s Cut. Seeing Kojima Productions tip its Bridges cap to the Metal Gear Solid series is endearing, but neither the gameplay nor narrative threads are as charming. The cramped warehouse meant for sneaking ends up being held back by its linear pathways and the previously mentioned imprecise stealth controls in the game. And it attempts to set up some sort of intrigue before suddenly dropping a ton of exposition at the player at the finale, falling victim to the worst storytelling techniques seen in the core game.
These story missions don’t add much to the title, but they are the outlier in a Director’s Cut full of new features that meaningfully improve the experience. Even though specific parts of it seemed more designed toward different types of players, all of the enhancements coalesce beautifully and result in a game that’s noticeably stronger across the board; a true achievement since the original was already a masterpiece. The higher frame rate, significantly faster load times, and more nuanced vibration on the PlayStation 5 make for decent technical upgrades, too, yet are almost completely overshadowed by the content they’re meant to support. Death Stranding Director’s Cut could have been just those simple technical advancements, but it’s much more than that, showing that Kojima Productions, much like Sam “Porter” Bridges, always delivers.