Death Stranding is unlike any other game you have ever played. But it’s actually pretty easy to break down its gameplay components.

The core gameplay features the protagonist, Sam Porter Bridges, walking from one point to another, navigating treacherous terrain while avoiding hostile enemies, using whatever resources he might find along the way. Conceptually, it is no more complicated than a Mario game.

Still, at times Death Stranding can be frustrating and annoying. Here are some tips to hopefully make your hike across America a bit more relaxing.

The game does a very careful job of introducing its mechanics, including how to use its busy map system. We’ll try to avoid tutorializing too much here, since players will get plenty of that in the game’s early chapters. There are also gameplay spoilers ahead. All of the items discussed below have been featured in other previews and reviews, but if you like to be surprised by game mechanics and items, tread carefully.

Don’t worry about your birthday

The game will ask for your birthday. Put whatever date you want. I used my real birthday (I am a serious gamer) but it doesn’t matter and doesn’t affect your gameplay or the story at all.

Just get to Chapter 3

During the first two chapters of the game, you’ll be thrown a few side missions. The completionist in you may want to knock these out immediately. Don’t bother! (Yet).

You’re able to complete side quests at any point in the game, even after you complete the story. Conan O’Brien has a cameo in an early side quest, but I didn’t find him until after the credits rolled.

Unless you’re really enjoying the first two chapters, you’ll unlock more tools and game mechanics — like the ability to 3D print motorcycles and trucks — by the third chapter. Revisiting those first few side missions with those tools will make them more fun.

Log in, it’s free!

One of the game’s key themes is connection with others — and you can do that for free. PlayStation 4 players do not need a PlayStation Plus subscription to play the game. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can instead log into and take advantage of the game’s free Porter network, which can be found above the “System” option after you bring up the in-game menu. If you get logged out, just go back in and click “Log in.”

I played the game offline for a bit, and the game was noticeably more difficult, and definitely felt less alive.

Always pack extra shoes

The worst parts of Death Stranding are the long, painful animations of Sam Porter Bridges tending to his bloody, broken feet. The game is rendered realistically, so the footage is unpleasant to watch. These sequences will happen whenever Sam’s boots wear out.

Boots can last you for a good while: You’ll probably change them out only once per night. As a survival game, Death Stranding is surprisingly forgiving. Still, to avoid seeing Sam’s feet, always pack at least one extra pair of boots on your boot clip. You can keep up to two pairs on the clip. They’re cheap to craft, and you can always go digging around the “Shared Locker," where other players contribute items and materials. You’re likely to find a free pair of shoes there.

Use the lockers, both shared and private

Private lockers stay in your game. You’ll be revisiting many stations, so anything you pick up along the way that you don’t need right now, consider saving for later.

Shared lockers play into the game’s theme of connection. Hundreds of other Sams will contribute items to shared lockers for others to use. You don’t have to contribute. Take advantage of this — and maybe leave something for all the other Sams out there.

BTs will stress you out. Just stay calm.

BTs, or beached things, are invisible ghosts that roam the rainy American landscape. The trailers sold them as the game’s “true horror,” and they weren’t lying: BTs are the biggest, scariest threat in the game.

Thankfully, they mostly can’t move. And if you don’t move either, you’ll be able to see them pretty clearly (provided that the baby attached to your chest is happy, but we’ll get to that).

Eventually you’ll get weapons to clear out BTs, but the gameplay loop around them will remain essentially the same: Navigate around the BTs, and every once in a while knock them out with one of the BT-specific weapons you get later in the game.

Don’t kill anyone!

Kojima’s previous games in the Metal Gear series encouraged players to take the pacifist route. Death Stranding takes this even further. You will see immediate negative consequences if you kill other humans, called MULEs. The more people you kill, the more your world will be littered with invisible BTs. This will make the game more challenging.

Pack nonlethal weapons when given the choice. Use special rounds for BTs, and rubber rounds for human MULE enemies. Make sure you hit the triangle button in your weapons screen to swap between the two types of bullets.

Place blood packs in your utility pouch

Your blood level corresponds to your hit points. You can fit up to four packs of your own blood into a utility pouch that doesn’t count toward space in your backpack.

Your blood can also be used as ammunition. Bringing four packs ensures that you have a safety net to survive and fight your way out of almost any encounter. You get free blood packs every time you sleep in a private room — which you will do often — so you’ll never be left wanting for blood.

Don’t over-pack

This is starting to sound like a bizarro version of our travel section By The Way, but seriously: Don’t over-pack.

The temptation is to be prepared at all costs, considering how alien and hazardous this game’s world seems. But some story missions will load you up with a lot of items to deliver, and eventually, you’re going to end up looking like this:

I always made sure I had one nonlethal sidearm (hanging off the tool rack), a ladder, two pairs of boots, and a smaller pistol or grenade. That was usually all I needed, especially considering all the items left by other players. Most trips won’t give you several encounters. If you follow our tips and avoid BTs carefully, you’ll end each run with leftover ammo. You can always restock on ammunition at private rooms.

You can skip the sleeping and showering cutscenes

The game seems slow thanks to all the elaborate animation work done to show how Sam showers, naps and urinates. You’ll be doing all three more times than probably anything else in the game besides walking.

Simply pause and skip them all once you’ve exhausted all the animation routines for each. Eventually you should be able to recognize which animations are routine, and which ones present a new camera angle, indicating you’re about to get a story.

Stop to recover stamina

Draining your stamina is a sure way to make sure your Sam goes limp and falls. Simply stop moving and rest by holding circle to recover the blue stamina meter. And if you’re crossing a river, you’ll notice your stamina drain even faster. It’ll recover if you simply stop walking in the water. Just watch where you step and make sure the water is shallow, otherwise you’ll float along the current, and maybe even off a waterfall.

Don’t be afraid to auto-sort your luggage

Packing Sam with various boxes on his back, arms and legs can be tricky. I enjoy inventory management, so I found this mechanic fun, like a Jenga tower in the shape of Norman Reedus. But if you don’t want the hassle, simply press triangle in the cargo menu. The computer will optimize your luggage for the best possible balance and speed. You’ll eventually be tasked with delivering hilarious amounts of packages; Automated sorting will make life a bit easier.

‘Very easy’ mode will not play the game for you

Kojima has joked that his “very easy” mode is for movie fans, worrying gamers who believed that the game would play itself. That is not the case.

Death Stranding provides no shortcuts around the walking system. You will have to do all the walking yourself. But you won’t get hit as hard, your stamina won’t drop as quickly, and your packages won’t deteriorate as much. You’ll still see just as many enemies.

If you’re not sure about which difficulty mode is right for you, just know that you can switch the difficulty at any moment.

Relax

This game isn’t Dark Souls.

The game is constantly auto-saving your progress. Dying will either set you back a few minutes, or to the start of the mission. Even then, the game allows you to save at almost any time outside of cutscenes and inside combat. The game knows that it demands a lot of your time, so it’s generous in allowing you to save, much like a mobile game.

If you have any other tips, let us and others know in the comments below! It’s a great strand for us to connect.

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