The best parts of Death Stranding are the most mundane. Walking through the world and going slightly out of your way to walk between to knee-to-waist high boulders instead of trying to climb over them. Making sure to lean into turns by grabbing your backpack straps at the right times. Seeing what deliveries need to be made and picking the most optimal ones that you can fit within your weight limit, while still making room for the equipment you need to traverse the space.

The problem is that it doesn’t lean in enough to the walking and climbing mechanics. Most of the time, if you’re going off balance you can just slam on both triggers to save yourself at no cost except to slow down a bit. If you want, you can try to engage with the strap grabbing mechanics more, but you aren’t really rewarded in any way for doing so, except to maybe move a little faster. You can simply go through the game holding down both triggers anytime you do anything slightly risky in order to prevent disaster. And because it’s a video game, you can jump up hillsides and down cliffs and even when the angle is crazy, because Sam is a character in a game, not a real human who would worry about falling or slipping.

But what if Sam wouldn’t just walk off cliffs? People don’t do that. They’re careful when moving around weird boulders and mountain sides. What if he’d back away if you tried to force him over a big drop, saying “no way am I doing that”, instead of calling himself an idiot after splatting on the ground, as he currently does. This would force players to find reasonable paths through mountains, and would encourage more liberal use of ladders and ropes.

The drawback to this is that it could be frustrating to players. It’s not “realistic”. There would probably be lots of frustrating geometry where Sam wouldn’t walk up a really steep slope when you want him to. It might have resulted in a less natural environment where there were obvious ladder and rope spots and cliffs that never are longer than your tools could reach.

Another option would be to penalize players for attempting these unreasonable approaches. The game attempts to do this via the stamina gauge. It depletes faster or slower depending on what you’re doing. It was never really obvious to me what caused it to go fast or slow. Eventually I found out running really cuts into it. Sixty hours into the game I saw a loading screen tool tip detailing how it works in some the cases for slopes with an incline of more than 45 degrees.

Walking on this kind of terrain is far more strenuous than usual. Climbing slopes like these will drain the endurance gauge and when it’s fully depleted, you’ll fall and slide down to the bottom. in order to minimize the rate at which your endurance drops, you’ll either need to climb carefully, avoiding any sudden movements, or you’ll need to use both hands to center your balance as you climb.

So there you have it. Crunch down on both triggers and you can power up any mountain. Not only does it prevent you from falling, it prevents you from losing stamina. This is a mistake. Grabbing either of your straps should use up stamina and grabbing both at once should make it go even faster.

I’d love to see a version of the game where the stamina gauge works more like a souls stamina gauge. Each action you take depletes it a fair chunk, but if you’re not doing anything strenuous (climbing, grabbing your straps, running, walking on weird slopes etc) it regenerates. This would mean that every time you take a bigger, risker movement, there’s a greater risk of running out of stamina, resulting in you having to take a more reasonable, walkable route.

In this version, you’d only be able to walk up a steep slope a little ways until your stamina ran out. At that point you’d be forced to walk perpendicular to the slope, going across the mountain. Walking up steep slopes is hard, which is why switchbacks are how you get up mountains in real life. In this version running out of stamina would mean you’d increase your chances of losing your balance. Maybe there’s a red zone at the bottom of the gauge and when you’re in it, grabbing your straps would do nothing to help with your balance. You’d just have to keep moving and hope for the best. In this version, going out of your way to walk between rocks instead of barreling over them would be what you’d have to do if you want to get anywhere without falling down.

The best parts Death Stranding are the most mundane. If the developers fully embraced that, the mechanics of the mundanity could have been much deeper.

The other way to make the traversal more serious would be to take a Bennet Foddy approach. Let me control Sam’s hands. Let me hit L1 and R1 to reach out to the left and right. This could be used for balancing when walking across narrow things, or to lean against rocks and cliff faces, or to catch yourself if you’re falling to one side or the other. When walking across a steep incline you could reach out and touch the slope to prevent yourself from falling uphill or if you’re going straight up, hold both to scramble up. Or if 300kg of cargo goes too far over Sam’s head, you can put both hands out and have his wrists break as he attempts to arrest his inevitable splat.