There are two games in Death Stranding - the story game and the connection game. The story game is played by taking on “Orders for Sam” and will usually result in meeting someone new, advancing the story, or gaining new tools for interacting with the world. The connection game is played by delivering cargo somewhere and results in increasing your connection with the recipient. You’ll receive cosmetic, novelty, or resource rewards for your trouble.

The story game is great. You explore new areas, build structures to help facilitate your exploration, face unknown obstacles, eventually go off the chiral network so you can’t build or see other players structures and after all that, advance the plot.

The connection game is not so great. You fill star gauges from zero to five over the course of many deliveries. The gauge, showing that those 86 like you just got for completing that delivery only brought you from 3 stars to 3.7 stars, encourages the completionism compulsion, especially because you know there are rewards at designated points (each star up to 5).

The connection game is also the road building game. And road building starts off as something incredible. After going through the first map where you’re mostly walking and occasionally have a motorcycle, you get to this huge map where you have to trek out pretty far to do the first missions. Those trips are long, and will take you through hostile territory. But if you haul some resources to one of the “Autopavers” then you’ll be able to shortcut those journeys in huge ways. It’s a very powerful moment in the game, the first time you run down a newly constructed road. You can move at an incredible rate, there’s nothing in your way, it’s totally smooth, and flies you safely over hostile territory. Experiencing that after hiking through the whole first map changes your perspective on what is possible. You’ve suddenly removed a huge obstacle and it really does feel like you’re “Rebuilding America”.

But building those roads is not necessary to advance the story. There’s no plot about starting up supply lines because no one needs supply lines if they’ve got chiral printers. There are not many story missions that take you backwards through territory you’ve explored. There’s really only a handful of story-adjacent missions that do this. These missions come to you in the form of an email and require you to deliver a pizza fairly long distances within a time limit. The only real way to do those missions is if you’ve built lots of roads.

Roads are for the connection game, allowing you to drive a truck with almost no limit to the amount of cargo it can carry, from point A to point B, C and D, dropping off and picking up cargo at each stop, in order to increase your connection levels. Most of the connection game is looking at menus and long haul trucking, and the trucking does not feel good. Especially when you’re on a road. The connection game is just busy work, a way to pad out an already long game.

To fix this, the connection game should have been more built into the story. Maybe convincing people to join the UCA instead of just connecting to the chiral network should have been Sam’s goal. The game spells it out for you that the Preppers out there are independent and don’t necessarily want to join. If you had to get them to join the UCA to share some kind of information or technology, then the connection game would have been more involved in the story, and then the roads would have been important to the story as well.