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The entire Death Stranding story explained

Once again, gamers find themselves in a time of great strife and difficulty; in a time of consternation, exhaustion, and misery. Once again, we find ourselves in the unenviable position of telling people we're playing a Hideo Kojima game, and having to somehow explain what in the name of Outer Heaven that game is about without having to clear our schedules for the rest of the day.

Even in the context of the rest of Kojima's resume, Death Stranding isn't about to make it easier on anybody as to what exactly is going on. But fear not. We've braved the apocalypse, and have come back with one wild story to tell.

To be perfectly honest, you may still want to clear your schedule for this. But regardless, we've still managed to distill Hideo Kojima's unfettered magnum opus into one easier-to-digest story for the reading. Strap in. It's going to be one weird ride.

The beginning of the end

Once upon a time, the apocalypse happened. Well, let's back up a second. As it turns out, there's another dimension where all things that die must go before they get to their final destination, which, to our eyes, looks like an infinite black-sand beach. And at some point in the future, that dimension somehow crashes violently into ours, causing an apocalyptic event called — wait for it — the Death Stranding. Basically, all things that die don't shuffle loose the mortal coil, but thereafter stick around to wreak havoc with the physics of time and space.

The physics of time and space don't get along too well, however. And fun fact: When dead matter from the world of the living collides with Beached Things (aka BTs) from the realm of the dead, it creates a massive explosion called a voidout. It's less the worst parts of the Bible, and more the worst parts of Akira.

But wait, there's more. If catastrophic explosions weren't bad enough, matter from the other world mixes with ours and creates a semi-regular rain called Timefall, which accelerates the aging of everything it touches. As one can imagine, it's the far opposite of fun times for everybody on the planet.

The State of the Union

In the aftermath of all that chaos, most of what's left of America bands together in around a dozen major underground cities called Knots, though a few doomsday preppers and self-sufficiency weirdos decide to tough it out themselves in the wilderness. Regardless, everybody else decides to rebrand themselves the United Cities of America. 

Obviously, Amazon isn't really a thing anymore, nor are highways, roads, or most things built in the last three centuries. So supplies are schlepped around the country by independent delivery people called porters. Thanks to the void-blasted topography of the country making vehicle travel tricky, most of these deliveries are done on foot, with the packages carried on a porter's back. Because the BTs are still floating around waiting to get their hands on the living, porters have a, shall we say, unique solution for detection: Bridge Babies. These are children born premature to dead or dying mothers who seem to have one foot in the realm of the dead, and do a pretty decent job reacting to BTs. 

There are a few folks who have a bit of an extra advantage, though. Afflicted with a disorder called DOOMs, these people have a special connection with the realm of the dead. It gives them otherworldly gifts, ranging from the ability to sense BTs, to full blown X-Men-like superpowers, to the nifty perk of not being able to die as long as they find their physical body. That's helpful.

Building Bridges

After some years dealing with a disconnected country, the current President, Bridget Strand, forges a plan with her daughter Amelie to possibly get some semblance of a nation going again. Dubbed the Bridges Project, Strand's plan is simple: utilize the incredible amounts of chiral energy — i.e. dead energy — in the atmosphere, along with the remaining technology in the Knot cities and settlements, to create a sort of new internet, allowing for the instant transmission of information once again.

Well, it's simple on paper. In practice, it involves Amelie gathering a team of porters, engineers, and other useful folk to go from city to city, setting up their tech to communicate with the chiral network, and bringing them online manually when they're all ready to go. The journey takes her all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast, but it runs into a pretty big roadblock in the form of the Homo Demens cult. These folks, led by a cheery fellow in a golden skull mask named Higgs, are firmly against trying to get America online again, and are willing to completely sabotage the Bridges Project and kidnap Amelie to prevent it. And this is the state of things when the game begins proper.

Enter Sam-man

Sam Porter-Bridges is, conveniently, a former Bridges (but now independent) porter when the game begins. After making a delivery at Central Knot City, he's tasked with escorting a cargo truck taking a recently deceased corpse to a local incinerator before it necrotizes. Unfortunately, BTs end up attacking the truck, and the resulting voidout levels the city. Lucky for Sam, he has a mid-level version of DOOMs, allowing him to rejoin his body after some time has passed.

When Sam wakes up, he's in Capital Knot City, being looked after by Deadman, a doctor with Bridges. Sam doesn't really get a chance to recover, though. Deadman gives him a big task: The President is on her deathbed, and needs morphine delivered.

As it turns out, Sam is Bridget Strand's estranged son, and upon delivering the morphine, Bridget makes her dying wish: rejoin Bridges, and help reconnect America. Sam is then given the even more heartbreaking task of carrying his mother's corpse to the incinerator, along with the Bridge Baby from the cargo truck (since apparently, it failed to adequately alert the team to the BT attack). Bridget's body is incinerated but Sam just can't bring it upon himself to burn the kid, so he takes it as his own, later naming it Lou, and escapes another BT attack in the process. Upon returning to Capital Knot City, Sam agrees to honor his mother's wish.

The mission

When Sam returns to Capital Knot City, he's given the full rundown on the chiral network by the President's chief of security, Die-Hardman, and his sister, Amelie (who is still captive on the West Coast, but apparently allowed to roam freely and send communication which seems odd, but, sure). He's then introduced to the rest of his support team: Heartman, a scientist and mortician researching everything having to do with the Stranding; and Mama, an engineer specializing in BT defense, confined to her lab when she gave birth to a stillborn child who turned into a BT. 

Sam's task, then, is to not just bring crucial supplies, experimental materials, and creature comforts to the various cities and settlements, but to use a set of what can only be described as chiral USB drives called a Q-pid to bring the chiral network online at each location, helping to make America connected and whole again.

The journey

From here is what can charitably be called the bulk of the game: a long, long, LONG journey of Sam going from city to city, bringing light, hope, and connection to the people. Their stories are harrowing ones of survival, pure American stubbornness and ingenuity, love, death, fear, rage, and even joy at the simplest things we take for granted. We'll be here all day if we wanted to relay them all, so we'll give you the major highlights.

Early on, Sam encounters Fragile, an independent courier who actually owns her own company. She, too, had her own run in with Higgs. After unwittingly delivering a nuclear bomb to Central Knot City, she tried to sabotage Higgs' second bomb, which was supposed to go to South Knot City. But Higgs caught wise. The punishment: He allowed Fragile to dispose of the bomb, but only if she did so while stripped down to her underwear in Timefall. The result: A woman with a beautiful young face, and the body of that woman in room 237 in The Shining. As you can imagine, Fragile is holding a bit of a grudge about that. 

Cliff Unger

Then there's the matter of the weird chiral tornados Sam keeps coming across. When he's sucked into the funnel, he's forced to fight his way through a wave of soldiers, all trapped in some ghostly recreation of every American war. The leader, however, is Cliff Unger, a career soldier with a distinguished service record — he apparently saved Die-Hardman's life some years ago, and gave him his nickname — who Sam keeps seeing memories of whenever he connects to his Bridge Baby, Lou.

There is a good reason for this: Over time, it becomes abundantly clear that Cliff is Lou's father, and his comatose wife is Lou's mother.

Sam's memories are of Cliff in a government facility, taking care of the baby, talking to Lou, telling stories, bringing birthday cakes and the like. Eventually, we see that Cliff was shot trying to escape the facility with Lou, and is now trapped between worlds as a powerful BT, using the chiral storms to try and get Lou back.

The villain, Higgs

And then there's Higgs himself, who pops up multiple times during Sam's journey. Higgs has a particularly high level version of DOOMs, so his abilities are less in the "can sense BTs" category and more of the "can summon BTs, control the weather, and teleport at will" category. 

Most of the time, Higgs just sends a leviathan of a BT after Sam, generally making life miserable. But he's not above subterfuge either. In one instance, Higgs tries to run the same con on Sam that he did on Fragile, tricking Sam into carrying a nuke into a Knot City. Sam figures out the ruse, however, and manages to toss the bomb in a tar pit before it goes off. 

But, you know, Higgs isn't so bad of a guy; he just believes America is beyond saving and wants to accelerate its complete demise by any means necessary. Really, he's not that bad.

The West Coast

Eventually, Sam does make it to the West Coast with both him and Lou in one piece, but Higgs still gets the upper hand by kidnapping Amelie and taking her to the Beach, leading to one last showdown with Higgs one-on-one in the hereafter. After finally taking the masked bastard down, Higgs drops his most devastating bombshell thus far: Not only is Amelie not Sam's sister and not human, she's the literal embodiment of oblivion itself, an Extinction Entity. She was literally born to end us all.

Oh but wait, there's more. After another brief encounter with Cliff Unger, where Sam finally puts 2 and 2 together about Cliff being Lou's father, Sam also learned that his mom, Bridget, was directly responsible for not only shooting Cliff, but the unethical experiment by which humanity found out Bridge Babies are tied to the Beach. As you might expect, Amelie's got some explaining to do.

The truth about Amelie

And yet, it gets so much worse. When Sam finally makes his way back to the real world and relays all this to Deadman, the other shoe drops. Deadman shows Sam a videotape, and Sam finds out that nobody — not even he — has physically met Amelie. All the lovely flashbacks of Sam and Amelie playing on a beach as a kid? Sure, they happened.... on the Beach.

As it turns out, Bridget Strand and Amelie are two sides of the same entity: one able to live in the real world and one stuck in the Beach. The two worked in tandem in order to accomplish what, according to Fragile, Higgs dubbed the Last Stranding — the end of all things — as Amelie merged all of reality with her Beach, causing a planetary voidout. This is exactly what Amelie was forged to do.

With all that in mind, Sam decides he's heard enough, and that he needs to head to Amelie's beach for a face-to-face talk. Not exactly the best plan, especially considering what happens if worst comes to worst and Sam has to kill Amelie. Her Beach has become a sort of Master Beach, now made all powerful thanks to Sam conveniently creating a massive network of chiral energy throughout his travels: the real purpose of the Bridges project. So, killing her would essentially leave him disconnected permanently from the land of the living.

The stick or the rope

After bidding a precautionary farewell to his crew, we learn Sam's desire to live has been rekindled. He leaves Lou in Bridges' care, and then goes to see Amelie on her Beach.

There is a brief bit of mental housekeeping, where Sam realizing the memories he has of Amelie on the Beach were of Amelie finding him near death, as a baby, while the Bridge Baby experiments were taking place. Shortly after, he is truly face to face with Amelie/Bridget/the Extinction Entity.

After giving Sam the lowdown on her purpose, her plan, and his role in making it happen, she offers him the ultimate choice: Give in to oblivion and watch it all go to hell with a loved one by his side; or kill her, right here, right now, cutting his connection to the Entity, and murdering his sister for the sake of all life on the planet. Regardless of what happens, however, the Entity tells Sam that the Extinction is an inevitability.

Still, Sam chooses Option C: To drop his gun and embrace his sister.

Extinction explained

The empathy of his act of mercy bleeds the Entity's memories into him. Tormented since inception with visions of the end, and burdened with the knowledge that humanity was an accident, the Entity always thought there were no options but to accelerate the end at all costs. It believed the most efficient way to do so was by crossing to the world of the living in the form of Bridget, working to connect life with the world of the dead by force, which resulted in the initial Death Stranding event. Meanwhile, Amelie would utilize the chiral energy of the planet to divine the best means to the end, using our planet's own history and an infinite amount of time on the Beach to study.

And yet, life choosing persistence in the face of catastrophe changes the Entity. Every new connection, every choice to defy the inevitable, every element of hope showed the Entity there was more than just the end. To paraphrase her words, all she could see was the single point at the end, when life is a long line. But now? The Entity sees extinction as not an ending, but "an opportunity."

And so, after reconciling with Sam, the Entity chooses to completely sever the link between the Beach and the world of the living.

Life after death

Sam makes it back to the world of the living, thanks to an assist from Bridges. Soon after, Die-Hardman is sworn in as the new president of the United Cities of America, swearing to continue working to keep America connected. The Bridges crew is right by his side, and dedicate themselves to the same goal. Die-hardman also fills Sam in on his past with Cliff, the fact that he killed Cliff for Bridget, and his regrets about doing so (especially given they were comrades in the military).

Fragile decides to keep her company independent, but vows to work closely with Bridges in the future.

Unfortunately, Deadman has to bring down the mood with the bad news: While Sam was gone, Lou became unresponsive in the pod and would need to be incinerated before he necrotizes. Deadman advises that he could try to revive Lou after breaking the baby out of the pod, though Bridge Babies are seen as government tools, and it would be illegal. Still, if Sam decided otherwise, Deadman would give him a window of time once he got to the incinerator.

The end of the end

At the incinerator, Sam gets one more truth bomb dropped on him. He starts to put a few things together, and realizes his flashbacks of Cliff aren't Lou's: they're his own. Sam was Cliff and Lisa's Bridge Baby, meant to straddle and eventually connect the living and the dead. When the experiment failed and Cliff was killed, Bridget took pity on the poor kid and helped raise him on the Beach, which is the source of his DOOMs.

In the present, struck by his new revelation, Sam does indeed break Lou out and try to revive the child. All seems to be lost... until he hears a soft giggle. Lou is alive, and the two walk out into the rain. The rain, which is no longer Timefall. The Stranding is officially over.

Oh, and P.S., there's a brief scene in the post-credits where Sam and Lou hold hands and we learn that Lou is, in fact, Louise. Sam and his baby girl live happily ever after.

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