At the time of writing this article I’ve played a lot of Dead by Daylight. A LOT. It speaks to me as both a fan of horror movies, and as a fan of the all versus one style of video games (See Quicksand Cache in Mario Party 2 or Left For Dead). And I’m quite hyped for its new update that will add a new killer, The Nurse, a new map and a new survivor so I wanted to talk a bit about what makes Dead by Daylight such a great game. I’ll admit part of the joy of horror movies is lost in this game because where normal stupid teenagers would make dumb mistakes and get caught, most DBD players have the wit to actually function competently, but it is in this delicate balance between Survivor wit and Killer wit that the core mechanics of Dead by Daylight make themselves clear and the games fun but brutal nature very apparent.
For those who are not aware, Dead by Daylight is a new all versus one style horror game made by Behaviour Digital Inc. and published by Starbreeze Studios. In the game you play as either one of four survivors or as a blood thirsty killer modeled after popular horror movies. The Trapper is your slasher movie representative for those who love Friday the Thirteenth. He’s able to set up bear traps around objectives to catch unsuspecting survivors and hack them to pieces. The Wraith is your ghost type killer who can use a spirit bell that can phase him into the spirit realm thus making him nearly invisible to survivors. And the Hillbilly is very clearly just Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He dashes madly around the map swinging his chainsaw about but uses the hammer when he gets close to take out survivors. The objective of the survivors is to power five generators procedurally generated throughout the map to escape with your life while the killer’s objective is to stop the survivors and sacrifice them to the blood god! No literally, when you catch a survivor you drive their bodies into a bloody meat hook as an offering to the evil force of the game “The entity”. A powerful being that exists in a realm outside of reality but pulls people into its world by corrupting others. Once a person is corrupt they are tortured until they work for the entity as a killer and gather survivors to feed its malcontent. And if that doesn’t sound like something from a kickass heavy metal album, (or maybe a Freddy Krueger movie) I don’t know what else does.
The game is described as an asymmetrical horror game by its developers which begs the question–why play a game that is inherently unbalanced? I believe it is because its brutal difficulty achieves a sense of realism that most games fail to fundamentally achieve. I’m sure you’ve played a game where you’ve played as an unlikely hero who bested what was thought to be an unbeatable villain all thanks to luck or outside forces and thought “Well if I was the villain I would have done this and solved the problem in no time!” Dead by Daylight’s style of game play addresses those types of people specifically because it puts them right in the moment where the villain could fail and give them the chance to succeed or be bested. The same phenomena occurs with the survivors in that players can do the right thing to survive longer than say…this guy.
Its because of this battle between making the right choices as a killer and as a survivor that newcomers to Dead by Daylight should expect to die a lot in their first couple of rounds. The mechanics and rules for the game, while explained in video tutorials are not made inherently clear until you dive in and play a few games. You learn more and more with each death and eventually become a force to be reckoned with if you have the drive. The good thing though, is that you can switch between survivor and killer whenever you want. Being a killer isn’t something you have to unlock so if you’re frustrated with how your last survivor game went, its perfectly acceptable for you to switch to being a killer to vent some anger. In this way, DBD achieves a “just one more turn!” kind of game play much to the effect of Sid Meyer’s Civilization games.
Put me in again coach! I’ll get those damn kids for sure this time!
This is further enhanced by the bloodweb system of the game that allows you to level up both your survivor or your killer. Each time you complete a game you awarded blood points according to how you performed in the game. This rewards survivors who go out of their way to save another player, play to the objective of powering the generators or outrunning a killer and rewards Killers for hunting their pray, outsmarting survivors in a chase and of course, confirming kills. Once you accrue enough blood points you spend them in the blood web to get items, addons and perks that increase your odds for future games. The items come at varying degrees of usefulness and unfortunately some addons you acquire only work when using certain items (You want to wear those gloves? Nope! You’re holding a flash light, too stupid to put on gloves clearly.) This attributes to the brutal difficulty of the game because if you die, you lose the items you came in with. Its a system I’m torn on liking or hating. On one hand it keeps survivors from stock piling tool kits and killers from always having the most optimized build, but on the other, if you have a bad game you’ll find that you’re only going to have harder games in the future without that item. Players will have to moderate their inventory and judge by lobby if its a good idea to use a certain item in conjuncture with the parties strengths and weaknesses.
Speaking of difficulties, this game has its own share of problems that can affect your experience. Anyone who has heard about the game has probably heard about the numerous claims about its less than optimal matchmaking system. When I first started playing the game, I got a few of my friends on my steam friend list to party up with, however, I did not have a full party of survivors and killers. Because of this I was only able to start the match with an unbalanced team as the game did not offer me the option to let other players fill the empty slots. Queuing in general seemed to be a difficult task as the game seemed unwilling to get me into games until I dropped party and went into the solo queue which is unfortunate because one of this game’s strongest selling points was the idea that you could survive through a horror movie with your friends…or kill them! But is not exactly a deal breaker in my book–the solo queue actually proved to be pretty enjoyable. Most people I played with knew how to heal each other, play to the objective and at least attempt to win the game and yes, there were a few times where I felt genuine terror when being caught by the killer. The game achieves great atmosphere and game feel. My only major complaints about the game is that some maps feel more unbalanced than others and that the hillbilly and wraith killers aren’t nearly as good as the Trapper. Look, some of my favorite horror movies are Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the first Paranormal Activity but the chainsaw for the Hillbilly is horribly clunky and pales in comparison to Leatherface’s artistic and mad swinging of the blade and the stealth mechanic for the Wraith is unfortunately long-winded and very situational as the bell gives away your location. There are also several points in the map that can turn into infinite juke points for survivors which detracts from that feeling of power you get as a killer and more into a Benny Hill kind of moment.
But hey, the game is new and its constantly being updated so maybe in the future these things will all be worked out. I can say that Dead by Daylight is a welcome upgrade for people who have wanted to play a game like this for a long time but have only gotten things like Evolve or Damned which had good points, but were lacking in a lot of other places. (Damned was so unbalanced compared to this game). Its a great horror game to play by yourself, or if you have exactly 4 friends, to play with your friends. Parts of the game are made intentionally frustrating while others rewarding to keep each game paced out to about 15-20 minutes and because each game has so many different ways to play out its easy to lose hours and days to its fun and repetitive nature.