After weeks of covering home computer games, I figure we might be overdue for a little variety. I certainly know that it gets tiring for me to write about games for machines so old and obscure many have likely forgotten about them. Who of you is still running a Mattel Aquarius out there? It’s cozy for me, but I was given an opportunity to escape my comfort zone for a bit and delve into an online multiplayer horror game.
This is so far out of comfort zone that I worry I might not be able to find my way back anymore.
Dead by Daylight is an exclusively multiplayer game and a significant entry in the sub-genre of asymmetrical multiplayer. The game is meant for 5 players, 4 of which take on the role of hapless survivors trapped in a building or enclosed bit of wilderness. There are large doors that serve as exits, but these need power before they can be opened. To that end, the survivors must navigate the level, find a number of generators, and repair them.
The last player becomes a killer of their choosing, a fast, powerful, and unbeatable foe that must hunt down the survivors and sacrifice them to an enigmatic force called “The Entity”. They seek out survivors and use their unique abilities to wound them until the player enters a dying state, usually after 2 hits. The killer then picks up the survivor and hangs them on one of the hooks spread around the level, where they will slowly bleed out unless they free themselves (risky, likely to cause major damage) or are rescued by a friend.
The difficulty curve for getting started on Dead by Daylight is steep, as both gameplay modes feel underpowered or unfair at first. Killers are always faster than survivors and have special skills to make short work of them. Generators are spread around randomly and take a long time to fix, which comes with surprise QTEs you must hit. Fail these and the generator will malfunction, losing you a bit of progress and alerting the killer to your location. There is little you can do to fight back against the killer and, even if all generators are powered, you still need to fit all survivors through a door that makes noise while opening.
It’s easy to feel disadvantaged as the survivors, but the killers are not much better of. Unlike the survivor gameplay, killers are stuck in a limited first person view with big weapon models to further obscure their vision. You see so little of the game that survivors can easily crawl right by you completely unseen. And, while you blindly stumble about the level looking for them, they can be progressing the game towards their victory without you even knowing. While you try to sacrifice one player, 2 others might be across the map working on a generator. While you run to them, the 4th player might rescue the dude you literally just hooked. It feels like you have so much to manage and so little help to do it.
After only a brief few runs, I started getting the hang of both playstyles and began to see the good qualities of both. Once you gain a feel for the sudden skill checks, generator problems become fewer and far between. You figure out how to lose a killer who is on your tail, use the scenery and obstacles to your advantage, and can communicate with your team to track the killer. Killers, meanwhile, must learn to use sound to their advantage and can predict the actions of their prey and optimize their map control around this.
Dead by Daylight became a blast for me and my friends, with each mission having moments of panic and excitement to it. Heroic rescues, last-minute escapes, or the rare joy of a full party of 4 making it out of there alive. Afterwards we’d bring the killer into the chat and have a good laugh at all the cool moments and get their perspective on the match.
What the game does well is that it truly feels like scared idiots taking on the relentless antagonist of a horror movie. It’s heart-pounding to be hidden behind a rock and knowing that a deranged murderer is walking by, the music intensifies as he closes in on you and you’re just sitting there, hoping you didn’t do something wrong to reveal your whereabouts. On the flipside, few moments in gaming can compare to playing mind-games with a survivor hiding in a closet who wrongly believes he eluded you, looking in some odd corners and maybe taking out your frustration on a generator, before walking up anyway and pulling them right out of there.
The balancing of the game feels just right and I gained a respect for that as I switched between the two roles. This makes it perplexing that the game lets players meddle with this balancing as much as it does. Through online play, you earn points to invest into the Bloodweb, a mini skill tree where each new tier offers a randomized set of consumable items and permanent perks, which you can equip on your character preceding a match. It’s cool that you earn these points by doing nearly anything in the game, which makes it less about winning or losing and more about doing anything in your power to contribute. However, these perks and consumables very much offset the balancing.
Players can always find items in chest, but these consumables allow them to start any round with a better version of them. They also get to pick their perks, including some specific to certain characters, which can eventually be shared to every other character through the Bloodweb. The same goes for the killers, which all have their own perks to unlock and gain special upgrades to their skills, like Leatherface gaining reductions to the wind-up of his iconic chainsaw.
Some of these perks are so preposterously good that you’d be mad not to take them. You can freely combine perks that will tell you when survivors are nearby and combine this with a perk that will show you all faraway survivors after putting someone on a hook, granting you unrivaled map control and rendering any attempt at stealth pointless. Since many perk are exclusive to DLC characters, it feels like you are being incentivized to buy more power.
Actually, I have qualms with the game’s entire business model.
I first played the game way back in 2016 and returned to it now, only to find out I was over 100 euros of DLC behind. At the time, the game only had a small roster of survivors and killers, each fleshed out with paragraphs of lore that fit into the game’s unique setting. When the game started gaining traction, it was given licenses to include characters from actual horror franchises. The original characters have the better lore, but how can you compete with recognizable killers from actual horror movies or the likes of Ash Williams, Bill from Left 4 Dead, or the cast of Stranger Things.
On top of needing DLC to access all the characters and gaining access to their traits, you also need DLC to get more levels. Most stages are just variations of spooky forests with some suburban and indoors areas, which aren’t the most evocative places and tend to blend together a bit. In the game’s defense, if you play unranked games with friends, then all maps and perks are available to you free of charge and grinding. All you need at that point is to set some house rules and you’re good to go.
I dabbled in the online scene a bit and had plenty of fun, but the game was at its best when played with a full group of friends. Dead by Daylight offers a type of gameplay not commonly seen and executes it very well, letting you really feel like the cast of a horror flick. And, while the DLC may be expensive, it provides you access to a wide cast of killers that all feel truly different to play as. If you can ever find it on sale and have some
victims friends who are interested, then I absolutely recommend it. This is a new favorite of ours and we were all very glad we chose to revisit it.