Dead by Daylight

Header featuring the logo of Dead By Daylight and its character The Trapper

Dead by Daylight is a game that I appreciate despite the fact that I have it uninstalled and do not plan to change that. Being a game where you can play as a horror movie villain and terrorize four other players trying to escape, there's obviously going to be some appeal for me. Of course I want to skill-shot helpless survivors as a Huntress or a Plague, or teleport right on top of them before cutting them down as a Nurse or a Spirit. Playing as the survivor also has its fun in outsmarting the killer and trying to be as helpful to the team as you can. The game offers two compelling ways to play between relying on your ability to outplay and outperform the opponents, or working as a team to outsmart the terror.

Image of the character The Huntress


Actually playing the game can have its highs as well. The cat-and-mouse gameplay has relatively simple mix-ups on both sides of play thats all about measuring each other up and being convincing actors. How well can the survivor fake that they will vault a window or drop a pallet? How will the killer use the fact that the survivor can tell which way they are facing to corral the survivor into losing distance? The game is also a major exercise in game sense. Using the flight of startled crows in the distance to pinpoint the location of the killer and survivors, reading the state of the game to guess at the short-term and long-term goals of other players, and in general trying to be as observant and vigilant as possible so that you can always be a step ahead. And as with any real-time competitive game, there is the component of efficiency. Turning corners as tightly as you can, getting yourself to objectives as quickly as possible, whatever it takes to waste the least amount of your own time.

Image of the character The Plague


Unfortunately, the game is very thoroughly hindered by its commitment to exploitative game design and being an endless content mill. It has everything you expect from a game that wants you to spend endless time in it. Currencies, dailies, and a glacial grind to encourage always putting in time regardless of if you want to. Crucial flaws in the game are never fixed, not due to lack of willingness or manpower to work on the game, but instead to add new content for players to pay for and deepen the grind they have to complete. Balance changes to the game rarely touch its foundation, opting to instead try to fix problems through a new perk purchasable through the new killer and survivor. Killers and perks that fail to fill their role are replaced rather than updated, such as the Hag completely overshadowing the Trapper as the game's Killer who requires setup to execute their gameplan.

This patchwork-balance issue is especially bad in Dead by Daylight as the game was initially designed with very little foresight into how the game would end up being played, leaving solutions to problems like "the survivor's objective gets completed very fast in comparison to the killer's" behind a paywall/play-time-wall. Liscence deals also take blows to the quality of the game. Faithful maps for Halloween, Silent Hill, Saw, and Stranger Things are all included in this massive horror crossover. However, these maps ignore the design features that make some of the non-liscenced maps fun, or even just playable. Features such as giving the killer enough sightlines through the map to have any idea what is happening, or having structures that are remotely fair for the killer to chase the survivor around.

Image of the Dead by Daylight map Midwich Elementary, from Silent Hill

Incredibly memorable Silent Hill location, abysmal cat-and-mouse gameplay design.

Part of me has thought to stick with the game, enjoy its fun parts, and patiently wait for the developers to apply enough duct-tape to the Dead-by-Daylight experience for it to be consistently fun. However, I recalled my experience playing Hearthstone back in high school, which has a very similar situation. Hearthstone is also an endless content mill where problems are never solved, and I wasted a lot of time (and a little money) playing that game and hoping for it to improve. Maybe one day it will have less RNG cards and oppressive combo decks. My check-ins with the releases and meta of Hearthstone make me glad I didn't sit around and wait. Maybe I'll look at Dead by Daylight a year down the line and feel similarly. Looking at the content creation community for Dead by Daylight, I feel like its players have a lot of fun imagining a better version of the game they know they will never get.

My retreat from the game aside, DBD has been significant to me in how it shaped my attitude as a competitor. The game is, at its core, a supremely boring game. The default state of the game, before the killer starts applying their pressure on the survivors, consists of survivors sitting on generators an performing quick time event "skill checks" while they wait for the killer to force them into interesting gameplay.

Non-interactive gameplay is achieved easily by the side that is more skilled, or more lucky, and is often needed to win the game. Survivors are encouraged to do nothing but hold the mouse button down on an objective if they can get away with it. Killers are encouraged to focus down one survivor to eliminate them as quickly as possible, ensuring that one survivor barely gets to play the game. If survivors make mistakes such as going down next to crucial objectives, it is often the correct play as Killer to patrol in one place and make sure other survivors can't do anything about their dying teammates. And unlike something like a fighting game where periods of non-interaction may last a couple seconds before the defender gets to make a move, these periods can last multiple minutes in DBD, and games can be basically over for much longer but still expect you to play it out. Maybe the game wants to give the Killer a chance to put a survivor on a hook and camp them to death as a consolation prize, or just leave them on the ground to bleed out for four minutes. (I just want to note that all of the above problems with the game are chiefly addressed through perks offered with new Killers and Survivors, and require you to pay or spend a lot of time grinding the in-game currency. Even the perks that you can get for free require your hard work and a time commitment.)

A group of survivors left injured on the ground by the Killer

Just a bunch of worms wriggling about.

Despite this, players log in and expect everyone else to play DBD according to their own ideal of how it should be played. Players often want DBD to be a highly interactive and fun game filled with tense chases and daring rescues, killers chasing as many survivors as possible, and survivors not just sitting on generators for 80 consecutive seconds or less each. Some players even go as far as to complain to you when you win by making the correct, boring plays. Some people just seem to complain because they lost. I have been accused being "the most boring Spirit player ever" and "camping trash" for pushing my advantages or clawing my way to victory by ensuring survivors cannot play the game. The community even has a negative term for a playstyle certain people don't like, "gen-rushing," to refer to the strategy of completing the objective efficiently as a survivor.

All of this rambling is to say that DBD has hardened me against complainers, and taught me to not be too dissapointed when a games doesn't follow some ideal of being interactive and exciting. Afterall, the most effective strategies in competitive games often involve making sure opponents get to play the game as little as possible.

I've also grown an appreciation for certain elements of fighting games as a result of learning DBD. Fighting games are very clear when you've done something wrong. No information is truly hidden from you: You know exactly where the opponent is, you know what their resources are, and you can see what they did to hit you right there. Reviewing footage, cause-and-effect can be quite clear. You ceding ground to avoid an attack only put you into a more disadvantageous position, you needlessly threw out an attack that left you wide open, etc. DBD is not so kind in telling you what you did wrong. Did a survivor suddenly dissapear on you in a chase? Are you never able to find a survivor? Was the killer somehow able to tell exactly where you were hiding? Unless you have the convenience of seeing their gameplay through a stream, DBD is very reluctant to make clear what you did wrong in situations such as these.

Screenshot of gameplay from the fighting game Melty Blood

Game state can be gleaned instantly

Fighting games are also much quicker, and allow more rapid learning alongside its rapid stream of information. Three minute long matches with instant rematching on the same opponent playing the same characters on the same stage is quite ideal for learning quickly. DBD can be quite hard to apply hard-learned lessons in comparison, with no upper limit on how long games can lasts as well as long queue times to play with different players playing different characters on a different map. It doesn't help that there is no replay system, or any resources to help you train on your own outside of ranked matches. I think from DBD I've grown a greater appreciation for how easy fighting games are to learn in comparison, despite their brutally hard nature.

Despite all my complaints with DBD, I don't really regret my time in the game. I do hope that maybe another developer can tap into the same appeal and create something more soundly crafted. Home Sweet Home: Survive seems promising in the "default state of the game being more interesting" department. In the mean-time I'll try to avoid getting sucked into another content-mill endless-grind AAA poison hell type game.