Dead by Daylight is something that, on paper at least, appeals to me very much. I’m a big fan of games that facilitate fierce competition among friends. Particularly so when they’re asymmetrical in nature. Unfortunately, much as others have discovered before me, Dead by Daylight may have the right idea, but it lacks in its execution.
At its core, Dead by Daylight is a 1v4 game where one player plays the “monster”, while the remaining four play the part of the hapless “survivors” whose role is to power a series of generators. These generators are activated via a long, drawn out interaction peppered with QTEs designed to set back the activation progress if failed. Once five of the seven generators in each map are brought online, power is restored to a gate that must once again be activated in order to facilitate escape. The killer, on the other hand, may be alone, but he (or she) is anxious to make friends by chasing after the survivors, cutting them down, and then carrying them away to place them on strategically-located meat hooks for sacrifice (to some weird spider-God thing in the sky that’s never explained). I had erroneously thought that survivors could outrun the monsters by sprinting, but as it turns out, this isn’t the case. Beyond that, sprinting leaves visible footprints for a few moments, as well as the chance for triggering audio cues for the killer. In this power dynamic, the only consistent upper hand the survivors have is utilization of their third-person camera vs. the killer’s first-person view to glean an awareness advantage. And while the survivors gain an audible cue in the form of an intensifying heartbeat when the killer is close, various things such as failing QTEs on the generators can betray their location to the killer. The killer really holds all the cards in the relationship. Survivors have little more to aid them than their situational awareness, and a handful of single-use bits of scenery they can attempt to topple to stun or temporarily block their pursuer.
Things start to get interesting when the Dead By Daylight’s progression system is taken into account though. Each of the four survivors, as well as the different monsters, has access to a progression system called the Bloodweb. Blood, the game’s currency earned through performance, is used to unlock various items, perks, add-ons, and offerings within it. What’s not explained until later, though, is that the Bloodweb is randomly generated, rather than a static means of progression unique to any particular character. Nor is it explained that in order to level up (and thus re-seed the Bloodweb and its spoils), all visible unlocks must be purchased. It’s an interesting system, boasting various different means of influencing the play-style of your characters, and through that the balance of power in the game. There are even tokens that can sway the odds of a particular up coming map when you sacrifice them.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of documentation about how any of these things work in Dead By Daylight, there are a myriad of item descriptions on offer without anything to contextualize them. References are made to different states without any knowledge of their significance, add-ons are seeded into the web without the requisite items they belong to, and there’s no way to clarify this mess without simply playing until it all falls into place via a crude mix of trial-and-error and dumb luck.
I had also mistakenly thought that Dead By Daylight’s matchmaking system always preferred to pair players of a similar level and rank, which I assumed were causing the frustratingly long queue times I was experiencing. As it turns out, it was just more dumb luck on my part that I was always getting grouped with other lowbies. Now that I’ve gone back to the game, I’m finding myself frequently matched with players well beyond me (thus with considerable unlock advantage because the Bloodweb unlocks are the means of levelling up). Frankly, I preferred my ignorance, as my queue times are still between five and ten minutes for a match, only now I feel like I’m being unfairly disparaged against by the matchmaking on top of it all.
Dead By Daylight does boast three different locations, each with four unique maps, all of which are procedurally generated at runtime in an attempt to keep things fresh. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see anything but the same three maps of one of those locations in all my time playing. Frankly, it’s all just becoming a blur of cornfields, and ruined buildings. And while the three monsters have their own unique abilities in the form of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style rampage for the Hillbilly, the deployable bear trap for the Trapper, and the ability to turn invisible and boost speed at the expense of sacrificing the ability to attack for the Wraith, I’m seeing a disproportionate number of scenarios featuring the Wraith as it largely negates the only real advantage the survivors have in their third person spotting. The sad reality is that the matches I’m experiencing end in such an overwhelming victory for the Wraith that I feel I almost need to play matches as him just to earn blood to level my survivors, as it’s shared between all of the characters, regardless of their alignment.
None of this stops Dead by Daylight from being enjoyable at times—or even tense—but a horror experience it is not. Nor is it particularly well fleshed out, well documented, or even particularly well executed. If you don’t take it too seriously, it can be good fun when it’s not busy being vexingly frustrating; but rather than being an epic, asymmetrical PvP game, Dead by Daylight plays with all the grace and predictability of the 70’s slasher flicks it draws its inspiration from. There’s a good game in there somewhere, but there’s so much that feels confusing, unbalanced, or at times even completely unfair. With a solid core experience where the majority of its faults are either of a balance or technical nature—which can be remedied through patches—I feel that Dead by Daylight could have used a healthy residency in Early Access prior to its release.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for clarity and accuracy.