Game Reviews

The Smash Bros. Of Horror Games | “Dead by Daylight” (2021) Video Game Review

Back in 2019, I wrote a piece on Behavior’s Dead by Daylight. With the horror game giant having recently joined forces with Resident Evil and the game itself having transformed quite a lot over the last couple years, it would be appropriate to revisit the game in the state it’s in.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about what Dead by Daylight has done well.

There are tons of beloved, licensed characters here

The headline of this article says it all: Dead by Daylight has firmly established itself as the Smash Bros of the horror genre. You won’t find another game where you could play as “Halloween”‘s Michael Myers, end up on “Stranger Thing”‘s Hawkins National Laboratory, trying to track down and kill Ash Williams of “Ash vs Evil Dead.” Or perhaps you’d encounter Jill Valentine of “Resident Evil”, Bill Overbeck from “Left 4 Dead”, or maybe instead of Myers you’d prefer playing as Pyramid Head of the “Silent Hill” video game series. You get the idea; Dead by Daylight is a crossover fan’s dream, and the blending of so many iconic characters and settings in one game is quite endearing.

The non-licensed characters are well designed as well

The author of this article is a faithful Ace Visconti main for Survivor. Beyond the game’s most charming gambler, both the Killer and Survivor role alike boast likable characters, many bringing a lot to the table. The Nurse can travel through walls and other structures to hunt Survivors down, while the Twins can effectively divide and conquer, being in two places across whatever map they’re in. Survivors like Claudette Morel, Yui Kimiura and Meg Thomas are among many who have compelling backstories, bring excellent elements to the game, or both. Back to the Killer side, The Plague and the Oni are characters with amazing backstories and general lore that supplement their actual gameplay. This game is hardly as one dimensional as it may seem on the surface, and that gives each character’s respective player base more identity.

Though rather one dimensional, gameplay is loose and dynamic

There is only one ‘mode’ in Dead by Daylight, and it’s quite simple: one Killer faces off against four Survivors. The Killer’s goal is very simple in sacrificing or killing the Survivors, while the Survivors have to figure out how to repair five generators across the map, which would power the exit gates to freedom from the deadly trial against their one assailant. 

While such simple gameplay would seem to get stale at some point, the large variety of playable Killers, perks for both sides and maps help to keep things from getting too predictable.

There is a healthy progression system in this game

On one hand, you have ranks to separate the first timers from the experienced veterans of the horror mashup. A rank 1 Killer who has proven their mastery over the role is unlikely to ever find themselves taking on a rank 20 Survivor who just purchased the game yesterday, and would probably find themselves facing Survivors with a similar mastery of the game.

On the other hand, a player who logs lots of hours will earn bloodpoints, used to level up various characters to unlock perks, add-ons, items and more to help them in game. You also have optional cosmetics earned for Prestiging one’s character as a means of showing off your time spent on the game. This gives more meaning to players who decide to invest in the grind, as someone else can’t just come along and earn everything they got in 1/4th of the time spent. That helps give the game credibility, as their time spent on the game is in itself rewarded.

The game has come a very long way, balance wise

In 2019 when I wrote an article on this game, it was pretty terribly balanced for the most part, which I highlighted. The game was extremely favorable to the Survivor side and hostile to the Killers. Ever since then, large steps have been made to create more parity in the game that have made it closer to a 50/50 than the 75/25 it once was. The game is also healthier, particularly for the Killer side, from a strategy perspective. If you played Killer and decided not to use the Hex: Ruin perk, you were basically up the creek with no paddle taking on experienced Survivor teams. As Hex: Ruin can potentially be removed from play by the Survivor team very early, this also meant games were very luck dependent, and a Killer might end up screwed either way. Now, perk parity isn’t particularly amazing, but it’s much better than it was in 2019. Both sides have enough options to keep things interesting.

Now, while it is a strong overall game, Death by Daylight is not perfect. Let’s examine what it hasn’t quite got right over the years: 

Chapter releases have been obliterated by bugs lately

When Resident Evil came to the game in mid June, the ceremony was anything but smooth. The new map, Raccoon City Police Station, was so unrefined that Behavior had to take it down and prevent players from using it due to how unstable it was. It wouldn’t be until late July when the map was re-enabled. The new killer, The Nemesis, was also not too well constructed: the simple act of him using his Tentacle Strike power would create innumerable bugs and crashes in older gen consoles, namely the PlayStation 4 and XBox One, that made him largely unusable for those console owners. PC, PlayStation 5 and XBox Series X owners, whose consoles could handle The Nemesis with ease, were also essentially being punished anyway. The game has cross play, so if a PS5 player loaded into a game while wanting to play as the Nemesis, they may have been unknowingly brought forth unplayable game conditions to PS4 or XBox One Survivors facing off against them, which is clearly not their fault.

The Binding of Kin chapter, released two chapters before Resident Evil, brought forth a very similar experience.

In general, Behavior has had a very erratic, mostly poor time with chapter releases. They have, however, followed a consistent pattern of releasing new content every three months, which likely presents the cause for this: their own humongous ambitions. Two months before a new character is released, Behavior will allow PC players a chance at essentially testing them, giving them only about a month after a chapter has been released to produce the new content, and it’s not surprising they’ve made mistakes. Yet, their consistently rushed release schedule has made it hard to correct this. This problem could probably be solved with a slower release schedule, giving them time to put out structurally sound content that is free of any serious issues.

Balance decisions have been fairly misguided.

Though it is better than in 2019, there are still some holes in Behavior’s balance process. As is, most Killer and Survivor perks are fairly useless, and those which are not are either niche at best, with a select few being flat out amazing. In practice, these staple perks end up seeing the vast majority of use. There are nearly 200 perks on each side, which is unfortunate.

To illustrate how Behavior has dug their own hole in that regard, have a look at a decision they recently made during a balance patch. On July 27, Behavior nerfed the perk known as Stridor. Stridor is a fairly weak and useless perk, but it’s specific utilities helped to make the Killer known as The Spirit arguably overpowered, with the nerfs towards it coming with her in mind. It would have been a better decision to address the Spirit herself rather than make a fairly poor perk even worse, thus creating more centralization in the overall perk meta. And unfortunately, tweaks like this are hardly rare.

The Spirit

A good way to connect to the next problem, The Spirit is a very poorly designed Killer whose presence undermines the game somewhat.

The problem isn’t so much that she is super overpowered, as she is likely not even the best Killer in the game; it’s that she doesn’t really have any good counterplay, while she is also very easy to learn and play. Her power, Yamaoka’s Haunting, allows her to essentially move without being seen. Whilst she is chasing a Survivor, that Survivor has no way of knowing whether she is using her power or not since she leaves behind a husk whenever doing so. As such, the Spirit player can quite literally put down their controller and do nothing as a mind game and the Survivor would have no way of knowing about it. 

Overall, the ease of use combined with no counterplay makes The Spirit an unhealthy Killer in the game.

The Blight

Conversely, here we have a Killer who is well balanced, very good and also requiring a lot of skill to effectively use. So what’s wrong with The Blight? The Blight’s overall design from a gameplay standpoint is bland, uninspiring, and makes it seem as though Behavior either rushed him out without refinement, or simply ran out of ideas for original characters. The Blight’s power is known as Blighted Corruption, and involves him rushing forward at walls and other structures, leaping off of them, and using this momentum to quickly travel across a map and maintain pressure on Survivors.

That sounds good and fine, but in actuality, the power can be boiled down to The Blight running really fast. We have numerous Killers who already do that, and are either more well developed and structured otherwise, or were created in the game’s infancy, when Behavior had more of an excuse. The Hillbilly’s power can be boiled down to just running really quickly with a chainsaw, but he came out over four years ago when the game was just coming into its own. The Demogorgon, released a considerable amount of time before the Blight, also has the ability to leap forward a great deal. Demogorgon, however, has a great deal more depth to it, as it can also create portals for map traversal and has the benefit of being a recognizable licensed character.  

Overall, The Blight wouldn’t be bad if he had some other power or utility which was more than just being able to run really fast. It would be better and more inspiring for him to get something else, even if his main power had to be nerfed or reworked as a result. 

And that’s about it, really.

Overall grade: A

For its shortcomings, the gameplay is consistently a lot of fun and is very overall dynamic. Grab some friends and enjoy, you won’t be sorry. 

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