Slasher versus survivors multiplayer kill 'em up Dead By Daylight [official site] is free to play this weekend (and right now, in fact), which is splendid news. It failed to win me over when I played it around launch, but I love it now. I think the change of opinion is as much down to my expectations shifting as much as any updates to the game, but it is in a better place now, unlike its characters who appear to be stuck in an endless cycle of slaughter.
Here are a few reasons why you should give the game a chance this weekend, even if you don't know anyone else who is playing, and a few tips to help you get the most out of your time.
Surviving solo is HARD...
In horror movies of the type Dead By Daylight is drawing from, there's usually only one survivor. That survivor is often a woman, a trope examined in the neat 2015 movie The Final Girls and every script Joss Whedon has ever been in the same room as. Dead By Daylight doesn't go in for a sole survivor sort of experience though; sometimes all four will escape, sometimes nobody will escape, and sometimes two or three people will make it to the exit.
The fact is, if you're the last one standing you're not going to get any kind of bonus to reflect your steely determination and willpower. The game will throw you a bone, opening a hatch that gives you an immediate escape route that doesn't require teamwork, but you're probably going to die. That's because Dead By Daylight is a cooperative game, even if it doesn't always behave like one. Solo survivors are at a huge disadvantage because there's nobody to distract the killer. Think of a herd of gazelles when David Attenborough is pursuing them ravenously. The weakest, slowest members eventually drop away from the rest and that's when the hungry natural historian strikes.
Without a herd, you're the slowest, weakest prey animal by default. Big Dave is gonna get you.
...but playing with strangers is great
You don't need to know any of the other players to enjoy Dead By Daylight. There's no voice chat and the entire game is brilliantly designed to encourage cooperation even when the other survivors seem to be doing everything they can to save their own skin at the expense of your own bacon.
The beauty of the game is that even if you're being chased and murdered, you're contributing to the team effort. It might not feel like you are but by taking up the killer's precious time, you're freeing up space for the other survivors to repair generators and take one step closer to freedom. Even the most selfish survivors end up making sacrifices for the greater good, because everything that helps them, helps everyone else as well. And by doing just about anything useful, they draw attention to themselves.
Even if you screw things up repeatedly, missing prompts and causing generators to backfire, you're making noise and distracting the killer. Basically, as long as you're in the game, you're contributing.
Being the killer is not easy mode
The first time I played as the killer, I didn't kill anyone. That's a serious problem considering the killers aren't supposed to do anything except kill people. It's not just that they're angry possibly-dead people out for some form of misguided revenge, it's that they're trapped in a game of stalking and slaughter, doomed to play a game of cat and mouse lest the entity they serve punishes them. Killing is not just a pastime, it's their entire raison d'être.
Killing is hard though. Much is dependent on the skill level of the survivors. If they've mastered some of the cheesier arts, they'll lead you a merry dance, running around in circles and reversing or zig-zagging just as you're about to chop them into pieces. Smart survivors are slippery creatures and it's not unusual to spend five minutes of a round chasing them all over a map, only to realise that's exactly what they want you to do.
See the previous point: a distracted killer is the best possible kind of killer as far as the survivors are concerned.
To play well as one of Dead By Daylight's 'orrible murder-monsters, you'll need to have your wits about you. Patrol the generators, using them as targets rather than trying to chase every shadow of a victim that you see, or blundering into the dark whenever you hear a twig snapping underfoot. Remember that sometimes they want you to chase them. As long as there are generators left to activate, they're not going anywhere, no matter how fast they run.
Since I last wrote about the game, I've heard negative reports about playing as a killer from a few people who know the ins and outs of it all far better than I do. Survivors, they tell me, often use Skype or Discord to organise themselves, tipping the odds far too much in their favour. This, combined with some of the cheesier tactics available (which I won't describe in too much detail because I'd rather you didn't use them) does make playing as the killer a thankless task at times, but I've had many a good time when I come across a hapless crew. Just don't expect everything to go your way if you're on the side of the devils.
Levelling up isn't all that important
You'll get some nifty perks as you rise through the levels with survivors and killers alike, but focus on enjoying the chase rather than trying to maximise your score. A lot of the stuff you'll get on the procedurally generated upgrade trees is disposable – literally in the case of offerings, which are burnt at the beginning of a round to add some modifiers.
This isn't the kind of game that wants you to push your face against the grindstone before you can start to have fun though. If you're not enjoying it with low-level characters, you're not going to suddenly reach a point where the good times start to roll.
The weirdness of the setting is important
Unlike the thematically similar Friday the 13th, Dead By Daylight isn't actually trying to simulate a specific horror movie, or even a specific scene from a horror movie. Instead, it has a strange conceit whereby survivors and killers alike are trapped in a sort of pocket dimension, repeatedly playing out the sequences that make up the game.
It's all a little abstract, from the maps to the hard and fast rules about sacrificing survivors. They get hit, they fall, but they do not die. In fact, the killers don't directly kill their prey. They catch them and carry them to hooks where they are sacrificed to a big nasty entity that's hanging about in the sky.
This odd conceit bothered me when I first started playing. I wanted to be in a slasher movie or at least in an actual place trying to survive, but instead there was this very limited space with a very strict ruleset. Friday The 13th is much messier but it is at least trying to be a simulation of sorts; Dead By Daylight could almost be a boardgame.
I came to terms with that quite quickly and now I see the whole killer theme as window dressing on a game that is more concerned with smart cooperation than with the thrills and (blood)spills of horror movies.
The Hag is the most horrible of all horrors
Each killer has a special ability and Lisa Sherwood, The Hag, has the nastiest ability of the lot. She can create phantasm traps that cause copies of herself to spring into life, shrieking, when survivors stumble too close. No matter how many times I encounter them, I panic and flee. Usually straight into the claws of the actual hag.
Toying with survivors is absolutely fine and a good thing to do
You're playing as the killer and you see a survivor running into a locker to hide. She doesn't know you've seen her. What do you do?
If your first thought was to stomp right over there, tear open the locker and drag the survivor to a hook, you might be playing the game wrong. Sure, I've talked about being an efficient killer but if you really want to enjoy Dead By Daylight, it's ok to slow down from time to time.
What you're going to do in the scenario I described is open the lockers on either side of the victim's locker first. You're going to make that survivor think you might have spotted her but that you're not quite sure if she was in locker number two or locker number four, while you know the whole time that she's definitely in locker number three.
Either she'll try to make a break for it while you're checking the neighbouring lockers, or she'll hope you're as stupid as you look and stay put. Either way, you've earned the screams.
And maybe the person in that locker will be you, and maybe the killer dragging you out will be me. Or perhaps it'll be the other way around. I play most days so we might well meet out there. As long as you're not the hag, we'll get along just fine.