Dead By Daylight Review

By | March 12, 2021

The rumors of its demise on the early morning of June 15, 2016 have been greatly exaggerated: Dead by Daylight has spent the last five years coming into its own as one of the best takes on asymmetrical multiplayer out there. Its very distinctive premise – a multiplayer horror game where one person is a monstrous killer who stalks, slashes, and attempts to capture a team of four survivors before they can accomplish objectives and escape – has been copied many times since, but never surpassed. Intricate but intuitive checks and balances and thoughtfully designed characters create an escalating back-and-forth that naturally recreates the tense arc of a horror movie, often ending in close calls.

Part of what makes Dead by Daylight so unpredictable and deep is that it is, in a sense, two separate game modes happening at the same time. For the four survivors, it is an exercise in stealth and teamwork: at the start of each match, they must find and activate five of seven semi-randomly distributed power generators, then open and walk through one of two procedurally generated exits without being murdered. Fixing a generator is a simple task, you simply hold a button, but comes with the risk of triggering an attention-grabbing noise if you miss your timing on randomly occurring skill-check minigames. Skill checks come with little warning and require focus, but you also need to keep an eye out for the killer while you’re doing them, and that split in attention creates some very palpable tension.

The killer, meanwhile, is out to incapacitate the survivors, then pick them up and put them on hooks, where they need to stay until they are “sacrificed” and die. In theory, you have all the power in this scenario: You can attack and the survivors can’t fight back. You even know where the generators are, thanks to their red glowing silhouettes appearing in the distance. But there are still four of them and one of you, so it’s a game of spinning plates: you need to hunt while watching the generators and keeping an eye on your hooked survivors, who can be freed by their teammates. What’s more, the killer plays in first-person while the survivors can use their third-person cameras to check their surroundings and peer around corners.

There are lots of nuances that create a give-and-take relationship between the two sides.

The difference in perspective is the first and most obvious distinction between the killer and survivors, but there are lots of nuances that create a give-and-take relationship between the two sides. For example, most killer characters walk faster than the survivors, so they will win a plain old chase. They are less agile, though, and survivors can use environmental obstacles like windows to put some distance between them, or stun the killer by knocking over a large wooden palette at the right moment. Killers also have to stop for a moment after swinging their weapon, giving a survivor some time to get away. Since a killer has to hit someone twice to knock them down, a chase can easily become a protracted engagement, and the other survivors can use that time to make valuable progress.That’s one of many ways Dead by Daylight encourages cooperation. When the killer hits a survivor they need to heal, and if they don’t have a medkit (one of five types of gear they can bring into a match) they’ll need a teammate to help them out. When a survivor gets captured, they have a small chance to escape themselves, but stand a much better chance of getting free if someone comes to help.

The Most Terrifying Scares in Video Games

Despite all their differences, the two modes of play share a common feeling. Both the killers and survivors face incredible time pressure: For the survivors, finishing generators quickly and efficiently is the best defense against a killer who wants to get in your way. For the killer, a strong team will inevitably finish the generators unchecked, so it’s on you to move fast and disrupt as many actions as possible. That pressure, whether it’s achieved by a looming killer or the need to pin down scrambling survivors, is enough to make simple, often mundane mechanics feel extraordinarily intense. It also creates real, gameplay-based reasons for some of those confounding moments in a horror movie, like when a killer might simply give up on a chase, and ensures that a given match rarely lasts much longer than 15 minutes.

It creates real, gameplay-based reasons for some of those confounding moments in a horror movie.

Over the years, Dead by Daylight has steadily added characters on both sides, including a murderer’s row of famous monsters from horror movies and games, including Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, and the Demogorgon from Stranger Things. Many of the cameo killers have perks and abilities that strongly reinforce ideas from the stories that inspired them. Take Amanda Young, AKA “The Pig” from the Saw franchise: She has the ability to install bear traps on the heads of downed players, who must then find a way to remove them before the trap kills them even if they haven’t been put on a hook. The idea of capturing a victim, putting them in peril, then letting them flail until they kill themselves captures the spirit of the Saw films, while making for an interesting twist on the standard match “arc.”

Your customization is also guided by Dead by Daylight’s unique progression systems. Based on your performance in each match, you earn a currency called bloodpoints, which you use to purchase and upgrade character perks, plus an unceasing flow of disposable equipment and modifiers in a randomized tree called the bloodweb. Like perks, choosing the gear that enhances your playstyle can drastically improve your chances. The number of bloodpoints you earn in a match also determines whether or not you’ll gain or lose progress towards your survivor or killer matchmaking rank, which does a surprisingly great job at bringing together killers and survivor teams of comparable skill. (At least until you reach the upper ranks, where there are equally skilled players).

Honing your killers’ and survivors’ perks and finding what equipment lends itself to your playstyle can be a quick process of matching bonuses to what you do most often, or an endlessly deep pursuit of navigating and tweaking cooldowns and statistics related to your actions. I found poring over the systems too much offered diminishing returns, though, especially since many skill descriptions allude to statistics without actually presenting numbers. (You can find a lot of this information online if you want it, of course.)