Occasionally, a video game comes along, into which I cannot resist sinking far too many hours of my life. One such title is Dead by Daylight, the asymmetrical horror survival game from Canadian studio Behaviour. DBD has been around for six years and is one of the few successful games in its sub-genre, taking inspiration from Friday the 13th: The Game and perhaps even the 2010 horror-comedy movie Cabin in the Woods.
The premise is simple: you play as one of four survivors, or a killer. Each match takes place in a different location, where the survivor’s objective is to fix 5 of 7 broken generators in order to power two exit gates and escape. The killer’s objective is to prevent this from happening by catching survivors and hanging them from meat hooks as a sacrifice to the Entity — a Cthulhu-esque mastermind overseeing these matches.
It’s virtual hide-and-seek with tense chases and lots of blood.
And I love it.
The appeal comes down to simplicity hiding complexity, which makes the gameplay more involving than it may seem at first glance. Helping this is how players accrue blood points for various successful plays during a match, which they can spend on perks and equipment add-ons. Perks are specific skills and abilities to aid your gameplay, from occasionally seeing auras of other players to faster movement or healing actions. Add-ons provide items like med-kits and toolkits that survivors can bring into matches to heal injuries, more quickly repair generators, sabotage hooks, or augment a killer’s weapon or power.
There are hundreds of perks and add-ons, with three perks belonging to each character by default — although they can eventually be unlocked on others. Trouble is, you only have four perk slots and two add-on slots, so finding a great ‘build’ is a skill in itself. Do you focus on perks intended to boost your movement, repair speeds, situational awareness, or a bit of everything?
The delicate survivor vs. killer balance of DBD is vital to its success, even if newcomers often feel it’s unfair. The biggest frustration for new survivors is being slower than killers and not being able to fight back against them in ways that are commonplace in video games (i.e. kicking, punching, and shooting weapons). You have to instead rely on stealth, avoidance, sustaining chases to waste a killer’s time, and occasional blinding them (with flashlights) or dropping pallets mid-chase to momentarily stun them. But survivors are able to vault dropped pallets and windows faster than most killers and, most importantly, have a third-person perspective which makes navigation and locational awareness a lot easier.
While it may feel like killers have too many baseline advantages, new killer players may feel differently. It’s harder for killers to pursue and catch survivors because of their fixed first-person perspective. Psychologically speaking, having four-person teams working against you is a difficult challenge even if you have abilities the survivors fear.
The beautiful thing is how the challenge inherent in DBD keeps you coming back, so long as you don’t give in to early frustration when you have weaker perks and add-ons. You probably need to level up a character to Level 15–20 before you should have a decent mix of the common perks (plus your character-specific ones) to help get more wins. But nothing is guaranteed!
It’s perfectly normal to have terrible early games of DBD, although the growing pains are eased as a survivor because being the weak link in a team isn’t as galling as being a terrible killer and watching four people escape without you getting a single hook or kill.
DBD does have a reputation for ‘toxic behaviour’, as some players click flashlights or ‘teabag’ their opponents in order to ruffle the killer’s feathers and knock their confidence. Mind games are a part of every competition, so try to develop a thick skin. In all the time I’ve been playing I’ve only had one match where I felt people were being particularly malicious in their gameplay, wanting only to harass the killer instead of repair generators and escape. And that’s out of hundreds of games. But yeah, tea-bagging and clicking flashlights are often part of general communication (I’ve done it myself occasionally to make a point or vent frustration) — so just try to think of it as thumb-waggling on your nose or a shout of ‘come chase me.’ That helps!
Killer vs Survivor
If there is a downside to DBD, it’s how the learning curve with killers (as each is unique and played differently), coupled with the embarrassment of trying to improve as experienced survivors run rings around you, stops many people from even bothering with that side of the game. The killers are the biggest attraction and focus of DBD’s marketing, but new players are still reluctant to go it solo and run the risk of looking bad.
I myself only play killer a handful of times each week (often because the blood points rewards are higher), as I find it more stressful and you need to be in a particular mood. And I also feel bad giving strangers a ‘boring game’ as I grapple to find the best tactics and learn the mechanics of a killer. So, even when I do play as a killer I gravitate towards ‘easier’ ones to master — like Wraith or Michael Myers. But it’s definitely more satisfying to hook a survivor than fix a generator or get a few kills versus escaping as a survivor. The endorphin rush may be enough to keep you coming back as a killer.
But don’t avoid playing as killer entirely if you’re unsure about it. As a survivor, I’m often relieved to be up against a noob killer because it means an easier escape and a chance to farm blood points! DBD is also going to expand its demo game with bots, so players can train against A.I. before going into a real match with humans. This will be a fantastic way to test run a killer without feeling bad about standing around practising hatchet-throws as Huntress.
Another appeal with DBD are all the third-party licenses they have, as many characters from big movie franchises are playable — from Michael Myers and Leatherface to Freddy Krueger and Pinhead. There’s even Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, Ghostface from Scream, and the Pig from Saw. Stranger Things even had some characters included, like the Demogorgon, before the license was revoked — although rumours are it may be coming back.
If you’re a horror fan, it’s great fun to play as these icons — and that extends to survivors like Laurie Strode from Halloween, Ash from Evil Dead, and Jill and Leon from Resident Evil.
Solo vs SWF
My only complaint is that, unlike killers, survivors are essentially the same thing with different skins. It may be better if certain survivors were faster, more agile, more resilient, quieter, etc, but then the idea of accruing perks wouldn’t be fair if certain survivors became too powerful on top of their baseline traits. Still, I do wonder if there’s room to evolve the survivor experience. Evil Dead: The Game has been praised for giving its own characters baseline roles (warrior, hunter, healer etc), so maybe DBD would benefit from the same setup? I also wonder if repairing generators would be more fun if you had to also find some parts around the map to attach.
Teams of players — known as ‘streamers with friends’ (SWF) — can already communicate with agreed roles and relevant perks (an efficient healer, a quick gen-repairer, a fast unhooker, etc...), but this isn’t true for solo players thrown into games amongst strangers they can’t talk to and have to find their place in a dynamic.
I still find playing solo to be lots of fun and it’s the primary way I play. Well, that is unless I’m noticeably better than my teammates and the match is going terribly because none of them understands how best to play and I can’t tell them how to avoid wasting time, or make things easier for the killer, etc. When a less experienced teammate wants you to stop repairing a generator to heal them against Legion, do you look arrogant by refusing because it’s a tactical blunder, or do you stop and heal them but potentially throw the game with your altruism?
One tip is to send a ‘friend request’ to skilled players who did a solid job in a match you participated in, so you can eventually grow a list of people to invite into future games or join their lobby for a match. At least that avoids the pain of losing matches and seeing your season player ranking sink only because you’ve been matched with bad players too often one session!
Another issue with DBD is the waiting times for matches, as the game is unavoidably imbalanced in terms of requiring 4 survivors for every killer. When lots of killer players are after a game, DBD’s servers need 4x the survivors to meet demand, and vice versa.
Things have improved since I started playing just five months ago, but there are still times of the day when things seem to be noticeably bad — after 8pm in the UK seems much slower for survivors for example. It’s not often a painful 5-minute wait causes me to quit the game, but it would be great to see matches load within 90-seconds most of the time. Things may soon improve when DBD starts offering bonus blood points for playing a role that’s currently in high demand. It's another incentive to get out of your comfort zone too!
Into the Fog…
In summation, I find Dead By Daylight to be the perfect game for my casual gaming skills and sensibilities. It’s easy to pick up and play but unexpectedly challenging to master. Matches don’t drag on forever (6–12 mins is about the average), and I’ve had many tense and scary moments as a survivor, as each match follows a fun narrative of trying to avoid capture and escape death… which often leads to edge-of-your-seat climaxes.
I’ve breathed a genuine sigh of relief as I’ve narrowly managed to open an exit gate and limp out with a killer hot on my heels, or having just rescued a teammate from a hook in the dying seconds. And I’ve admittedly felt sick when a killer denies me a deserved triumph thanks to an unfortunate late-game mistake, or when selfish teammates leave me behind to die after I’d done most of the generators for them! But that’s Dead by Daylight, and it’s the pursuit of the highs that overshadow the lows.
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