I am not the biggest into multiplayer games, something about them just really brings out the salt in me. Once in a while I will fall into one for some reason or another, and the more depth that the game has, the longer I wind up playing it. A while back I decided to get every frame in Warframe, and recently my eyes have been set on Dead by Daylight. Two of my real life friends were playing it and wanted a 3rd, and I soon found a very cool small community that plays it regularly. So this is my ‘post mortem’ if you will of my experience of the game. It just had its 5th anniversary and broke player counts of 150,000 on Steam, so it is definitely thriving right now, but isn't without issues.
As some background, the game is 4 survivors vs 1 killer. The survivors have to fix 5 of 7 generators, open gates and leave. The killer has to hit a survivor twice to down them, and then put them on a hook. If you get hooked 3 times, you die, and survivors can rescue each other off the hook. I mostly play killer, but I have put in a decent chunk of time on survivor (because Cheryl is bae).
It should be free to play
Similar to Warframe, if you want to collect every single killer and survivor, in theory you can do this with enough patience. The game has 3 currencies - premium currency, currency you earn by leveling up your account, and currency you get after each game. The second currency, iridescent shards, comes at about 300 shards per level. At 9,000 shards you can unlock any (non-licensed) character. Your only option for licensed characters is to buy them outright, but sales are fairly frequent. So it would make sense for the game to be free to play with a small selection on both sides, then you play to unlock more (or pay for that good shit). Wrong, the base game is 20 dollars, because they love money. In addition, player levels are incredibly slow to gain. I am at level 95 after 210 hours, which equates to 3 new characters earned. They do occasionally throw events where you can earn more, but these are few and far between. Shards can also be used to purchase a weekly rotation of perks (2000 shards) or to buy a new hat for a character (12,000 shards). Coming from DotA, the price of cosmetics is insane, and it makes it so you can really peg good players by what they are wearing, making it easy to figure out who not to chase down. In an ideal worlds, shards would be faster, the base game would be free
The game is imbalanced (in many different ways)
This is obviously true - at its core it is an asymmetrical 4 vs 1, of course one side is going to have an advantage. Let’s start at the very beginning though - the killers vary wildly, and this is part of the appeal. Comparing the power levels of Freddy Kruger vs Ghost Face is no longer just a watercooler conversation, but now has measurable results! There are tiers of killers, and while technically yes, you can do well with any of them in the right circumstances, some are clearly overpowered/underpowered by comparison to the others. The Huntress is a tall Russian lady who throws hatchets. If you take 2 hatchets to the back, you go down. The Trickster is a K Pop singer, and he throws knives. If he hits you with 8 knives to the back, you lose 1 health state (out of 2). The Hag can place down a trap and if a survivor walks over it, she can teleport to it. The Demogorgon can transport between any 2 portals he has placed on the map, if a survivor hasn’t destroyed it yet, and he can tell if they are touching it, if he is channeling his special ability and they are on top of it at that exact moment. Everything isn’t apples to apples in the above, but some killers need some serious buffs to be a consideration for playing for anything besides their perks.
A sample bloodweb
While I’m on perks, lets talk about them. They are my biggest gripe with the game. Each character has 3 unique perks, and both sides have a pool of common perks, we’ll say maybe 12. As you level up each character, you are given a ‘bloodweb’ which is basically a randomly generated web of perks and add ons you can buy. If you level a character to 30, you can buy their first unique perk in the web, and unlock it for all other characters you own...to show up in their web. The second is unlocked at 35, the final perk is unlocked at 40. I made my goal to get all the killers in the game to 40, so I have all killer perks available. The web usually gives you an option of 2 perks per level, but as soon as you take one, the other one goes away. There are 24 killers (72 perks), plus 12 common perks, for a total of 84 possible perks showing up twice per web. Each perk also has 3 different rarity levels, and they always start at one. In order to get every perk available for one killer, you would have to go through 252 blood webs. To go through 40 costs ~1,000,000 bloodpoints (the currency for completing matches), which come at about 30,000 points per match, so about 33 matches played per killer to get all their perks, and probably 200 matches to get all available perks. It’s. A. Slog. The worst offender of this is a perk called BBQ and Chili which belongs to a licensed killer (leatherface) and lets you earn double points in a match for hooking each survivor if you get it. But, as mentioned above, good luck finding it before you need it to 40 a killer. This whole situation also applies to the survivor side (except they have 95 perks available, so it’s even worse).
Going with the free to play message, all of this doesn’t sound that bad, but the reality of it is that as a newcomer, the game is a nightmare. Let’s say, for instance, you are playing against The Trapper, a dude who sets up bear traps. Most of his perks revolve around being really, really scary. So you go to hide in a closet. Oops - you are now super vulnerable because he was running a perk from The Legion. After he hooks your friend, he seems to make a beeline right towards you - he is running BBQ and Chili which ALSO lets you see where everyone on the map is after hooking another survivor. You should have known to counterplay around it, because its a very popular killer perk. On the other side of things, you are a killer tracking down BIll from Left 4 Dead (yeah, he’s in the game) and as you go in for the final swing, he powers through, and sprints away from you using the perk Dead Hard, which belongs to David King. You idiot, of course he had that, how could you not know? (You do for the rest of the match, and its really satisfying to counterplay it by just getting right up on them). So I have 2 beefs with this system: Beef one is that the player models mean absolutely nothing. If I were able to see the character and know that they are definitely running perk X (or to know by proxy they aren’t running perk Y) I can make a reasonable, informed decision on what to do in any scenario. It rewards player knowledge! Beef two is my biggest beef with the game. The game is play to win. It sounds good on paper, but consider this: everyone who has been playing for 5 years has all the perks, on all characters, for all rarities. This means whatever the 4 best perks are, they are running those. And they do. In stacks of 4 friends. And its fucking miserable. “Of course had had borrowed time”, “Of course he has dead hard”, “Here comes the DS”...its a never ending shit show of all of the best perks in the game at higher skill levels, and it feels so bad as someone who is trying to get into the game (ironic to say 200 hours in). People also come by my stream to comment that I had an ‘interesting build’ on my killer when the reality is I had to make whatever 4 best or most synergistic perks work that game because I have literally nothing else. I would love to have BBQ, Discordance, Ruin, and Pop, but guess what? I haven’t been playing long enough to be good. Compared to each other game I have played, this really, really sours my experience.
On top of this, the maps that are available usually skew to one side. On one hand there are maps that have multiple floors, so anything that involves being in a Killer’s radius is twice is effective, but on the other hand there are sprawling maps with very safe loops or lookout points that are notoriously survivor sided. One of the possible items you can bring into a match lets you pick the map, so it isn’t uncommon to see the worst possible killer map when playing as a killer.
No seriously, fuck Haddonfield
Guess what, though? It gets worse. The largest imbalance in the game comes from people playing the game together. In high ranking games (tournaments, etc) the game is hilariously survivor sided, and the largest reason is that people playing together automatically have all of the information that several ‘pub’ perks would give - where is the killer, what is my teammate doing, am I safe to unhook, etc. So now they can run more garbage, but more so than that they get to coordinate their actions perfectly around it. At mid tier, this means as a killer you have to learn all the ways they will force you to drop survivors, all the ways that they will mess up your chases, and sometimes it just feels unavoidable. This leads to a ‘win at all costs’ mentality for the killer, which starts getting into toxic behaviour - tunneling (chasing just 1 person as much as possible to take them out of the game), camping (not leaving them when they are hooked), and a lot of salty feelings just because how the game feels when you are against people better than you. They may not be doing certain in game actions to mock you intentionally, but it feels like such an insult while playing against them. However, this would be mostly fine, if not for….
The game uses a not-mmr system of level where you are ranked from 20 (the worst) to 1 (the best). This rank gets reset on the 13th of the month, based on a few different tier splits. In a perfect world, a rank 10 would play against 4 rank 10s. But I want my friends to play (and they should! The game is much more fun with friends!), so now I’m rank 12 playing with my rank 3 friends...what rank should the killer be? I don’t have a good answer to this, because a good killer will smoke the baby survivor, and a bad killer will get dominated by the good players. It is a fun side game that I play where I try to guess the level of the person that I’m chasing, and I have gotten pretty good at making a ballpark guess. This would be fine with stacks, but the game errs on the side of preferring to fire off a game over having a balanced game. So what happens more is horribly lopsided games.
On the bright side, some people aren’t total dicks about the game, and do play to have fun. During the 5th year anniversary event, they are giving out items that make it so everyone in the game gets +100% more bloodpoints for the match, and it stacks for every player that brings one. So a few players (myself included) have been playing the game as hard as possible until everyone is on their last hook, then just memeing around and letting people farm for points. Many times after doing this, the survivors will let themselves be sacrificed, or they will drop items on the floor as an ‘offering’. It also feels really nice to have that card in your back pocket of “I could have killed you all if I wanted to”.
Outside of the event, there is The Pig from Saw who has the ability to crouch and be stealthy. But because she is now crouched, survivors use the ‘point’ emotion to boop her snoot. Playing as her is about 50/50 if you will have a serious game or if you will run around getting snoot boops and helping survivors then farming for points. It was some of the most fun I had in the game playing that instead of tryharding to scrape up any points.
The Game Incentives you to Play Obnoxiously
As I mentioned above, the game rewards you post game in two ways: bloodpoints (level up your character), and also a profile rank. As a survivor, you get points for doing the generators, helping your friends, staying alive, and escaping from the killer. If you never see the killer or your friends don’t get hurt, or worst case scenario - you loop the killer for all 5 gens - you miss out on the points for those events. Similarly, as a killer you get points for killing survivors, hitting survivors, using your power, and chasing survivors. If you are in easy matchups, you don’t chase much, don’t have to use your power, you get fewer points. For both of these scenarios, you are incentivized to play worse than you normally would to get those events and get the points.
Where this gets really annoying is the ‘pip’ system. Each profile level has a certain amount of pegs you have to fill in by performing in certain categories. Once you fill in those pegs, you level up. If you perform poorly, you lose a peg, and if you lose all your pegs for the level you rank down. For the survivor, emblems are about the same as their point events: doing generators, helping others, not taking damage, and evading chases. Again, in a game where you play perfectly without being seen, you get nothing for the evading chases section, so its possible you will not gain any profile progress. Next time, try to grab the killer’s attention by rescuing your friends. But wait, that way you will probably get knocked down, which disqualifies you from the best rank in surviving. The killer has it much worse - one emblem assumes that you kill everyone in the game (not going to happen in higher ranks), another penalizes you if the survivors healed during the match, one is just a chase, and the other is how long you keep survivors off generators. In order to rank up, you need to be killing every survivor, without letting them heal. The two worst qualities, and worst feelings for the game, are killers tunneling down one person to make sure they die, or worse, camping the hook to make sure they die. It is often said within the community that you will not rank up unless you do these. And let me tell you, I have been playing in the event described above, and have been keeping everyone alive at the end of the match so they can maximize their points as well, and 3 out of 4 of my categories will be maxed out, but I have lost 3 levels for playing this way. This lets me play games where I am better skilled where I should be, and it is not uncommon for people to intentionally depip to go back into easier games, because the ranking system explicitly lays out its rules in a very abusable way, so lower ranks can be filled with smurfs because of this and also the rank resets.
After almost major update, the developer has to restrict a new feature, make a bunch of balance changes, and throws out a large amount of bloodpoints as an apology. In the latest update, the game would lag whenever the killer uses his man ability, and the new map was so broken that they had to disable it for a few weeks. Most recently, one of the most popular survivor add ons has been causing lag spikes for console users, and the general state of the game for them is sub 20 fps during the game. Its...not great, but the devs are looking into it. Several maps have had invincible spots for survivors, others have had chokepoints created by killers special additions (Freddy Kruger spawns an alarm clock in that would block him from some passageways), collision not working on buildings, getting stuck on small terrain features, music bugs....there’s a lot out there. I will concede, however, that the fanbase really amps up how bad it feels against how bad it is, as is the case with any game. The joke of DotA2 being in beta still lingers on whenever anything bad happens.
Most Importantly: I Spent 230 Hours Playing It
So after saying all of the above, the biggest takeaway was that I did wind up playing this game for 230 hours, and many of my friends have a thousand hours in it. The more you play it, the more fun it gets because you get the gamer’s Serenity prayer: the serenity to know the difference between my good plays, bad plays, and bullshit jank I can’t change. The most fun I have had has been at the tail end playing the last few killers. The Clown killer just beans people in the back of the head with glass bottles, The Twins have a homing missile fetus, and Pyramid Head has a fat ass. For me, evaluating the skills I have randomly obtained in the bloodweb as they apply to the killer has almost a deckbuilding feel to it, and since I haven’t been trying to climb ranks, the games have been much more chill overall. The community overall has been pretty friendly as well - people drop by my twitch chat to say hi, say thanks, or just to say GG over there. I have a dozen new dinternet friends from a tight knit community out there, and a few random channels that I watch on twitch from that. One of the most surprising things to me about it all was the demographics - I did get people calling me an old man playing the game, which is pretty fair I suppose, but I have seen twitch streams from housewives, artists, goths, tarot readers, and more. The game has a decent pull to bring in a bunch of people, and thats pretty cool! It is also a hilariously defeating experience to get absolutely schooled by a killer and tune in to an absolute sweetheart apologizing as they put your friends on hooks and remembering the person on the other side of the screen. It’s fun, and when it works, its good.
When doing my Warframe experiment back in the day, at the end I was loathing the tasks I had to do to get the last few cranked out, whereas with Dead by Daylight, I’m still mostly having fun. The core gameplay loop (as a killer) feels nice, and figuring out the interactions, how skills work, and how to outsmart players on certain loops feels really nice. I am sure that once I finish up all the killers I will continue to play, just not with the fervor that I am currently playing. If they were to make matchmaking more consistent, give the killer something for playing against a 4 stack, and to either ease up the grind or make a separate mode where you can only play with what your character has, I would be much more interested.