Dead by Daylight has been on my radar for a while. It's an asymmetric survival horror game with iconic movie tie-ins that pits four Survivors against a Killer. The Survivors must escape and the Killer must, well, kill. After months of coming across hilarious TikToks of Dead by Daylight gameplay and well over a year of not participating in my friends' DBD Discord, the latest Saw tie-in convinced me to download it – and I was very surprised. It's fun, frightening, and sometimes downright silly, but there's a lot more going on under its hood than I expected.
There are, however, outstanding issues that make it hard for new players to break in, like lengthy queues and uneven matchmaking. Dead by Daylight is a challenge to pick up and it definitely has its flaws, but when all cylinders are firing it's a horror beast that offers up great multiplayer moments.
The killing game
After completing tutorials where I learn basic moves and tactics, I'm dropped into a match with bots playing one of four Survivors. The Killer finds me almost immediately thanks to a clumsy attempt to repair a generator, and fells me with two strikes of his machete. He hooks me, a bot frees me, but shortly after I'm downed again, caught this time because I was running through tall grass instead of crouch-walking. The Killer brings me over to another hook and hangs me from it, but just as I'm expecting a repeat of my previous hooking, a bizarre creature appears perched on top of the hook's structure. "What's going on?" I yell as its pointed, spider-like legs stab me through the gut.
Before I realize there's a quick-time event that can prevent the stabby legs from skewering me, I'm killed by the horrifying thing – sacrificed to the Entity, according to the in-game pop-up. My heart racing, I start to nervously giggle at what just took place, still panting with fear at the appearance of the Entity. I didn't succeed in that tutorial, not by a long shot, but the adrenaline rush I get from being sacrificed to an almighty malevolent being is so exhilarating, I immediately drop into a PVP match.
The concept of Dead by Daylight is simple, and the gameplay has remained relatively identical since it launched in 2016, but the myriad perks, items, and offerings make every match slightly different. Queuing as a Survivor is a painfully long process, as most players prefer that role, so after a 10 minute wait I swap to Killer. In my first match, I'm repeatedly blinded by Survivors using flashlights, which I didn't even know was a thing in this game. I struggle to find Survivors, struggle to down Survivors, and get stuck chasing them in circles around rocky outcroppings – in fact, I struggle so much that all four of them escape with ease.
I clearly needed help. So, I reached out to a friend and told them I'd be down to finally play some Dead by Daylight, and they graciously took me under their wing.
The friends that kill together
There were five of us, so we set up a custom match which allows you complete access to all the perks, items, and offerings that you'd normally have to grind in order to unlock. I'm shown which perks to put on as a Survivor, the player who offered to be Killer was sent out of the Discord chat so that we can strategize, and then we dropped into a game. From the moment the match loads up, it's an entirely different experience – a fast track to figuring Dead by Daylight out.
"Ah, she went with Pig," a friend says as soon as the match loads up. "She'll have traps." As the match progresses, I learn that our Killer chose the Saw character, and that she can place an iconic Saw head trap on us if she manages to knock us down. Of course, I'm the first player to get the metal contraption screwed onto my head, and my panic exponentially increases as I realize that the steady beeping emanating from the head trap is a countdown. "It'll blow up if you don't get it off," my teammate warns. "Find the Jigsaw machines."
And so I set out to unlock this trap, all while trying to avoid a Killer whose nearness causes a heartbeat to echo in my ears and wincing IRL as my teammates' pained screams' bounce off the gnarled trees. As the beeping on the trap increases its cadence, I make my way to the final Jigsaw machine after the first two fail to free me. I get the trap off just as the Killer hooks a teammate of mine for a third time, which automatically sacrifices them to the Entity. "You're the only one left," they point out.
Panicked, I run to the door which has been powered up by my hardworking teammates and struggle to get it open. Everything in Dead by Daylight requires you to fill a progress bar, which is painstakingly slow without any pressure but is murderously lackadaisical when a Killer is bearing down on you. As the progress bar nears completion, I see the Pig out of the corner of my eye and begin to physically sweat, my controller slipping out of my grasp. She kneels a few yards away – a bizarre ritual clearly meant to give me the win. "Aw, go and boop her," my friend Rhian says. "Press 'Up' on the D-pad." Walking over to the Killer, still kneeling as if awaiting the sword of a queen to kiss her shoulders, and sort of point at her, my hand clipping through her head. I squeal out a "thanks" and run into the safe zone, my squad laughing through the match's end credits.
Tough to kill
If you're interested in jumping into Dead by Daylight, it might be best to convince a few friends to enter the fray with you. In just an hour of play time with my mates, I learn enough about Dead by Daylight that I feel like I can run through a few matches solo without the flashlight incident rendering me useless again. I learn that the Killer I was using, the Huntress, is a hard one to get good at, and am pointed towards the Wraith instead. After the first Killer asks "who oaked me" in the Discord chat, I learn that Petrified Oak is a very rare offering you can equip that spaces out the locations of the Killer's hooks, making certain areas a dead zone for downing.
I also learn that Dead by Daylight has a clear and obvious meta that needs changing. Perks need to be overhauled, Killers need to switch up their loadouts – Dead by Daylight as a whole needs more frequent shake-ups. When I jump on to play some DBD alone on my Series S, it quickly becomes clear that this game can be incredibly frustrating. Several times I wait for nearly 15 minutes queueing for a match as a Survivor before backing out and jumping in as a Killer just to get roasted by an OP squad.
Load times are painfully long, so the time between matches is almost enough to deter you – especially if you're begrudgingly playing Killer just so you can actually get a match. While most of my Killer games are lopsided and dull, consisting of me aimlessly wandering around while the Survivors speedily repair generators and get to the safe zone, there's a few moments that are exhilarating. A safe zone standoff between myself and an Ash Williams, a last-minute third hook that takes Left 4 Dead's Bill into the Entity's ether – these moments are where Dead by Daylight shines. There's just not enough of them.
Dead by Daylight is a simple enough concept that is executed well but still needs some adjustments. It's set up in a way that promotes teaming up with friends to run a few Survivor matches, but struggles to find a place for those solo queuing. When it shines, it's riotously good fun that has me screaming and screeching like a banshee, it just needs some more polish.
If you're looking for some other excellent scares at this time of the year, head over to our best horror games guide for more.