Developer Ninja Theory's "independent AAA" Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is out and players have discovered a cruel game mechanic. If you die too many times while playing, the game wipes your progress and you're forced to start over from scratch. Within the world of the game, #Hellblade paints this mechanic as Senua succumbing to darkness.
Curiously, while players are adamant it has happened to them, PCGamesN's Ben Barrett claims it's a bluff. He got himself repeatedly killed just to see what would happen, and the game never followed through on its threat.
It's possible both claims are correct; that players have been hit with permadeath, but Ben Barrett managed to avoid it. This could be the result of implementing permadeath in a way that takes it easy on the player. If you get stuck at one particular point you find difficult, the game won't punish you for stumbling in that one location. The game will give you a chance to overcome that obstacle. However, if you fumble your way through the entire game, you may be told to try again from the beginning.
In any case, permadeath would be a curious feature to include in Hellblade. By all indications, Hellblade places its focus not on its action, but its narrative elements. The game attempts to look at psychosis through the lens of myth. Players who pick up Hellblade for its story might not appreciate the inclusion of permadeath, even if the mechanic is trying to say something about the narrative. Repeating sequences of the game — potentially hours of progress — is a good way to rip someone out of your story.
A Brief History of Permadeath
Permadeath (or death with consequences) has a long, divisive history in video games. Early #MMOs, even popular ones such as #EverQuest, included consequences for death: loss of experience, loss of gear, and general loss of progress. Old school console games, even casual games like the #Mario franchise, included Game Overs which made you start from the very beginning.
Eventually, the industry swung the other way: death itself became the punishment. Rather than hitting the player with a Game Over, they sent them to the beginning of the level, or the last checkpoint. Instead of causing the player to lose their equipment, they merely had them repair their equipment.
Permadeath, or consequences of death, has started to make a comeback. While Dark Souls doesn't have permadeath, death does have repercussions: it can set back your progress, sometimes by many hours. The #Diablo franchise includes a Hardcore option where if you die once your character is gone forever. For some, a game isn't worth playing — a challenge isn't worth tackling — unless there's something on the line.
Game developer Hideo Kojima (behind the upcoming #DeathStranding) went as far as saying he wanted to make a game in which you only had one life, period. If you died, you had to buy the game again. Kojima never made that into a reality, but the concept has been attempted with survival FPS One Life.
Even if Hellblade's permadeath is relatively forgiving, it's no surprise the subject has caused a commotion in the gaming community. The type of people who would buy Hellblade very well might choose not to due to this revelation. But gamers who might not have given Hellblade a second thought might be reconsidering their position right about now.
What do you think of permadeath in games? Should death have consequences?