How Do You Feel About Permadeath In Games?

Ninja Theory released Hellblade yesterday, and almost immediately the internet was buzzing about a newly discovered feature of the game: permadeath.

It came out that if you died too many times in the game, it would delete your save file and you would have to start over. As more information came about, it seemed it wasn’t terribly easy to die, so people were getting less concerned.

However, many people who had pre-ordered the game weren’t pleased to find out there was a permadeath feature at all. The game seems to be clocking in for most folks between four and six hours, but, even so, there was a strong contingent of gamers who didn’t care for the feature, even if it was keeping in tone with the game.

Apparently, at the end of the introductory tutorial, the game states:

The dark rot will grow each time you fail. If the rot reaches Senua’s head, her quest is over. And all progress will be lost.

Later in the day it was revealed that the warning may have been a bluff on Ninja Theory’s part.

Whether it is, or isn’t, a bluff, I think it’s an interesting concept. I was relieved to hear the permadeath (if it is, in fact, true) wasn’t from a few deaths, but rather a considerable amount. I like that it raises the stakes in a game about the main character’s psychosis and mental health.

However, I do wish it had been made optional. Permadeath isn’t a new concept in games, but it’s one I’m not personally fond of. As someone whose eyes glaze over when I hear the term “roguelike,” it’s just not a game mechanic I enjoy.

So take that, and a game that threatens to wipe your save file if you fail too many times, and I find myself with a weird set of feelings. I am never a fan of a wiped save. Whether it’s a user error or a game bug, having a save wiped feels awful. I will never forget the time my max level 69 (har har, I know) Mordecai save file was corrupted in the original Borderlands. It still reigns as the most upset I’ve ever been while gaming. Prior to its corruption, I had been playing normally when the system locked up and I had to hard reset. When I rebooted the game, my partner’s save file was there and available, but mine was simply an image of a square with a jagged line through it that stated it was a corrupted save. I was incredibly upset. Hundreds of hours of play went into that save and it was gone. All my weapon proficiencies were gone. All my weapons were gone.  That was the catalyst for my learning that saves could be backed up to USB (believe it or not, prior to that incident, I didn’t know that could be done), which was an important lesson. Still, I wasn’t a fan of losing a save.

In this case, it would only be a few hours worth of progress lost, but still, I’m not a fan.

So I was wondering, how do you feel about permadeath in games? Is it a feature you like or elect to use when or where available? What do you feel it adds (if anything) to a game?

10 replies »

  1. Good morning Rebekah! Permadeath is a feature that sounds pointless to me. If I have spent hours on a game where dying is a hiven; my save file is deleted then I’ll be one passed gamer. Excuse my French! From your blog, I understand the concept better; I don’t understand its functionality, if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good morning, indeed! I woke up at 3 and have been awake ever since! YIKES.

      It makes sense. It seems like a punishing feature, and I’ve never found it to be an enticing proposition. It’s my beef with roguelikes. I want to make progress and feel like I’m working towards something, not wiping the slate clean repeatedly. With so many games out there to play, why would I want to arbitrarily replay a game that purposely wiped my save file? Again, that’s just my personal opinion.


  2. I’ll get Hellblade on sale sometime and as for permadeath I don’t really have strong feeling of whether I like or hate it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not really a fan of permadeath, but I’ve played some series of games that has it such as Binding of Isaac and the early Fire Emblem games. In Isaac the issue of permadeath is eased somewhat due to the short length of each run: a typical run lasts about 45 min so if you die it’s not much time lost and the big factors to success is learning through failed runs and luck in getting good items.

    The early Fire Emblem games were a bit rougher for me. Since your units are specialized and you’re only allowed a certain amount each battle, you will come to rely on certain ones early on and be the ones you build up over the course of the game. Losing one due to a poor decison, bad luck with the hit percentage RNG, or something unexpected is always terrible and I would normally have to restart the entire battle. Thankfully, later entries have made the permadeath optional and I’ve taken advantage of that.

    In the case of Senua’s Sacrifice I think it’s an unnecessary addition. Even if a run is clocking in at 4-6 hours, it’s still potential time lost and a feature that I feel doesn’t take into account disabled players that might have a harder time with the controls or gamers overall that aren’t as good with action titles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way as far as folks who might have a harder time with the controls. It makes me wish the permadeath were option even more now.

      I’ve never played a Fire Emblem title and I’m not sure I ever knew permadeath was a thing in those games. It would hurt so much harder if it was a character you’d spent so much time and energy on. Oof.

      Yeah, I unfortunately think this is one of those things that just doesn’t appeal to me. Weapon degradation is another one. It has just never added any enjoyment to a game for me. At best it’s a nuisance.


  4. I am not a fan of permadeath, but for some reason and from what I know about Hellblade it seems to fit. Also, when I think of permadeath in games I immediately think of either Diablo which take a SIGNIFICANT amount of time or Deus Ex, where can take up quite a bit of time depending on your playstyle. I can’t imagine playing stealthily in DX for the entire game and then get forced in to a gun fight towards the end and have it all ruined.
    In a way, it takes me back to my childhood where every time you started a new game, it was truly a “New Game”! Now that I think about it some more, it sounds like the limited number of “continues” from way back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting way to look at it, and I can’t say I disagree. It really does seem like the continue feature.

      I’m willing to “deal with it” because I want to experience Hellblade, but overall, I’m not a fan of the feature. I can’t imagine playing a long game only to have to start all over.

      Liked by 1 person

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