Permadeath feature in ‘Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’ has players polarized

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a unique game for a number of reasons, including its twisted approach to narration and storytelling and its constantly shifting world, but one of developer Ninja Theory’s design decisions has left players conflicted. Upon dying several times in the game, no matter where you happen to be, your save file will be erased and you’ll be forced to start the entire game over from the very beginning.

For many players, this raises the stakes of Senua’s mission considerably and creates a new layer of tension on top of her constant psychotic delusions.

the permadeath thing in hellblade sounds aaaaaaamazing

— Mark McAvoy (@MarkPMcAvoy) August 8, 2017

Hellblade thoughts

– Audio, art, narrative great
– Permadeath raises stakes. LOVE it.
– Repetitive combat. Lotta downtime. Puzzles? Decent.

— Dom (@DomsPlaying) August 8, 2017

Permadeath in #Hellblade is not a mere gameplay mechanic, it is part of the narrative around psychosis, depression and anxiety.

— confused (@labpleb) August 8, 2017

While the feature sounds like a novel idea in theory, Hellblade takes about eight hours to play through when accounting for time solving puzzles. If you’re near the end of her journey and happen to get killed in a battle or mess up one of the game’s chase sequences, you’ll be forced to repeat all of your previous accomplishments. This has left some players feeling like the game could waste a considerable amount of their time.

Just found out about Hellblade's permadeath mechanic and I sorta feel like that should be in the product description honestly.

— Olivia White (@owlcavedev) August 8, 2017

Great reviews for Hellblade. Unfortunately this permadeath has made my mind up against buying. Don't trust I'd finish the game. #Hellblade

— Liam G (@liamg1878) August 8, 2017

On PlayStation 4, one way to game the system — assuming you won’t feel too bad about cheesing your way through the game — would be to upload a save file to PlayStation Plus’ cloud storage before entering a difficult area. Should you die enough times for the “rot” to move up Senua’s arm and kill her for good, you could then download your older save and try again.

Why would you have to do this instead of simply reloading a save file from earlier in the game? Hellblade doesn’t keep any extra files — the most recent auto-save is the only save file you have available at any given time. This shouldn’t cause too many issues, but some players have encountered progression problems related to this feature. Popular critic Jim Sterling encountered a game-breaking moment late in the game because he failed to pick up a particular item before the game saved, leaving him without a way to move forward. Offering additional save files would seem to solve this problem, though it would effectively render the “permadeath” mechanic useless.

Potential spoilers for Hellblade below!

It appears, however, that the rotting mechanic introduced early in Hellblade may be a very well-designed troll by Ninja Theory. PCGamesN reported that they put the mechanic to the test, dying repeatedly on purpose after the mechanic is introduced, and did not trigger a save-killing death. Following the report, we tested the mechanic further. Even after dying 6-7 times in quick succesion, the rot did not move beyond her elbow at an early stage in the game. Instead, it would reset to around her wrist so that it appeared to grow farther up her arm without actually doing so. We’ve reached out to Ninja Theory for further clarification.

Online, there is still some debate on the issue. Users On NeoGAF said the game requires players to hit several checkpoints before the rot would actually reach Senua’s face.

If the mechanic is made up in order to invoke extra tension in the player, it’s one of the most brilliant (and devious) tricks we’ve ever seen pulled by a developer.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is available now for PlayStation 4 and PC for $30. For more on the game, check out our review. We managed to make it through the game without having our file wiped.

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