Update: It has now emerged that while Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice instructs the player that dying too many times will delete their save file, this is not actually the case. As described by PCGamesN, the permadeath mechanic is a “bluff” and the game does not erase players’ save data.
Original Story: If you die too many times in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the game reportedly deletes your save file and forces you to start all over again, from the very beginning. This permadeath mechanic is introduced in order to force the player to approach each encounter with a genuine sense of fear, and while I have yet to play it in order to see if it achieves this goal, there are already a lot of hot takes being posted online discussing whether or not it’s a worthwhile or frustrating addition to the game. Hot takes such as this one, which I posted on Twitter this morning and am now posting here in an act of brazen self-promotion:
I struggled through that Ghosts 'n' Goblins shite in the '90s. Now I want my checkpoints and my save files.
— Paul Tamburro (@PaulTamburro) August 8, 2017
Though I personally find the idea of permadeath in an 8-hour, story-driven game off-putting, many have said that this mechanic is the exact reason why they are now interested in picking up the game. Others have been less kind about its implementation.
Though Hellblade‘s permadeath may be a divisive addition to the game, critics have noted that it skillfully complements the game’s exploration of its protagonist’s mental illness; Senua suffers from both visual and auditory hallucinations, causing her to grow increasingly paranoid as the game progresses. The introduction of permadeath therefore causes the player to share this paranoia as they fight their way through its story, taking away the control that modern games typically afford their players.
Some argued that, while they were intrigued by Hellblade‘s permadeath mechanic, it didn’t necessarily make for a game that they wanted to play or one that sounded like much fun:
Y'know it's entirely possible for Hellblade's permadeath to be both interesting AND the reason I'm absolutely not going to play it.
— Chris Wallace (@wallacec42) August 8, 2017
Wanted to love Hellblade. It's good-looking, the sound design is incredible, the acting is great, but the game bit isn't.
— Kirk McKeand (@MckKirk) August 8, 2017
Then there were those who heaped praise on it, discussing how it contributed greatly to the game’s core concept;
A save file isn't your god given right, it's a mechanic to be manipulated. IMO, Hellblade's perma death is ballsy and thematically on point.
— Ben Tarrant (@Ben_Tarrant) August 8, 2017
Love the idea of the permadeath mechanic in Hellblade. Anything that subverts so many players desire for ultimate control is good in my eyes
— Danny O'Dwyer (@dannyodwyer) August 8, 2017
How do people not understand the artistic intent behind Hellblade's use of permadeath?
It's not a cheap way to make the game longer :/
— 💀Chris Priestman💀 (@CPriestman) August 8, 2017
Others pointed out how Ninja Theory were being unfairly criticized for trying out something new, where other developers would be praised:
This Hellblade permadeath thing sounds like the sort of thing people would praise as being an amazing feature if Kojima did it
— Alice Bell (@BabyGotBell) August 8, 2017
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice currently sits at a very healthy 81 Metascore, with many critics calling it one of the stand-out games of the year thus far. It remains to be seen whether or not its permadeath will resonate with consumers or prevent it from establishing a wide audience, but it’s certainly got a lot of people talking about it, and that can’t be a bad thing.