Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is rife with unorthodox mechanics, narrative curiosities and other bizarre decisions that make it one interesting game. There’s one thing in particular that sets it apart from other similar games of its ilk: Supposedly, if you die too many times, your save data will be deleted, and you’ll have to start over from the very beginning of the game.
This is known as “permadeath,” and it’s hardly a new concept. This time around, however, players seem to have become frustrated and irritated by the mechanic in this particular game, despite the fact that it’s not all that difficult. The game itself makes the bold claim of permadeath early on in the game, right near your very first battle, and it’s an ominous warning. But as it turns out, that may not even truly be the case. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice could have been bluffing to make the game seem more frustrating and harrowing all along.
(Editor’s Note: Spoilers for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice below.)
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Permadeath: Can Senua really stay dead?
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice follows Senua, a young woman dealing with mental illness who’s on her own quest to retrieve her lover’s soul. On her way to fighting the god of the dead in the Norse mythology’s version of hell, she ends up fighting shadow demons. During this fight, she’s touched by a disgusting rot that will continue to infect her and rise on her body each time you lose a fight. The game warns you that every game over brings you closer to losing the game entirely.
Anyone would take this to mean that when the rot reaches Senua’s head, the game will end. According to a video originally recorded by PCGamesN, where staff members killed Senua 50 individual times, the game did not delete any data. In fact, nothing much of importance actually happened. Senua lived on, and on and on, which was quite surprising given its direct contradiction to the game’s own words.
Eurogamer launched its own investigation into what happens, and if you actually have to start over again at any point. Reviewer Johnny Chiodini worked out the details on his own to see what he could figure out in terms of the permadeath claimed by Ninja Theory.
Chiodini’s plan had him purposefully dying three times every time he got into combat to see if Senua’s rot advanced. If it did, he would continue having Senua die until at some point it stopped advancing up her arm. Throughout the game and up through the second boss, the rot only reached the top of Senua’s shoulder.
It seemed, throughout Chiodini’s tests, that the rot just wouldn’t get past Senua’s shoulder and the progress of the mechanic seemed to be locked to certain areas of the game. This is obviously inconsistent with what the game itself claims when it announces that your progress will be erased if you die too many times, as none of that happened to either tester, either from Eurogamer or PCGamesN.
My own experience with the game was similar to Eurogamer and PCGamesN, though I didn’t die enough during my first playthrough to really test the theory, but subsequent attempts landed similar to Chiodini’s experiences. I wasn’t able to force the rot to go past Senua’s arm either, which was simultaneously refreshing and annoying at the same time. I feel like it would have added a certain level of immediacy to the game that’s otherwise missing.
I’ve reached out to Ninja Theory regarding the video depicting Senua’s 50 deaths, however, the company has not responded to my request for comment thus far.
It’s probably safe to say, however, at this point that Hellblade’s most frustrating feature for some isn’t actually one that exists at all.
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