Developer Ninja Theory decided to bluff about permadeath in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice to make the game’s story and gameplay feel more engaging.
When Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice launched in August, the game caught controversy and polarized interested gamers when its permadeath feature came to light. The existence of permadeath is revealed in-game through a vision by Senua where she gets fatally attacked by an enemy, causing her to fall on the ground and screech in agony until she dies. As explained in the game’s opening moments, the dark rot will grow in protagonist Senua’s body each time she dies and “all progress will be lost” once the rot reaches her head. Soon after, various media outlets and gamers tested the save-wiping mechanic and discovered that it does not exist.
Speaking to Game Boss, lead developer Tameem Antoniades said Ninja Theory decided to bluff about permadeath “in service of the story and the experience… We wouldn’t have done it just to make the game hard, needlessly hard,” said Antoniades.
Antoniades adds that while elements such as the claustrophobic camera angle, “incessant voices,” and claustrophobic camera prevent Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice from receiving mainstream appeal, their inclusion was necessary to the core experience. “That’s one of the benefits of not going down the triple-A publishing route. We don’t have to be like everyone else. We don’t have to please everyone. I think the consensus is pretty good now. People get it.”
Apparently, Ninja Theory decided on a nightmarish vibe for Hellblade to help players empathize with people suffering from mental illness. “I spoke to a good friend of mine who had an episode, a psychotic break. He’d describe moments where he was screaming on the ground, thinking he was going to die. He said we should show that. I think what people don’t necessarily understand is that these experiences can be like living nightmares.”
Despite Hellblade: Senua Sacrifice’s niche appeal and Ninja Theory self-publishing, the game is set to break even “in the next couple of weeks.” Initially, the team expected to recoup their costs six to nine months after the game launches. “Of course, because we self-published it, it’s the first time we’re getting the bulk of the money back, which is amazing. We own the IP this time. It’s opened up a bunch of doors and possibilities that we just didn’t have until this point. In terms of a model, I’d say it is a success.”
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is available digitally on PC and PS4.