If you’re like me, then you play almost every game on normal. In my opinion, this is how the experience is meant to be enjoyed. Once I’m done, I venture into playing on a higher difficulty. While many consider themselves try-hards, I’m more inclined to finish a game the way the creator intended. The base experience has more to offer me than soul-crushing difficulty.
Not everyone feels this way – mainly the players. Strong opinions are formed from the very community these games create, and most often, they go against what the developers present to the players. A recent example of this is Hellblade, developer Ninja Theory’s latest title. A game I’ve yet to dive into, however, it’s caused a bit of controversy during launch.
Hellblade greets players with the promise of permadeath, a feature rarely seen in most modern games. When you lose too many times, you lose everything – your progress and save. The game doesn’t actually tell you how many times you have to die for the feature to activate but it promises that the game will become more and more difficult. An unwelcome surprise for many players.
Here’s the twist, the permadeath doesn’t actually exist. The game does grow difficult the more you die but ultimately the threat of erasing your progress in a bluff. It’s a ploy to evoke tension, fear, and paranoia in the player, matching the feelings of its mentally ill protagonist. An interesting approach to the creators intent. However, it’s poorly executed.
Commitment and Honesty
Difficulty can be a part of the experience. It’s in those moments that I wholeheartedly accept the challenge. Some of the best games show the player no mercy, as a way of evoking frustration and helplessness. It also provides a challenge that players are compelled to overcome. The key to creating a game that is both challenging and engaging is the balance. The idea is to make a game seem impossible without that actually being the case. It’s why the Dark Souls and Bloodborne series work so well. It requires trial and error, along with the growth of your skills as a player to complete.
In the case of Hellblade, I didn’t have the same reaction many had to the prospect of permadeath. I found it interesting and innovative for the approach Ninja Theory was trying to take. However, my problem was with Ninja Theory’s lack of commitment and transparency.
Developers should not lie about their games. Their word is a major deciding factor for players. Besides, it never works out well when a developer is misleading about gameplay, story, or content. Just look at No Man’s Sky or Batman: Arkham Knight. Both contain experiences that are ruined because of false promises from developers. Ultimately, Ninja Theory does the same when they fail to commit to their threat of permadeath. If you are going to take a bold action, then be bold – no half-measures.
You could say the fakeout is what Ninja Theory’s intended for the game but anyway you look at it, it’s a shitty attempt at inciting a reaction from players. In an age where companies charge for DLC that’s already on the disc and throw microtransactions in a $60 game, trust is hard to come by from gamers. Also, why not add permadeath? Why present a feature that doesn’t exist? You not only alienate the players who took offense to your decision but you betray the ones who were excited to play the game the way the creators intended.
Taking Bold Risk
I’m looking forward to playing Hellblade when I get the chance. I’ve always been fascinated by Ninja Theory’s games, and from what I hear, Hellblade accomplishes a lot for an independent game. Ninja Theory is a studio that takes a lot a risk, and I hope they learn from the game’s reception. I actually hope that all developers learn that what you promise matters to gamers, especially when it affects our purchase. We respect the creator’s intent but it’s still important to meet the consumer’s expectations.