How Does Permadeath Work in Hellblade?

The collective heads at Ninja Theory have to be spinning right now. They launched Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice today and embargos lifted, so many are abuzz with conversation but possibly not in the way Ninja Theory had hoped. For any that have played or checked out a review (you can read ours right here), it’s likely they have heard mention of Hellblade’s permadeath system. After the first fight, players are told explicitly that frequent deaths will cause rot to climb up Senua’s arm resulting in an erased save file if it reaches her head. The question is: Was it a bluff?

I never gave thought to the idea that the permadeath system was a bluff but PCGamesN dropped a video showing over 50 deaths with no change in the rot’s position on Senua’s arm. Opinions have been on opposite sides of the scale when it comes to permadeath in Hellblade but, if it’s a bluff, it’s a pretty good one for reason I’ll get too but here’s the thing: My experience was very different from what was shown in the video.

The PcGamesN reporter says that, while the rot didn’t go over the elbow after so many deaths, it did move up her shoulder after a particular boss fight in the game. He didn’t say which boss, but the rot was only at the starting point all the way until I was about three-quarters of the way into the game. I bit the dust about seven times in a section where staying in the dark too long ends with death and the rot moved from my forearm all the way up to my shoulder before I moved beyond that point.

With these two very different experiences, there’s no telling exactly which factors impact the rot on Senua’s body. I have a feeling difficulty, game progress, and type of death play a part but there’s no guarantee. The brilliance of it all is that the simple threat of permadeath immersed me further into Sensua’s journey, inspiring me to absolute panic in tough combat situations due to my assumed proximity to the end of the game. Essentially, if this does turn out to be a bluff, Ninja Theory didn’t just show us Senua’s battle with mental health but also played a few mind games with us. I don’t have footage of my experience with rot other than the image above from way after my seven deaths and, once I completed the game, the only option at the start menu is to start anew again. Share with us your experience with permadeath in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice as well.

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