It’s obvious to see that games featuring permadeath are on the rise. In my experience it used to be mainly something that was seen in indie games and not so much in your ‘main stream’ games. But slowly and steadily these game types and ‘hardcore’ game modes have become more and more popular, but why?
For me I’ve seen permadeath mostly in DayZ, but games like Don’t starve, FTL (Faster Than Light), Zombie U are a few others that I’ve played, or seen others played, with it. Then there are the games that include a hardcore mode, which basically acts as your permadeath game type, games like Diablo III, Minecraft, Dead Space are just a few examples of where this exists.
For me I think the popularity of this has come from people becoming tired of the same old formula. It gets a bit boring when you play a shooter and there are so many check points that it just doesn’t matter if you die. There is no punishment for reckless actions, you just go back a few paces and try again. I can quickly lose interest in a game where I can just run around not really caring what’s happening, but knowing that the story is still progressing.
But when playing DayZ for example, I am a lot more aware of what’s going on around me, I’m constantly checking corners, and looking behind me to see if any potential threat is approaching, and that’s because I don’t want to lose everything I’ve worked for up to that point. I value my characters life so much more.
It also adds a whole new level of excitement. Fire fights become genuinely exciting and tense. Where as you may normally just run out in to a fire fight and spray and pray, but knowing your character could be gone in the blink of an eye really makes you think twice about every action and every decision. Should I make a run to the next building, even though I know I’m pinned down?
A perfect example of the added tension came from a recent game of DayZ where me and a group of friends were scouting and looting an area. We were in a hospital, and two of us went out on to the roof, within a few seconds they were taking fire, one was killed the other was completely pinned down. Me and another guy were pinned on a stairwell surrounded by windows. We must have sat it out in that stairwell for a good 20-30 minutes before we felt comfortable to take long looks out of the windows to try and get eyes on our enemies. This is something that would never have happened had we been playing a Battlefield game or any other shooter. We probably would have run straight out of the door and hoped that our trigger finger was a bit quicker than there’s.
Permadeath doesn’t just apply for shooters though. Don’t Starve is a game where survival is key. Warmth, hunger, protection these are all things you need to think about. You must gather supplies during the day to help you survive the night. How far do you venture out? If you have set up a little camp somewhere you may venture too far during the day and not be able to make it back for night fall. It makes all the scavenging a little more frantic, but all the more rewarding when you find something valuable. The sun is setting, do I go a little further or head back?
Alongside your playable character having permanent deaths, you also have NPC’s who can die and not come back. I know this is something that has kind of been around for a long time in a lot of games, but in most cases you haven’t had a choice in whether they die or not. But for me the Mass Effect series really switched that up especially in ME2 with the suicide mission, whereby your choices during that mission would directly impact on who survived. Planning was needed, and, OK it wasn’t the most in depth planning ever, but you still needed to think about who you wanted to do carry out certain tasks. Send the wrong person for the job, and they would be dead, gone from the game forever. I was nervous doing this mission, as I didn’t want any of my characters to die, I made sure that I planned everything correctly, and was mightily relieved when they all survived.
Being able to have an impact of whether an NPC lives or dies is something I would like to see a lot more in games. I feel it would help you build connections with characters, it would add so much more meaning to a story. The Walking Dead is a great example of having to make tough choices for NPC’s on whether they live or die. I guess NPC deaths aren’t really permadeath by definition. But I still think they kind of fall under the same category.
I hope that the permadeath game type continues to grow, and I would really like to see if start to appear in more games. Maybe even if they were just as an extra game mode. I want to start valuing my characters life more. Give me a reason to care. Give me a reason not to run around that corner where I know 20 soldiers are waiting, but its OK because I’m my duel wielding Uzi’s and I’ve just picked up some body armour. Give me a reason not to throw that grenade in to that room even though half of my squad are in there.
What do you guys think, do you like permadeath? Would you like to see more of it?