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Interesting death consequences or mechanics in singleplayer games

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Hi all,

I would like to start a discussion about DEATH.

While I love playing hard games, I personally find a lot of permadeath games to be more annoying that anything. But not always. Sometimes it's the best thing to add meaning and tension to a game!


Regular death

Ok, this is more of a baseline. Countless games have this normal loop of play, die, respawn and keep going. Depending on the mechanics in place, you would most likely find manual saving or set checkpoints. In multiplayer games it's usually a small downtime followed by a respawn. Plain and simple. That's just it most of the time in singleplayer games; you die, you take a step back or wait a few seconds, and then keep going like nothing happened until you reach the end.

My take: very boring system and I wish we saw a lot more innovations in the future.


Tax on death

This is also often see in games and is not that engaging – unless the tax if high. If you die, you lose something. It could be trivial like a bit of money (think Borderlands, Shadow Warriors 2), or it could be more significant (think Action RPG where your level XP resets). Dark Souls does use this mechanic quite well, as 1) you lose some of your max HP and 2) your souls are dropped on the ground for you to retrieve. Other games have a similar feature where you can retrieve items from your last death location. Still, the game continues.

My take: way too often trivial and have little to no impact on how you play the game.


Full reset permadeath

Some games get you to play 1 life, and if you die you basically start a new game. A lot of games offer this option as a difficulty setting, tho you may always do it yourself manually. The problem with games truly designed around this like The Binding of Isaac, Immortal Redneck, Minecraft (hardcore) and most roguelite/like is that you end up replaying the earlier levels a lot, which can get boring. With other games that a much longer and not really designed around this mechanic like Ultra-Nightmare Doom is that unless you are a god, you are pretty much doomed to never reach the end.

Pathologic 2 is an interesting exception here, since you may indeed start over, you have personally learned a lot about the game story and solved part of the puzzle which makes your next playthrough significantly different even if the game world has reset. Senua's Sacrifice did something interesting as well by combining regular death with an ultimate permadeath if you die "too often".

My take: can easily be boring/bad, yet some rare games make great use of that mechanic.

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Mission failed permadeath

Now a lot of games have some progression behind it all, which makes a big difference. This basically means that your character does not really die, but your progress is interrupted or reset. It's often a bigger step back but is not always that much different than "regular death". Dead Cells is a good example. You keep progressing towards the end, even if you fail the campaign. You'll get it eventually and then reply with modifiers until you reach the next level. This is very similar to non-permadeath games like Payday 2 or Left4Dead, where you try a heist and either succeed or fail. You may have constant progression in the background, but the bottom line is that you can always "try again".

My take: usually varies between ok to good death mechanics, depending on the game.


Party permadeath

Now this starts to get interesting to me. You have a long story/game ahead of you so you will die at some point, but you keep going. It's not a full reset, but rather a character death. Games like State of Decay, X-COM and This War of Mine are great examples of this, and are popular I believe because of this mechanic. The longer you play, the better your characters get, the harder their death hurts! There's no full reset here (unless all your characters die) but rather a pressure to keep your characters alive because if they die, they are not coming back. Watch Dogs Legion seems to be headed in this direction, which I think is great. Not enough games offer this. Kerbal Space Program is worth mentioning, since you can "lose" some of your explorers in space – good luck gringing them back!

My take: often great death mechanics, but very few games offer this type of experience.


One live only

Very few devs were courageous enough (read stupid enough) to have their game playable only once. If you die, that's it, you can't play anymore. I can't recall the name of the very few I have seen with this, and it does not make a lot of sense from a development point of view. More of a marketing stunt maybe.

My take: Silly.


Altered-state on death

Occasionally, you have games where dying changes the loop. Usually found on some rare/niche multiplayer games, I think it's worth mentioning this mechanic, such as Unfortunate Spacemen, when you go from being a good guy to a bad guy when you die. I do not think any singleplayer games offer such an experience, and if it did, what happens then? Full reset or Regular death reset I imagine.

My take: can be fun, but I'm not sure this could really work in a singleplayer game.

  • Are there any other types of death mechanics out there that I might have missed?
  • Since it's not always easy to find good engaging games without a lot of research, especially when it comes to finding games with original mechanics or difficulty settings, what games do you feel offer the most engaging or unique death mechanic?

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