One of the most enticing aspects of Arkane’s new game, Deathloop is that death is part of the story in the way it isn’t in other games. Death is something that doesn’t happen in the story the way it happens in the gameplay, you may die multiple times during your time with the game, but the story will ignore this. As if it never happened whatsoever. As if you played it perfectly. There’s a disconnect and whilst it’s nothing that takes the experience down, it gives the idea that death is a failure of the player. That you’re going against the game by dying and playing it wrong, it becomes aggravating because whilst the story may ignore, you cannot.
It has been apart of Arkane’s previous games, this time, however, Deathloop doesn’t separate the two (2). It intertwines them to create an experience that makes death feel as if you are interacting with the world as if you would by shooting enemies, picking up objects and reading notes left on a computer waiting to be found. Giving it that context can rid the player of that sense of failure, if it bound to the story it makes them feel as if they are progressing it.
What Deathloop does is nothing new, It is something that has been done in many rogue-like/lite titles as of late and a big series to do this is Dark Souls. (Forgive me if I’m missing any other games, I don’t play everything that comes out.) Whilst Dark Souls still can become very aggravating, I know I found it sometimes when I first played the games, it became a lot more of a comforting game when I learned in the lore death is something that does happen with the player’s character coming back to a bonfire. It became a lot less of a nuisance to me whenever I died and more that I was only adding to the world by dying. Sure, I wished I didn’t die when Smough still had a bit of health left, but it did become less annoying. As I learnt how to become better as I died the game’s lore and world reinforced that.
Looking at death in this regard is something games never really do, it happens, but never to the player. You’ll be playing a story and a character you’ve grown to love dies, they don’t come back. You on the other hand can die as much as you please (or how much the game will allow you to) and it’ll pretend it never happened. It creates the disconnect, it happens but is never experienced in the way Dark Souls does it. You may gain knowledge through your deaths, but because the game won’t accept you did die it feels as if you’ve cheated the system and doesn’t feel as rewarding. Accepting it allows to create that sense of reward and allows the player to accept that it’ll happen a lot to them and not around them and will create a experience that feels a lot more understanding than shaming.
A game that has seemingly become one of the biggest this year is Hades. Whilst it isn’t a “new” game, since it was in early access since December 2018; however did hit 1.0 in September has always contextualised death within its world. Hades does what many other rogue-lites do not do and that is include linearity. The gameplay aspect of the game is what you come to expect from rogue-lites, it is random, you will come to understand what types of rooms you will run into as you play but they’ll always be in a different order and the enemies that appear in them will vary. Then it isn’t linear and whilst you play, with many other rogue-lites, you will die before even seeing the end. This is where the story aspect comes in, where in games characters don’t recognise that you’ve died and instead will repeat the same lines in Hades death is very much apart of you as much as it is for everyone else. As you’d expect from a game named after the underworld.
Through death you will progress the story of many characters you will come to know and love (a lot). In all the randomness there is a strong presence of structure that keeps you coming back to the game the same way other rogue-lites cannot. Death in Hades doesn’t feel like you messed up and have to do everything all over again from scratch, it doesn’t feel as if you’ve wasted your time playing. It feels freeing because you’ll be able to return to someone you couldn’t to earlier and now talk to them, give them a gift and learn more about them and maybe even yourself. Hades is an incredible experience, but to stay on topic and give myself something to write in the future that’s all I’ll say.
As I mentioned earlier contextualising death isn’t new to the genre, one of my favourite games in recent memory, Into The Breach. In the story there are multiple timelines (really infinite) where you aim to rid earth of the kaiju threat. Dying can feel like a failure as you feel that you ruined a timeline and cannot correct it; however, since there are infinite it pushes you forward to correct of many them as you can. The experiences of your past are bound to the world of Into The Breach and through that you aim to become better.
In Spelunky it is mentioned that death works differently in the caves than it does in the real world. Creating that connection to the player and the character that with every death and every time you come back you become better, understand the world more, the enemies more, the mechanics more. With how easy it can be to die and the many ways it can occur it feels funnier as you’re realising just how insane it can be to die in the game. It feels oddly rewarding to die and whilst you might have been having a good run, the knowledge you take with you is recognised and allows you to become all the much better at the game.
Death is such an odd aspect of games, it feels like games never hold it with the gravity it is held with in our lives. Death is commodified, is is used to create a buzz around media, not to serve any real purpose to teach us about. It is so odd to me in games and the world. Games that decide to use it as something to teach the player feels more rewarding and understanding compared to games that don’t. Whilst still commodified, it definitely feels more comforting to me as I continue to suffer from the idea of it.