I have been playing the heck out of Champions Online for a review lately, and I have been enjoying it's ease of game-play. I don't mean ease only as in "easy" but in the way that it eases you into fighting, crafting and everything else. Once you get used to it, it's a blast.
But, after "dying" several times, I couldn't figure out what the death penalty was. So, I decided to ask in chat.
Seems as though most players (in that newbie area) weren't even aware of one. But then someone explained that these little stars near your health bar were gained as you avoided death, giving bonuses to combat capabilities. Neat idea, one I had seen used in The Chronicles of Spellborn (that game uses PeP, or personal experience points. Essentially, it pays you to avoid death instead of concentrating on what might happen if you die.)
And recently my wonderful time in Fallen Earth showed me the same weak death penalty, essentially just giving you a small exp de-buff for about 10 minutes after you "die." A "harsh death penalty" game would be EVE or Darkfall, but I argue that those games leave so many easy ways of avoiding any real issues that the death penalty is hardly noticed. In fact, when you are shot all to Hell in EVE and are podded (I said I pvp'ed a lot, not that I was any good at it) you simply wake up in a station with your same clone body, same skills and a wad of cash in your pocket representing an "insurance" pay back. Only a careless act akin to spilling coffee on your keyboard would cause you any real grief: forgetting to buy a proper clone or to buy proper insurance. While you can lose some very valuable ship modules and some very valuable implants on your character, the insurance can, literally, pay you extra cash for dying. Also, if you need extra cash you can simply buy some time-codes and swap them for in-game currency. (Unless that was removed over the last year?)
In Darkfall, another game claiming to be "hardcore", the only real punishment comes from the humiliation of being pwned by a guy named "KillerX420." Death is about as harsh in that game as in an FPS, save for some possible loss of very attainable loot.
And on the opposite end we now have games like Champions that cause you absolutely no grief whatsoever. But, do we really need the grief? After all, these are worlds with warp speed and dragons, so what makes anyone think that death would or should be an issue? Isn't it possible that, in a world with healing magic, that transporting one's soul and items to a neutral spot is a normal occurrence?
Of all people, I have always been a very strong supporter of perma-death, even going so far as to try it out on a few characters.
The problem with perma-death, though, is that no game would be able to do it right unless built with that mechanic in mind from the very beginning. Even then, there would ( I would hope ) be some kind of "passing on" of skills or some goods to another pre-nominated character, which is essentially the same thing as waking up with a less-than-potent clone in EVE. Alright, so what if a game just made your character actually die? Well, I will guarantee that, as in real life, combat would have to be something either avoided or very, very fast. The game would have to shift the light off of fighting and onto more mundane activities, like solving puzzles (as in Myst Online) or in crafting (as in Fallen Earth.) After all, if the game would completely destroy this beloved character of yours after a random bear attack, then they would have to make those bears either run away when you approached or as rare as a happy WoW blogger.
I always liked the idea of "punishing" your character, but in a way that adds depth to the game. Imagine that after a death in your favorite game that you character must lie in a hospital bed for a decent amount of time (several hours or days or even weeks!) while other players perform "surgery" and really have to "heal" you. In the meanwhile, your alt could be the doctor or you could simply spend your time crying in the corner.
So, maybe it's time to drop the death penalty issue. I can't believe that I am saying this, but if we are going to suspend our dis-belief for an evening of shooting missle's at each other in giant space-ships, then we should maybe get used to the fact that there really isn't much to dying in that world.