Review: Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was one of the most unique games I ever played. Ninja Theory’s critically acclaimed title did things no other video game had done before and got me hooked from the very first second. Venturing through Senua’s hell battling her psychosis to desperately save her lover had the gaming scene in a chokehold for a couple of years. Now, Ninja Theory has a promise to fulfill, an even better sequel, a sequel that will put the Xbox Series X on the map for good. Is this Xbox exclusive we’ve been desperately waiting on? Let’s find the light.

Only by embracing your darkness, you’ll find the light

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a direct sequel, meaning we’ll reconnect with Senua where we left her. In the first game, Senua was tortured by her mental illness, constantly fighting the voices in her head, following a blind rage and feeling of guilt to save her lost lover. At the end of the first game, we saw a “stronger” Senua, a Senua who embraced who she was, making peace with her demons. It’s this Senua that starts the adventures of Hellblade II. The developers didn’t want to back down on her growth and progress throughout the first sacrifice, Senua is a beacon of hope in Hellblade II and has sworn to avenge those who have fallen under the destruction of the Norse raiders. Senua travels through Viking Iceland and intends to save all those who have fallen victim to the horrors of tyranny, betrayal, and deception. She no longer sees her psychological condition as a curse but as an ally in the upcoming battle, an ally that can even show her the light in the darkness.

 

 

The constant whispers, can we trust them?

Just like the first game, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II offers an interactive cinematic experience where the story forms the beating heart of the game. You’ll fight enemies and solve the occasional puzzle but the story is the true beating heart of this adventure and no game does it as well as Hellblade II. Although Senua has grown a lot in between games, she is never truly at rest. The furies, the voices in her head, are constantly there showing her the way, motivating her to push forward, or making her doubt her every move. The battles inside Senua’s head are as unique as they were in the first game and really show how a mental illness might affect your life. There are rare moments of light and beauty, where Senua sees the best version of the world and herself but there’s also that constant feeling of doubt and a shadow from the past that keeps hunting her, telling her she will fail again. When you’re playing Hellblade II, you’ll constantly hear those voices going back and forth which is both as unsettling as it can be reassuring at times. The voices make you doubt your decisions as a gamer but they will also push you through the darkest places. No other game can do what Hellblade II does and even after playing, you’ll think about the voices and Senua’s Saga, this is not just another game, it’s a work of art.

 

 

The reason why it works so well is thanks to the impressive actors. Melina Juergens once again steps into the digital shoes of Senua and is accompanied by some of the best actors in the field. The game uses the same motion capturing as the first game but the Unreal Engine 5 takes things to the next level. The characters of Hellblade II truly come to life with the power of the Xbox Series X and it’s unlike anything I played before. The characters are hyper-realistic and not only do you see their facial expressions, you’ll see the emotions in their eyes, making you connect with the cast in ways that weren’t possible before. The story got me in its grip from start to finish and it made me connect with Senua even more. Fighting her battles, trying to see a way out of the psychosis by embracing it and seeing the power it holds. Helping others and battling misunderstood giants offered some of my most memorable gaming moments to date and I wished I could play it all again not knowing what to expect. I won’t go into spoiler territory but the constant interaction, the constant fight, between light and darkness is both as rememberable as emotional. The game certainly got to me and evoked raw emotions while playing. It’s not the longest of games, you’ll finish it in eight hours but in those hours you’ve seen and played things you’ll never forget, making it worth every second of your time.

It’s never easy to take a life

Besides the story there are certain gameplay elements that share the stage with the immersive experience, combat being one of them. At its core, combat is easy to understand and master. You can block attacks and use your focus to inflict extra damage on your opponents, it all follows the same pattern of blocking, dodging, and attacking until you take down your foes. It sounds pretty repetitive and it should be but thanks to the brutal experience it never is. Every fight is a fight for life and death and feels heavy and brutal. Only by timing your moves right will you be able to kill the enemy in front of you. Taking a life is never easy and Senua will often struggle during combat, especially in the later chapters where you have to defeat multiple enemies. The game gradually introduces new types of enemies throughout your journey so you’ll have to adapt and find new ways to take them out. Without an interface or Quick Time Events, the combat feels as immersive as the story. It feels like a deadly dance where you’ll have to use everything in your power to survive.

 

 

Discover the beauty of Viking Iceland

The final piece of the gameplay is the puzzles that you’ll solve during your adventure. Just like the first game, it’s all about seeing the world from different perspectives, forcing it to open up new paths that weren’t there before. It’s a combination of looking for runes by looking at the environments from the right angles and playing with clever elements that change the world around you. The puzzles are never that hard to solve but are a joy to play thanks to the incredible graphics. The game is created with the powerful new Unreal Engine 5 and it’s insane to see how realistic Viking Iceland comes to life. From the rock formations to the storms and dark caves, the graphics of this game are unparalleled and will often make you stop to stare in wonder. There are a couple of extra secrets hidden in this gorgeous world so be sure to keep your eye out for those. A small disclaimer however is that you best play this game in a dark room. There are a lot of dark segments and if you’re playing those in full daylight, you might not always see where you need to go. Because of the engine, it’s amazing to wander around in those dark places with the realistic light of your small torch but you better close the curtains to enjoy them at the fullest. Talking about enjoying this game to the fullest, play this one with a headphone, it’s so much better.

 

 

Conclusion:

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II offers an immersive story like no other game ever did. The story is incredibly well-written and will keep you in its grip until the very end. It’s a constant struggle between light and dark, hope and failure and it will certainly move you in ways you didn’t expect. On top of that, it’s by far one of the most impressive games I’ve played visually speaking and although it doesn’t take that long to finish, I’m convinced the experience will stick with me for the coming years. I’ve played tons of games in my life but nothing comes close to what Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II  just did, leading up to a perfect score.

10/10

Tested on Xbox Series X