Review: Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a cinematic masterpiece

In 2017, Ninja Theory surprised everyone after following their work about DmC: Devils can cry with the master Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. This action-adventure title set a new standard for independent releases with its cinematic graphics and thought-provoking depiction of mental health. After being acquired by Microsoft Studios, Ninja Theory spent nearly seven years working on a sequel to the project. Luckily, it was worth the wait, because Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a cinematic masterpiece. However, the game’s short length and heavy narrative focus may not be for everyone.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Senua underwater
Image via Ninja Theory

I want to address two things. Like the first title, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a very short game. It took me about ten hours to beat it and I’m an extremely slow player. For comparison, I know some colleagues who were able to complete the game in about 7-8 hours, which is about the length of the game. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. So if you were hoping the sequel would have a larger campaign, you won’t find that here. Second, this is truly a story-based adventure. So if you’re expecting things like skill trees or leveling up, you won’t get that here either. Basically, if you like the original game, then you will most likely fall in love Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

That aside, I’ll be honest and say I forgot about the plot at first Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. (I’ve been playing it since 2017!) While the game’s opening provides a quick recap of previous events, I felt a little lost when it came to lore and mentions of the her journey through the first hour of the game. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. Luckily, the sequel works well as a standalone story once you’re two hours into the story. Without going into the main content, the game opens with Senua setting out to rescue those who have become her slaves. However, she soon finds herself trapped on a mysterious island locked in a powder keg conflict about to explode.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade IIThe story is both thrilling and horrifying. There was a time when it reminded me Attack the giant, as this sequel deals with similar themes about humanity and what people are willing to do to survive in the face of a devastating threat. Just like the first game, Ninja Theory makes exceptional use of sound. It’s important that I think about wearing headphones while playing Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II should be mandatory. As key moments in the plot unravel, you’ll gain immediate insight into what Senua is thinking and feeling. It really enhances the story significantly. For example, there was a moment when I was groping in a dark cave, and the voices inside Senua’s head noticed how panic-inducing the situation was. I actually felt my own anxiety increasing, as it felt like my journey through the claustrophobic environment was getting tighter and tighter and would never end.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Senua Flyover
Image via Ninja Theory

However, sound isn’t just for character building Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, as Ninja Theory has actually found some pretty groundbreaking ways to use it during gameplay. Unlike most modern AAA projects that have reference points or visual cues, I felt Ninja Theory wanted me to feel every moment as if I were living the story. So instead of markings on the ground showing me where to go, I heard the sound of someone screaming in the distance on one side of my speaker. The game’s 3D binaural audio is incredible, and there were many instances where I was able to figure out where I needed to go and how to progress simply by listening to my environment.

Another thing I really love Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II are voices in Senua’s head that will sometimes make comments about a puzzle. However, they won’t tell you directly what to do. Instead, they will make observations or criticize Senua in a way that makes sense within the game’s story, which can then point you in the right direction. It all comes together really seamlessly and naturally and really makes this one of the most engaging gaming experiences I’ve had in years.

Speaking of puzzles, Ninja Theory really expands on the gameplay Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II by including task sections. Some of these challenges involve quite confusing things. It really reminded me a lot Alan Wake 2 The “flashlight” mechanic, allows you to rearrange the game’s world in real time with the click of a button. Likewise, there are puzzles within Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II allows you to use perception to warp and contort your environment. Not only did I find these tricky puzzles challenging, but they were also a visual spectacle that further expanded the game’s theme of mental health.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II There is some combat involved, but I imagine the parts could be divided depending on their expectations. If you want quick hack-and-slash action like Ninja Theory is known for in previous works like DmC: Devils can cry, you will be disappointed. Instead of, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II features heavy combat that can sometimes feel sluggish. Personally, I don’t mind this because I think the game’s combat mechanics have a lot of influence on them. I mean you really feel every blow the sword makes against Senua. The war was violent and brutal. And from a cinematic perspective, I think this fighting style works well. Don’t go into the game hoping to unleash flashy combos and counterattacks. The game features standard block, parry, and dodge attacks. And you also unlock new mechanics as the story progresses that can aid you in battle.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Senua with sword
Image via Ninja Theory

But overall, combat feels like a visceral experience slowed down for the sake of the story. As for the rest of the game, mostly Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Most of it focuses on you exploring the island. Even though this is not an open world map, I still find the game engaging. Even though most chapters are divided into linear sections, you still often have to figure out how to navigate through these layered areas. For example, instead of just walking through the middle of an abandoned village, you’ll have to crawl under huts, climb ladders, and find hidden passages to get to the other side. Overall, I think Ninja Theory did a great job of balancing the exploration parts of the game with the puzzles and storytelling moments where Senua is fighting with her inner voice for every segment of the story. Everything feels interesting.

Really, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade IIIts cinematic presentation stands out. I know there have been many games called “best graphics”. But I do think there’s an argument here that Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is one of the most beautiful games ever created. The level of effort that Ninja Theory has put into bringing the vast lands of Iceland to life in this game is breathtaking. Saga of Senua also manages to avoid the pitfalls of other narrative-oriented games, e.g Order: 1886, make sure it doesn’t feel like a movie you just passively watch. Whether it was the 3D Audio that helped me interact with the environments and story in unique ways, or Senua actor Melina Juergens’s incredible motion-capture performances – I truly felt connected to every moment of this story.

Ninja Theory doesn’t shy away from making this a movie-like experience. With the game taking place at around ten hours, the campaign is clearly story-focused. With all that said, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the passion in telling Senua’s story or the fact that Hellblade II Developed by a team of 80 people. What really makes this game stand out is the level of detail Ninja Theory put into the project. From working with Cambridge Professors to explore gaming themes of mental health to spending 69 days doing extensive motion capture – Saga of Senua Truly one of the most engaging games I’ve experienced in years. Fans of the first game will also be satisfied Hellblade 2’s story, as it delves deeper into Senua’s harrowing struggles with a truly unique plot. The sequel also expands beyond the beloved main character and features an interesting cast of supporting characters with their own emotional stories.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 The Look
Image via Ninja Theory

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a cinematic masterpiece that ups the storytelling game. From its groundbreaking use of 3D Audio to the incredible graphics that bring the sweeping Icelandic vistas to life, Ninja Theory’s sequel is a must-play story. More important, Saga of Senua continues to tackle mental health in a deeply meaningful way, with an emotional story that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is now available on Xbox Series X/S and PC.


Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

A sequel to the award-winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Senua returns in a brutal survival journey through the legends and suffering of Viking Iceland. Intending to save those who fall victim to the horrors of tyranny, Senua faces a battle to overcome inner and outer darkness. Xbox Series X version reviewed. Evaluation copy provided by the company for testing purposes.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II elevates the storytelling game as it delivers a cinematic experience with groundbreaking audio and gameplay.

Food for thought

  • I cannot recommend enough that you wear headphones while playing Hellblade 2. The 3D audio is impressive, this is one of the main features of the game that you do not want to miss.
  • If you find yourself stuck in the game, pay attention to the voices in Senua’s head. Or listen for audio cues as they often give you hints about what you should do.
  • The game doesn’t hold your hand at all. So if you feel confused during the combat part, just pause the game and look at the controller layout. It will tell you how to block, dodge, and parry attacks.
  • During certain exploration sections, look for areas in the overworld with white borders. This is usually where the game expects you to climb or crawl down.

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