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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Rondina

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Review

The dark and brutal world of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 combines myth with a cerebral and visceral odyssey, my full review.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 instantly pulled me into its dark, hauntingly beautiful world, combining mythology with the quest of an imperfect warrior. In this long-awaited sequel, developer Ninja Theory takes a deep dive into the psyche of Senua, a warrior scarred by the trauma of battle and psychosis. With an incredible fusion of cinematic narrative, cutting-edge technology, and emotional character development, Hellblade 2 has successfully blurred the lines between cinema and interactive art.

"With an incredible fusion of cinematic narrative, cutting-edge technology, and emotional character development, Hellblade 2 has successfully blurred the lines between cinema and interactive art."

As I delved further into the game, I was captivated by the raw intensity and fidelity of the experience. However, where it excelled in these areas, there were also parts that left me hoping for more. Let’s dive into the experience Hellblade 2 has to offer in my full review.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Details

 Platform(s): Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PC

Developer: Ninja Theory

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Genre: Action-adventure

Modes: Single player

ESRB Rating: M for Mature 18+

A story of mythology, mental health and redemption

Hellblade 2 pulled me in from the outset with its immersive and raw storytelling. The sequel seamlessly continues from Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice’s poignant ending and does a good job of reorienting players before diving headlong into the action. Hellblade 2 is set in 9th-century Iceland, where Senua seeks vengeance against Viking raiders who committed atrocities against her people. The game opens with Senua aboard a slave ship, where she is a stowaway looking to infiltrate the Norsemen’s stronghold to free her people. Through various twists and turns, her journey opens to an even larger quest. The path forward is fraught with danger and psychological torment, as she confronts not only her enemies, but the demons within her own mind.

"The path forward is fraught with danger and psychological torment, as she confronts not only her enemies, but the demons within her own mind." 

I found the shift from the mythological Helheim from the first game to a more recognizable Icelandic setting offered a more compelling form of storytelling. Senua’s conflicts felt more tangible and urgent in these hyperrealistic settings. Her inner battles with psychosis are still as fierce as the physical ones she faces, and the game does a commendable job of portraying her mental struggles. There are some truly incredible set pieces and enemy showdowns that elevate the narrative to new heights as you progress. Unfortunately, these are also met with puzzles and slower sequences that negatively affect the story’s pacing. The plot is a compelling mix of personal struggle, mythological grandeur, and a quest for redemption that kept me riveted until the credits rolled.

"The plot is a compelling mix of personal struggle, mythological grandeur, and a quest for redemption that kept me riveted until the credits rolled."

A beautiful nightmare

Graphically, Hellblade 2 is nothing short of a revelation, with production values that are off the charts. Ninja Theory has brought a new level of realism, providing players with “ground truth” in their experience with the game; its environments and characters are on the bleeding edge of tech. After spending over a dozen hours in Senua’s world, I can confidently say this is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played.

"After spending over a dozen hours in Senua’s world, I can confidently say this is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played."

Hellblade 2 is one of the few titles currently using Unreal Engine 5, and it offered unprecedented detail and realism I wasn’t expecting. The lighting, particle effects and ultra-high-resolution assets all combined to create a visual spectacle. Ninja Theory also used plenty of real-world data from Iceland, like satellite images and telemetry, to create photo-realistic environments. Every frame is a work of art; from the hauntingly beautiful Icelandic vistas to the lifelike character animations, it all comes together in an incredible manner.

True “next-gen” fidelity

Performance-wise, the game runs smoothly, with an excellent balance between visual fidelity and fluid gameplay. I reviewed the game on the Xbox Series X, and it runs beautifully at 30 FPS in letterbox mode, offering a very cinematic experience. PC players will have the option to push more frames on screen, but I didn’t feel like I was losing out with the incredible visuals I was being treated to. This is especially true for the combat and overall character movement. Everything is incredibly lifelike; from movement to swordplay, the fluidity is rendered with stunning realism.

"Everything is incredibly lifelike; from movement to swordplay, the fluidity is rendered with stunning realism." 

Moreover, the game’s advanced rendering techniques bring the haunting landscapes of 9th-century Iceland to life, with dynamic lighting and weather effects that react in real-time to Senua’s movement. I also liked the variety of environments and the range of colour palettes within each. The diverse environments, from the glowing embers of volcanic fields to the crisp, white expanses of frozen tundra, were a feast for the eyes. This vivid use of colour and texture enhanced the emotional resonance of each scene, making Hellblade 2 a visually engrossed visual marvel. The attention to detail extends to the minutiae of the environment, from the intricate patterns on Senua’s attire to the subtle shifts in her expressions, all contributing to an incredibly realistic experience.

Hellblade 2's superb audio and sound design

With binaural audio technology, I was enveloped with the sonically diverse experience. The audio design is a quintessential part of Hellblade 2. The immersive soundscape enhances the psychological intensity of Senua’s journey, making full use of spatial audio. You owe it to yourself to experience this game with a good pair of headphones, as they add another dimension to the experience.

"You owe it to yourself to experience this game with a good pair of headphones, they add another dimension to the experience."

The orchestration of the score, sound effects, and voice acting set a new standard for interactive audio in a video game. Melina Juergens returns to portray Senua, and her incredible work elevates the character to new heights. The stunning environments and emotional performances from the cast really add to the experience. Ninja Theory utilized a 360-degree microphone to capture character voices and ambient sounds, creating an auditory environment that felt like it was orbiting me as I played. I felt like the voices in Senua’s head were whispering on one side of my ear or speaking in unison but saying two different things in separate audio channels. The game pulled me into a psychologically intense and sonically rich world by leveraging binaural audio technology.

"The game pulled me into a psychologically intense and sonically rich world by leveraging binaural audio technology." 

The audio design isn’t merely an aspect of the game; it’s an intrinsic experience that’s central to Hellblade 2. The all-encompassing soundscape intensifies the emotional depth of Senua’s journey, with spatial audio utilized to its fullest potential.

 

Full-featured photo mode

I’m happy to share that Hellblade 2 features a robust, fully featured Photo Mode right at launch. It’s a great addition that I played around with for hours, showing off the game’s cinematic beauty from different angles. There are a slew of customization options, including character positioning, advanced lighting controls, and composition editing. This mode enhances the experience by allowing you to document and share your unique perspective in Senua’s world.

Gameplay that connects the narrative experience

 The gameplay in Hellblade 2 lends itself deeply to the narrative but is ultimately very shallow in the grand scheme of things. Everything looks and feels incredibly fluid and life-like, from navigating the world to enemy encounters. Ninja Theory spent hours motion-capturing the cast, picking up on plenty of big and small details. The combat feels far more brutal, matching the intensity of the story beats and more dramatic moments. Unfortunately, it doesn’t evolve much from the game's opening to the end credits.

"The combat feels far more brutal, matching the intensity of the story beats and more dramatic moments." 

This time around, there is a greater focus on the “weight” and impact of each sword strike. You can see the emotion on each character’s face as they land or block a blow. The combat, puzzles and exploration are carefully woven into the story, but they don’t evolve with the characters and story. The gameplay also falters with the predictability of enemy attacks and streamlined combat moves. Enemies got more difficult toward the end of the game, but their patterns followed the same sequence in the early chapters. In terms of walking and character movement, Senua felt “heavy” and a little slow-moving in non-combat segments.

Final Thoughts on Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is a stunning journey through Norse mythology and the complexities of the human psyche. With its incredible visual fidelity, deeply immersive audio, and a narrative that weaves together Senua’s internal and external battles, Hellblade 2 is a triumph of technical prowess. The game’s meticulous attention to detail, from the hyper-realistic Icelandic landscapes to the portrayal of Senua’s struggle with psychosis, creates a haunting and beautiful experience.

"Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is a stunning journey through Norse mythology and the complexities of the human psyche."

Whether it’s the visceral combat, puzzles, or the exploration of Senua’s harrowing world, every element of Hellblade II is designed to draw players deeper into its dark and captivating narrative. While the game may have a few shortcomings in combat, enemy predictability and character mobility, it's still a must-play and a new benchmark in interactive storytelling.

 

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Pros

+Engaging narrative

+Stunning graphics powered by Unreal Engine 5

+Incredible audio design

 

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Cons

-Certain puzzles disrupt the pacing of the story

-Combat is too streamlined

-Character movement is painstakingly slow at times


Overall Assessment of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2

Gameplay: 6/10

Graphics: 9.5/10

Sound: 10/10

Replayability: 8.5/10


Overall Rating: 34/40 (85%)

A copy of the game was provided by Xbox for the purpose of this review.

 

About the Author - Matthew "Dapper Tux" Rondina

Matthew has been involved in all things gaming since the 8-bit era. He is a veteran of the video game and tech industry who has been passionate about technology and gaming for over 20 years. In addition to being the Managing Editor of dappertux.com, he has bylines with Best Buy, Cineplex Entertainment, Mobile Syrup and Walmart. Follow Matthew’s gaming + tech adventures on multiple social platforms with the handle @dapper_tux via "X", Instagram, Threads, TikTok and join in on the fun!

 

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