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Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 review - An impressive yet safe sequel

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 review - An impressive yet safe sequel

Here's our review of Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 from Ninja Theory.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is the epic sequel to 2017’s critically acclaimed Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, published and developed by Ninja Theory - now a first-party studio under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella. Hellblade II is a AAA cinematic visual showstopper, one I’m sure that Ninja Theory will be hoping proves to be the first Xbox hit of 2024.

In Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Senua, our protagonist was grieving the loss of a loved one and had to contend with her psychosis, a mental illness that can be triggered by traumatic events. This resulted in her constantly battling with reality, deciphering what was real and what was not due to aggressive hallucinations.

Check out the Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II trailer below!

In ninth-century Iceland, no longer responsible for just her well-being, Senua is on a path of revenge against Viking raiders who murdered and enslaved villagers from the place she calls home. However, Senua’s actions have more consequences now she has the fate of others in her hands. Senua faces her biggest battle yet as she looks to embrace her well-being while carrying the burden of being a saviour to those who look up to her.

When Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was released, it was one of the best-looking games of its time, powered by Unreal Engine 4. Now, powered by Unreal Engine 5, Hellblade II not only looks far superior to its predecessor but is arguably the best-looking game of this generation to date. From the incredible facial and full-body animations brought to life by actress Melina Juergens, the gorgeous yet haunting Scandinavian setting and immersive audio, everything about Hellblade II screams new-gen.

Hellblade II/
Xbox Game Studios

What’s more, Hellblade II looks so good that, at times, it’s difficult to tell the difference between real-time cutscenes and gameplay with its clever transitions. If I were to have one criticism over the stunning visuals, which also has an impact on performance, it’s Ninja Theory’s implementation of the letterbox window.

One could argue that this makes the presentation more cinematic but given that Hellblade II has no graphics or performance options running at 4K and 30 frames per second on Xbox Series X, I’d say this was more of a technical choice than design to counterbalance the visuals to deliver a somewhat steady 30fps. It would have just been nice to have the option to remove the letterbox from gameplay. Tango Gameworks did the same with The Evil Within but later gave the players the choice to remove the letterbox via a post-launch update and I hope Ninja Theory gives us that same choice one day.

Another strong feature of the 2017 game is its amazing audio. Don’t get me wrong, the game sounds great coming from the TV or a soundbar but when you wear a headset, it takes the audio to another level and Hellblade II is no exception. It’s difficult for any words to do the binaural 3D audio in Hellblade II justice, but my god, it’s like no other game I’ve experienced, even surpassing the 2017 title.

Hellblade II/
Xbox Game Studios/Author's own

The voices that Senua hears are far more visceral than the ones I experience with my own psychosis - perhaps this was a design choice to emphasise the illness - but at least from my perspective, it’s probably the best representation that you’re ever going to hear. Senua’s voice can be both haunting and supporting, depending on her current predicament but it's no less powerful. The audio of Hellblade II is quite simply the best that you’re going to hear in any video game and for added measure, it’s supported by a superbly talented cast of actors and a sublime soundtrack that helps perfectly set the tone to what is currently happening in her story.

How does Hellblade II play? If you’re familiar with the previous game, pretty much the same. God of War (2018) has a similar combat system to the one implemented by Ninja Theory but with the Hellblade series, it’s more basic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Senua has two main attacks, normal and heavy, and she can also block, parry and roll away from enemy attacks. She also has an ability when her gauge reaches a certain point to slow down time and dispense of the enemy more easily. That’s how it is in 2017 and that’s how it is in 2024. The combat is fine and if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Hellblade II also sees the return of puzzle solving and while they’re not that tricky, they do make use of the reality-bending power of the Unreal Engine 5. I doubt you’ll get stuck on any puzzle for long but I suspect that this is a design choice to avoid frustrating the player too much. In between the action and puzzle-solving is a lot of walking, so get ready for that. Thankfully, with a game as beautiful as this one, going on a gentle stroll provides an opportunity to play with Hellblade II’s brilliant photo mode.

Hellblade II/
Xbox Game Studios/Author's own

As much as I loved the 2017 game, the most frustrating aspect of it for me was not being able to chapter select. Being the treasure hunter that I am, I was on a mission to find all the hidden Lorestones in the game. To my frustration, I found all but one. Moreover, as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice had no chapter selection, the only way I could find that one Lorestone was to start a new campaign. Now, not only does Hellblade II have a chapter select but it also lets you know how many collectables you’ve found and how many are left. My OCD is very happy with that improvement.

Hellblade II is the absolute pinnacle of visual and audio design which in some part makes up for the lack of gameplay evolution. Depending on how you approach games, like me, you could easily spend 10 hours being fully immersed in its story and tracking down hidden collectibles. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II knows what it is and that’s a cinematic experience with a rich story that will keep you engaged throughout that strives to not outdo its welcome and it will have you thinking about Senua’s journey long after its completion.

Pros: Gorgeous visuals, incredible sound design, respectful treatment of mental health

Cons: Gameplay doesn't evolve much, no graphics or performance modes

For fans of: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, God of War (2018)

Score: 8/10: Excellent

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is out now on PC and Xbox Series X/S. It’s also available via Xbox Game Pass. A code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Xbox Game Studios

Topics: PC, Reviews, Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X