Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (2024)

When an indie game is recognised for its greatness and its sequel gets treated like a true triple-A game, the outcome might be disastrous or a masterpiece. Thankfully, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is the latter.

What you need to know

  • What is it? A story-focused action adventure
  • Reviewed on: PC (Ryzen 5500, RTX 3060ti, 16GB RAM)and Xbox Series S
  • Developer:Ninja Theory
  • Publisher:Xbox Games Studios
  • Release date: May 21, 2024
  • Available on: Xbox Series X|S and PC

A review key for Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 was provided by the publisher.

You know those game trailers where everything looks so good and realistic that you cannot wait for the game to be released to play it, and once it actually comes out, the disappointment comes as well because nothing is as the trailer showcased. You know that well, right?

Well, in the case of Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, the situation is completely reversed. No matter what you saw during the game's commercial period, nothing will prepare you for what you're about to experience if you decide to give this game a chance.

Everything you think looked good is even better. If you think the graphics were good in trailers; wait till you see the real thing. You think the combat is realistic; prepare to be blown away once you experience it in the game. Everything that was promised to us in Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is, believe me, much more and much better. So, prepare yourself for a narrative-driven action-adventure ride like none you've experienced before.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (1) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: an action-adventure experience like no other

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (2)

Story

After the events of the first game, Senua decides to take the matter into her own hands and look for the raiders that killed her lover, Dillion. To be able to find the ones responsible for his death, she willingly let the raiders capture her and lead her to those responsible—the ones who made her life a living hell.

Of course, nothing in life goes as planned. The ship that was carrying Senua and people from her village gets caught up in a massive storm, wrecking on the shores of Iceland. Senua barely survives the crash and finds herself stranded, fighting for survival in these first minutes of Hellblade 2.

Those events mark the beginning of the game, and any further talk about the actual plot would be venturing into spoilers, which I don't want to do, obviously. If you are willing to give Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 a chance, you should discover this amazing story on your own.

Yes, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2's plot is genuinely great, and it is, without a doubt, the game's strongest asset. Again, as with the original game, the story will flirt with several realities, leaving you wondering what is real and what is the result of Senua's vivid imagination and her troubled mind.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (3) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: Regarding the story, it is far better game than its predecessor

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (4)

The story itself can be interpreted in a couple of ways. If you choose to believe that everything you see on screen is real, then the entire experience is one amazing story that ventures into mythological themes where you'll fight giants and meet secretive beings—all like a true Viking story told by some master storyteller up in the north somewhere.

However, if you look at the story from a different perspective, then, like in the first game, everything might be happening inside Senua's head; after all, she is capable of creating a world of her own because, as once a wise man said, such is the landscape of a madman's mind, or madwomen's in this case.

Yes, Senua is still hearing voices, if you're wondering if that's still the case. The voices return the moment she finds herself washed on the aforementioned shore. Those voices are now even more intense, but it seems they don't bother Senua as much because it is evident that she doesn't pay them too much heed.

The first game was Senua's lone ride, and the only character, apart from the enemies she was fighting, was her imaginative friend Druth. However, in this game, she will meet several characters; after all, the enemies she will fight are real people, not some imaginative shadow warriors like before.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (5) There are a lot more characters in Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 than in the first game

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (6)

In total, Senua will meet only four new characters on her journey, but each one is very well-written and memorable. The slaver Thórgestr who will later become Senua's great ally, a druid Fargrímr, a warrior lady Ástríðr, and the king of slavers. Senua will slowly build a strong connection with these characters, and even though they do not get a lot of screen time, you'll definitely care for their destinies and what happens with them.

During one mission, Senua will even be able to choose which character to save and who to leave, and while this decision is meaningless, I found myself staying and thinking about what to do and which to choose. This demonstrates character development and their link to Senua.

The very interesting feature that can additionally fill in the story's gaps is that, in New Game Plus, you can choose other narrators and experience the story from another angle. This can answer some questions and deepen the story, and it is a very neat trick from the developers to encourage you to play the game multiple times.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (7) The story of Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is a true masterpiece

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Speaking of playthroughs, I must highlight one more factor that will undoubtedly irritate some players: the game's duration. In terms of length, the game is relatively short—only approximately eight hours—but to be honest, it is more than enough for this type of game. I believe those eight hours will be sufficient to convey the story without becoming too boring because if the story were any longer, it would undoubtedly become too long and have the opposite effect.

Another element that makes this story one of the best ever is the excellent voice acting by all of the characters. Of course, Melina Juergens stole the show once more with her exceptional voice acting and motion capture of Senua. All of the other characters are excellent as well, and it is clear that the primary goal of this game is to tell a beautiful tale while providing a fantastic performance and cinematic experience.

When all that is put together, you get a story that matches the quality of some critically acclaimed movies and novels with the perfect cinematic presentation that will stick with you long after you finish the game.

Gameplay

When it comes to gameplay, I must admit I expected much more from Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. Don't get me wrong, this game is far superior to its predecessor in terms of gameplay; everything that was good in the first game has been upgraded to the point of perfection, but that's precisely the problem—this game feels like an upgrade, albeit a good one, with no or very few innovations that might push this game to the next level.

Let's start with the puzzles. The first game featured a single type of puzzle where you had to find objects in the world that looked like runes to open the rune-locked doors. This puzzle is kept in the sequel too, with the addition of only one more type of puzzle, and as the game progresses, you will be able to combine those puzzles together. In my opinion, there was potential for improvement here, since the puzzles leave a lot to be desired.

The other example of insufficient improvements is the one regarding collectables. In the first game, the only collectables were lorestones, the special stones you've been discovering to extend the lore of the game and find out more about Norse mythology.

In Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, the lorestones are replaced with lorestangirs—the same concept, only a different name—and a new puzzle-like collectable in the shape of stone faces is added that serves the same purpose but shows up in different locations throughout the game. What I'm trying to say here is that Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 had a lot of space for growth in this regard, but it appears like the developers decided to put all their chips on one lucky number: the cinematic experience.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (11) There could have been improvements regarding collectibles and puzzles in Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (12)

I won't be saying that this is the wrong bet; let me be honest, the game is almost perfect the way it is now, but my subjective opinion is that if the developers wanted to risk a bit more, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 could shine even brightly, because, in all other aspects, the game is pure perfection.

Now, for the star of the show, the combat. Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 takes battle to a whole new level. Let me just say that, throughout my long gaming career, I've never encountered a fighting system that drew me in as much as the combat in this game did.

The concept of the combat is more or less identical to that of the original game. However, what makes it so much better is its realism achieved through world-class animations and character models. Ninja Theory scanned a bunch of actors for the combat experience so you'll see lifelike combos and reactions from the enemies, especially on their faces, which are incredibly detailed, allowing you to actually see the rage in their eyes when they're charging towards you.

The whole experience is so immersive that you feel like you're fighting actual people. It feels personal, natural and unlike anything I've ever seen from combat in a video game.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (13) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: Fighting sequences are on another level

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Every hit of the sword can be felt, every strike, every parry—everything is so satisfying that you can never grow weary of the combat sequences, especially the ones that feature other characters fighting beside you.

Regarding enemies, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 features two types of them: the Norse soldiers or slavers (human enemies) and Draugar fighters (demonic cannibals). Apart from the regular enemies, you'll face bosses, and those fights are absolute cinema. The bosses are presented in the form of giants (three of them, to be exact), and each one of them will require a different strategy to beat them. The arenas where those bosses reside are designed very well, and they represent the pure essence of Iceland.

Speaking of design, the levels are made in a linear fashion where you must follow a predetermined path, which leaves little room for exploration. There are some areas in certain levels where you can wander around, especially the ones featuring the puzzles, but most of the levels are linear, and to be honest, such a design is perfect for a game of this type.

To recap, the gameplay of Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is quite fascinating and will keep you entertained on a large scale. If only the developers were willing to take a risk and add some new features, it would be ideal. However, I don't despair because no game has ever managed to keep me so involved in its world for so long, and for that alone, I am extremely grateful.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (15) With a bit more risk, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 could have been perfect in terms of gameplay

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (16)

Graphics and Sounds

And now for the best part—the visuals. If you think you've experienced true next-gen graphics, trust me when I say it, you've seen nothing yet as the graphical presentation you're about to experience in Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 sets the bar for every video game that is set to release this year and in the foreseeable future.

As you probably already know, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 takes place in the beautiful and harsh landscapes of Iceland, and all the locations presented in the game are representations of the real ones. The environment, although very vast and rocky and not so pretty, is so realistically portrayed that you'll have the impression that you're watching a high-quality movie or TV show and not playing a game.

You'll see everything Iceland has to offer: the rocky mountains, sharp and dangerous cliffs, volcanoes, geysers, harsh beaches with dangerous waves, dark forests and more.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (17) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: The visuals are true next-gen

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (18)

The environments and scenery are really breathtaking, but they are nothing compared to the character design, which is where Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 truly shines. You'll be blown away by the characters' beauty and authenticity, particularly their facial features which are on another level, especially Senua's; you'll see every small emotion on her face, and I dare say that no other actress has done a better job portraying the face of a mad person than Melina Juergens did with Senua's character.

There are a lot of cutscenes in this game, which is understandable given the type of game Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is, and the presentation quality of those cutscenes would put many bigger games to shame. I was particularly impressed by the transitions between the cutscenes and the actual gameplay, which are done so smoothly that only the very keen eye can tell the difference between those two.

Regarding the graphical presentation and graphical effects, this game is a true next-gen title. The heavy use of all modern graphic settings is present in Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, starting with advanced lighting, particle effects, great use of volumetric effects, modern reflections, and all you can expect from a next-gen title like this game truly is.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (19) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 uses all the benefits of the modern graphics

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (20)

It is more than evident that the developers heavily emphasised realism in the graphical presentation over everything else. Everything looks and feels like a real thing, without any "gamey" design and effects, so to speak. For instance, when Senua climbs a ladder, she will curve her legs to the side to be able to properly climb it, or when she descends a ladder, she first sits, then grabs it, and then slowly goes down, like someone would do in real life.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 offers a cinematic experience unlike any other game. This is further aided by full support for ultra-wide monitors. If you have a monitor or TV with a 16:9 aspect ratio, you will see two black areas up and down the screen. I must say that this bothered me a bit, but it is nothing I cannot forgive this game. At the end of the day, visuals like these are a very rare occurrence, and I fully enjoy them; a couple of black areas will not ruin my day for sure.

Given that Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is an Xbox exclusive, the game is playable on the Xbox Series X|S and PC, so I had the opportunity to experience it on both devices simultaneously. The final verdict is that if you have a powerful PC, go for it; the experience is far better due to improved visuals.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (21) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: The default aspect ratio is ultra-wide

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (22)

The Xbox version is good as well, but the game looks way better on PC. Though I played the game on the Xbox Series S, not X, maybe the experience is better on Microsoft's more powerful console. Regarding the looks and performance on the Xbox Series S, the game is locked on 30 FPS, but it feels really smooth, I must note. The colours look a bit pale and washed out, in contradiction to the PC version, where they all look sharp and very vivid.

Regarding some other effects like rain, fire, storms, snow, and heavy sea waves, they all look very realistic and life-like. For instance, when it is raining, you can see the rain going out of a cloud; the attention to detail is just insane.

While talking about performance, the game is polished perfectly on both Xbox and PC. There are no crashes, stutters, or anything else that can ruin your gaming experience, and I must say the game is not so demanding either. My not-so-strong PC manages the game quite well. On max details, the game runs at around 40 FPS, while on medium, it goes over 60 FPS, which is more than good.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (23) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: The performance is flawless

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (24)

The sounds and soundtrack are other aspects in which this game shines as well. Speaking of sounds, I'd like to highlight Senua's war cries, inner struggles, and the voices she keeps hearing in her head. Those voices, along with other sounds, give this game that special note of madness, and through them, you can relate to Senua and her struggles on how to tame them and live a normal life.

The game's recommendation is to play it with headphones for the best possible experience, and I cannot emphasise enough to do just that because the experience is far better this way. Those voices feel like they are inside your own head, and it is as impressive as it is intimidating and scary at the same time.

The soundtrack is simply fantastic, and each song in the background is reminiscent of the Viking theme, evoking that particular warrior sensation in you. The best pieces of music are those played during combat encounters; I must say that on many occasions I felt goosebumps, and that alone is more than enough to win me over.

AltChar Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (25) Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2: The soundtrack is especially good during combat

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (26)

Conclusion

Few games in recent times have been able to do what Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 has done: make me feel so engaged and immersed that I wish the feeling would never stop. It is a game that will keep you in constant awe throughout the playtime with its fantastic and mysterious story, incredible graphic and sound presentation and realistic and brutal combat that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

For all the reasons I've mentioned in this review and the $49.99 asking price as well as the Game Pass launch, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 gets a strong recommendation. Go play it, you're in for something quite special.

The Good

  • One of the best stories in video games
  • Exceptional voice acting and motion capture
  • Incredible graphical presentation
  • Realistic and immersive combat system
  • Excellent sound design and soundtrack

The Bad

  • Lack of innovation in gameplay mechanics

95

Our Rating

Excellent

Related Topics

  • PC
  • Xbox Game Studios
  • Senua's Saga: Hellblade II
  • Adventure
  • Xbox Series X
  • Action
  • Ninja Theory

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Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review - Emotional, brutal and unforgettable (2024)
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