Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II review for Xbox Series X, PC

Platform: Xbox Series X
Also On: PC
Publisher: Xbox Games Studios
Developer: Ninja Theory
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

I have always been a distant observer of 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It was always one of those backlog games I always wanted to get to, but never did. As I played through it recently, I was surprised at how impactful the story was and how delicate they handled the themes of mental health. The game gave you a full story and I didn’t expect a sequel to such a complete title. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II now continues that groundbreaking storytelling. Aiding in this glorious story is how visually stunning this game is, which is very hard to compare to anything I have ever played before. Aside from very basic combat, and easier puzzle solving than in the first title, I would recommend that everyone experience this sequel. Ninja Theory has gifted us with an action-adventure game deserving of your time.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II takes place a few years after the events of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice as we are catch up with an older, wiser, and battle-tested Senua. Still plagued with the psychosis-induced voices in her head from the first game which factor into storytelling and at times as an assistant when you are lost. You start off surviving a shipwreck of enslaved prisoners and you fight nature and man on your way to get revenge on the people who enslaved your people. The story evolves into an emotional journey, which at times got me choked up. The human element of what we would do to help others comes into play. You get to, as Senua, interact with other characters, which is a departure from the first game. Adding that human element strengthens the game’s story, and not only is Senua responsible for her actions but now she’s juggling the consequences of her actions. Melina Juergens delivers another fantastic performance as Senua and it’s good to see Ninja Theory gave her others to play off of as they grew Senua’s character. As for length, the game itself was a nice digestible 6.5 hours to complete.

The combat in Senua’s Saga is a bit much like the first game, though there is a slight change to the game’s parry system I didn’t enjoy, and at times, I felt was unresponsive. The way the game transitions through enemies kind of makes up for that. You perform a closing sequence to a fight and it transitions seamlessly into the next enemy. Much like the first game the most optimal way of playing Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is by using headphones, the 3D audio plays a vital role in how you interact with Senua’s voices. The sound mixing during battles and the atmospheric Icelandic score help keep you immersed in the world of Hellblade. The rune puzzles make a return and are a lot easier to solve. I replayed the first game before I started Senua’s Saga and it was more of the same. The permadeath penalty of the first game is gone which removed some of the tension of dying, as when dying the game just restarts from a checkpoint.

The Lorestones have returned and are much easier to keep tabs on with Icelandic symbols letting you know your progress. The Lorestones provide you with more backstory much like the first game. They have also expanded on other ways of getting more lore which I can not get into. These lore collectibles help you explore a world filled with breathtaking landscapes that are modeled off of real-world Icelandic areas. The visuals of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II cover up for the lack of side quests, and it’s understood that this is a narrative action-adventure game, and by the 3rd-4th hour, I was a little tired of walking from point A to point B with nothing to do in between. I did also feel that some scenes went on for a little longer than they should have.

Without spoiling much, the turning points and ending of the game struck an emotional chord with me. There is especially a story beat that hit too close to home for me and I did shed a tear or two, reliving that pain. That is the soul of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II — humanizing traumas and learning how to recover them, and I love the work Ninja Theory has done with handling mental health and trauma. We see how others use these troupes to further a story or to do something for shock. Ninja Theory makes me feel compassion for these characters and their struggles. I can accept the shortcomings of the gameplay because of the heavy lifting the story & visuals do.

Ninja Theory really knows how to end a game, and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is no different. If you’re looking for a God Of War clone, this is not that game. With its unique presentation, cinematic narrative with amazing storytelling, game-changing visuals, beautiful sound design, and digestible length, Xbox Games Studios and Ninja Theory have a successful franchise on their hands. I want to continue to come back to Senua and go on these adventures. If you have Xbox Game Pass, go download this and Senua’s Sacrifice.

Note: Xbox Games Studios provided us with a Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II code for review purposes.

Score: 8