Xbox Series X

Published on May 22nd, 2024 | by Gareth Newnham

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Review

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Review Gareth Newnham

Summary: A brilliant sequel that's bound to be doing the rounds come awards season.


It's Grim Up North

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is one of only a handful of games I’ve played all generation which has made me think that the new consoles were worth forking out for.

From its production to its mechanics, it screams this is a next-gen game. It could not be made for a last-gen system and work as well. My Xbox One would burst into flames if it even attempted to load it.


Senua’s Saga represents a leap in fidelity promised years ago that most modern games don’t even scratch, and it was made by a team of only 80 devs; if the industry weren’t so obsessed with every game being an empty sandbox stuffed full of microtransactions, this would not be the exception but the norm.

At times, while playing Hellblade II, my brain was tricked into thinking I was watching a movie, not even a CGI one. One filmed on location just outside Rekjuvic with a modest budget and a very inventive special effects team.

I can’t praise Hellblade II’s presentation enough. The animation is incredible, the performances are superb, and the world is practically photorealistic.

Hellblade II opens a short time after the events of Senua’s Sacrifice, with Senua on a slave ship bound for Iceland. The Northmen have returned to kidnap and enslave Senua’s people. Vowing to save her kin, Senua gets herself captured on purpose.

However, her plan comes unstuck as a violent storm dashes the fleet of longboats against the rocks of the rugged island home of the Northmen. She finds herself fighting for her life against her would-be captors, violent cultists, and god-like giants that inhabit the small volcanic island.

Though I don’t want to spoil the story, but the theming and progression of Senua as a character are impressive. While the first game was about Senua overcoming her inner demons, the second is about her learning to trust and rely on others again. As someone who has been through trauma and knows plenty of others who have, it presents an accurate and earnest evolution of the recovery process and how that often plays out in someone’s mind, just with a lot of Norse mythology and sword fighting thrown in for good measure.

Likewise, the nature of her psychosis has changed; it’s no longer all-consuming; instead, at times, the Furies that once guided her actions are now just annoying voices, offering advice when you don’t want it that you wish would just go away. (And we all know how that feels).

These voices and intrusive thoughts racing through Senua’s head are brought to life by some incredible sound design that is great on the TV but elevated to crazy heights if you have a half-decent pair of headphones, as her thoughts bounce around, and the voices whisper in one ear then scream in the other. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be neurodivergent and have PTSD, just whack on some headphones, and you’ll get a taste. (It isn’t fun, trust me.)

Also, if Melina Juergens doesn’t go home with another BAFTA and game award for her performance as Senua, there is no justice in the world. As she puts in another award-worthy performance as the Pictish Warrior, yes, she’s helped along by a top-tier script and some of the best facial motion capture I’ve ever seen, but she’s simply astounding.

The only drawback is that the gameplay underneath doesn’t quite match up to the presentation. If you’ve played Senua’s Sacrifice, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Heavy doses of walking through beautiful corridors, broken up by some weighty combat sections and bumping up against the occasional invisible wall.

Hellblade II acts like all good sequels should: It takes what worked in the original, refines it, and drops the parts that didn’t. The threat of permadeath is gone because not only does it not work narratively anymore, but it never worked well mechanically in the original, either.

Combat has been tweaked to be purely one-on-one-bouts and is all the better for it. It keeps the same strong and quick strikes, dodging, and parrying mechanics from Sacrifice but throws in a heap of new enemy types, from spear-chucking cannibals and flame-breathing cultists to heavily armoured Viking warriors. Each has its own attack patterns for you to learn, and nailing a perfect parry (R1: There’s no UI or tutorials) opens enemies to instant kills or a big beatdown that never fails to feel satisfying.

However, if your foe can knock you down, it can be a struggle to turn things around, as they will happily slap you down with repeated heavy attacks (that thankfully can be blocked), but getting back to your feet and back on the offensive takes quite a bit of effort.

That is unless you’ve built up enough energy to use the talisman strapped to your belt that slows your enemies’ actions down enough for you to hack them to pieces before they’ve even managed to swing their swords. It’s fun, but it feels like an instant win button.

Also, as much as I love how eye-bleedingly gorgeous the game is, on Series X, it runs at 30fps, making your button presses feel a little off and not quite as responsive as they could or should be during fights.

The puzzles offerings have also been expanded, with the faster HDD of the new-gen machines being used to great effect for some ace environmental head-scratchers that see Senua using torches to help her stave off monsters lurking in dark caverns, rearrange parts of the scenery to create new pathways forward and find hidden symbols within makes and scratches in the scenery much like in the previous game.

There’s also another set of short stories to hunt down contained in totems hidden in easy-to-miss side paths, and if you see anything that looks like a face in the rock, be sure to stare at it as it may open up a new pathway to even more secrets.

Hellblade II’s real highlight, though, is its boss battles, which are both visually arresting and utterly thrilling. And that’s all I can say about that, or I will probably have the spoiler police banging on my door.

Final Thoughts

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is precisely the kind of game Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty wants: A smaller game (you can finish it in a weekend easily) that is bound to see the company win more prestige and awards.

Like Hi-Fi Rush before it, Senua’s Saga is the kind of incredible narrative-focused single-player exclusive that is bound to be on plenty of award short-lists at the end of the year.

It’s a well-written adventure with flawless production values that I’m sure endless thought pieces will be written about (I’ve already thought of a couple) because it actually has something to say.

If you have Game Pass, it should already be downloading. If it isn’t, what are you waiting for?

In fact, Ninja Theory should be worried because they’ve made an absolute banger, and apparently, that’s a death sentence if you’re a Microsoft Studio.

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