Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Review - Hell and High Water

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Review - Hell and High Water

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice didn’t need a sequel. It had a clear story to tell, and it told it well with an artful execution of its mental health themes and a strong conclusion. However, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II builds a compelling case for itself by exploring the titular warrior’s growth, showing how she helps herself and others around her. This new perspective, combined with refined gameplay and a jaw-dropping presentation, makes for a more satisfying sophomore outing.

A New Journey with Familiar Voices

Since the first game’s conclusion, Senua has grown older, wiser, and more confident. Although the psychosis-induced voices in her head still pepper her thoughts (headphones are highly recommended due to the fantastic 3D audio), she has largely embraced and accepted them. In Hellblade II, the voices factor less directly into gameplay and are used primarily as a storytelling flourish, representing her innermost thoughts and anxieties.

"Senua’s journey takes her to a new land to put an end to the slavers that ravaged her homeland. As that story evolves into something far grander and fantastical, I enjoyed the new emphasis on companionship."

Enhanced Companionship and Character Development

Senua's journey in this installment is marked by a newfound emphasis on companionship. Melina Jurgens delivers another phenomenal performance as Senua, supported by an equally impressive cast of characters. Seeing Senua interact with her allies and use lessons learned from her struggles to help them overcome their own darkness is rewarding. This dynamic adds a new dimension to her character, highlighting her relatable fears of leading them astray and her ongoing battle with old demons.

"Watching Senua combat old demons as they rear their heads again is also a realistic and refreshing portrayal of the constant battle that is mental health; her triumph in the first game wasn’t, and shouldn’t be, a one-time victory."

Refined Gameplay Mechanics

The intimate one-on-one combat encounters remain largely the same but with a dazzling visual and cinematic upgrade. Enemies no longer blindside you from off-screen, ensuring the action stays in front of you. Sword duels are a repetitive but entertaining dance of dodging powerful swings and nailing satisfying parries to fill a time-slowing focus meter. Once unleashed, this meter allows Senua to execute an unimpeded assault.

"Ninja Theory thankfully axed the first game’s creeping permadeath penalty, so dying here has no consequence, and you’re quickly thrown back into the action."

Stunning Visuals and Improved Puzzles

Hellblade II is arguably the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. From subtle facial animations to superb lighting and nightmarish designs of Norse adversaries, the game truly looks next-gen. The increased budget has resulted in not just an increase in fidelity but also in creative artistic touches, with mind-bending effects and dreamlike visuals.

"Hellblade II isn’t just technically impressive; it’s genuinely alluring to stare at as an art piece."

The exploration of this stunning world is more engaging, thanks to the increased puzzle variety. The perspective-based riddles are dramatically reduced and spread more evenly throughout the adventure. Other challenges, such as solving illumination puzzles or building paths using world-shifting magic, make for a more well-rounded journey.

Balanced Narrative and Gameplay

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II’s conclusion ends on a strong note, and despite initial reservations about continuing Senua’s story, the game succeeds in presenting new challenges and growth for the character. The sequel retains the thoughtful storytelling and artistry of the first game while introducing more broadly appealing thrills.

"I’m pleased Ninja Theory avoided the temptation to blow up this formula into something far bigger than needed – this isn’t Xbox’s God of War; it’s a better Hellblade."

Final Thoughts

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II refines and expands upon its predecessor’s formula, delivering a visually stunning and emotionally compelling experience. The game strikes a balance between maintaining its intimate, narrative-driven roots and incorporating new gameplay elements that enhance the overall experience. While not perfect, it stands as a remarkable achievement in storytelling and visual artistry, making it a must-play for fans of the original and newcomers alike.

Rating: 9/10

- Jaw-dropping visuals and exceptional sound design
- Deep, engaging narrative with well-developed characters
- Improved combat mechanics and puzzle variety
- Retains the thoughtful storytelling and artistry of the original

- Voices can occasionally overshadow crucial dialogue
- Some combat encounters can feel repetitive
- Limited gameplay and narrative depth compared to its predecessor

Stay tuned for more updates and dive into the next chapter of Senua’s journey in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

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