Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

Review

After nearly seven years, Ninja Theory returns with the unexpected sequel of their most personal and unique psychological action-adventure game. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II not only sets the bar for photo realism, graphic fidelity and cinematic storytelling, but establishes Senua as one of the most convincing female protagonists in videogames. The sequel starts with a quick summary of the events that took place during the first game, but it is heavily recommended, if not even required, to play Hellblade not only to better understand Senua’s story, but also because it’s an awesome game that has aged really well. Hellblade II starts years later as we discover a more mature and confident Senua trying to save her people captured by Northmen slavers. The journey to free her people soon takes a dark turn, as Giants and other mythological creatures try to stop her. This time Senua won’t be entirely alone, but she will meet some other secondary characters that will assist her. While Hellblade II plays like an epic adventure filled with Scandinavian folklore, there are still many important psychological themes that are rarely tackled in videogames and this time they are more centered around fanaticism and beliefs rather than personal traumas.

Melina Juergens does an amazing job at portraying Senua with all her different emotions and expressions; really a masterful work of acting that thankfully transpires from the incredible graphics and quality of animations. The talking voices in Senua’s head really enhance the narrative as you feel what she is feeling in every single moment. These voices usually like to play with your mind and hearing, but they can also give small hints to solve environmental puzzles. I really recommend playing the game with a good pair of headphones that support 3D audio. If you don’t have one, you can also try any 3D audio software solution like Dolby Atmos for Headphones, which would still be better than the default stereo audio. Ninja Theory has probably created one of the most impressive audio experiences in videogames, so using a proper sound system can truly make the difference.



Another aspect that I really love is the complete lack of user interface. No marks, logs, icons, health bars and such. The transition from cutscenes to gameplay is always smooth and, despite the lack of signs, exploration feels very intuitive. You learn where to go because something happens or because you hear distant screams, not because there is a mark pointing in that direction. I wish more games used this sort of sensorial signing. Many games only rely on visual indicators, but when you try Hellblade you understand how effective it can be to use audio in a clever way.

Before entering into Hellblade II gameplay, let’s address the elephant in the room: the game is too short, especially compared to the asking price. It took me around 9 hours to finish, but I’m generally a really slow player who loves to stop every now and then admiring the landscape, taking screenshots and finding lore collectibles (but only if there are not many, like in this case). I’m pretty sure most players will be faster than me and finish the game in 6-7 hours by following the story without focusing too much on the collectibles. If you enjoyed the first game length, you won’t have any issue here, and it’s admittedly hard to imagine a game like Hellblade being longer, or even being open world.  But since this is a sequel, part of me was expecting some improvements in the story pacing and the exploration, which unfortunately is once again limited.

Speaking of gameplay, Hellblade II alternates cinematic cutscenes with exploration moments, environmental puzzles and intense fights. Combat feels slightly better compared to the first game, though the core mechanics are mostly similar. You will often get into 1vs1 fights where every strike, parry and dodge counts. Fighting feels brutal and heavy, you can feel the weight of every attack and movement, also thanks to the superb quality of motion capture and animations. Dodging has also been improved; now it feels more natural and imperfect, with slower and more realistic reaction times. The camera is always close to the action and makes every fight look spectacular and intense. During longer battles and after defeating your current opponent you move to the next one through some epic cinematic combat sequences. Puzzle-solving is also a recurrent aspect of the gameplay and while some puzzles are similar to the first game, like those that require you to find hidden rune symbols, there are some interesting new ones that allow you to bend reality.

Speaking of graphics, Hellblade II is a technical showcase that speaks for itself. The high level of realism and detail on characters, models and animations, as well the richness of some environments, is simply amazing; if you love the Iceland setting you will often stop to take pictures using one of the best Photo modes I have seen to date. Performance-wise, the PC version runs surprisingly well, without major bugs and only minor glitches that will probably be fixed with the first few patches.

While most of the time Hellblade II feels like more of the same version of the first one, there are some obvious improvements in the gameplay (from combat to puzzles), but at the same time some aspects haven’t really changed, such as the limited exploration and the story’s short length. It’s a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome and many will certainly appreciate that, but it also feels like a missed opportunity for a more ambitious sequel that could justify the high price. One thing is sure: just like its prequel, Hellblade II is one hell of a journey that is very well-worth trying, just make sure you have a good pair of headphones and a decent screen. As Martin Scorsese would say: “This is cinema”.

Review written by Sonic Punk for Zeepond.com

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Steam Store Page


Positives

+ Masterful storytelling and cinematography
+ Melina Juergen’s voice acting and performance is amazing
+ Incredible sound design with 3D binaural audio
+ Heavy, intense and cinematic 1vs1 fights
+ Amazing visuals and beautiful setting

Negatives

- Short length (also compared to the price)
- Limited exploration

Review Summary

A showcase of photo-realism and cinematic storytelling, Senua’s Saga Hellblade II offers an immersive and unique experience that feels different to any other action-adventure game.

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Zeepond Rating: 8/10

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