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Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review | A Relentlessly Bloody Masterpiece

90
Story
9
Gameplay
7
Visuals
10
Audio
10
Value for Money
9
Price:
$ 50
Clear Time:
8 Hours
Hellblade 2 is a visual and auditory masterpiece that blurs the line between video games and cinema. Unparalleled in its immersion and peerless display of sheer human tenacity, Hellblade 2 is a shining example of video games as an art form…if your setup can handle the strain. Senua’s is a saga that I won’t soon forget and one that all should experience.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a cinematic action-adventure game from Ninja Theory and the sequel to 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Read up on our review to see what makes it great, what it could still improve, and if you should get it for yourself!

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Review Overview

What is Senua's Saga: Hellblade II?

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II (Hellblade 2) is a follow-up to 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice that’s been 7 years in the making. Still following the harrowing tale of the first game’s protagonist and namesake Senua, Hellblade 2 is a cinematic adventure through Midgard's varied landscapes, promising pitched duels, amazing visuals, and the most immersive audio Ninja Theory could muster.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II features:
 ⚫︎ High-intensity duels focusing on realism
 ⚫︎ A continuation of Senua’s saga through the realms
 ⚫︎ AAA graphics with motion-captured animations
 ⚫︎ Amazingly directed cinematics
 ⚫︎ Incredibly immersive single-player experience

For more gameplay details, read everything we know about Senua's Saga: Hellblade II's gameplay and story.


Digital Storefronts
xxx Platform IconSteam xxx Platform IconXbox
Price $49.99


Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Pros & Cons

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Pros Cons
Checkmark Photo Mode is Amazing
Checkmark Next-level Binaural Audio
Checkmark Beauty in Simplicity
Checkmark Forced Aspect Ratio
Checkmark More Movie Than Game
Checkmark Mulches Graphics Cards

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Overall Score - 90/100

Hellblade 2 is a visual and auditory masterpiece that blurs the line between video games and cinema. Unparalleled in its immersion and peerless display of sheer human tenacity, Hellblade 2 is a shining example of video games as an art form…if your setup can handle the strain. Senua’s is a saga that I won’t soon forget and one that all should experience.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Story - 9/10

Hellblade 2’s story is every bit as grisly, visceral, and harrowing as the first game’s, never once letting you breathe and forcing both you and Senua to continue through sheer willpower alone. The narrative is steeped with deep symbolism, complex emotional beats, and perhaps the most accurate portrayal of psychosis in video game media.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Gameplay - 7/10

Hellblade 2’s gameplay is sparse but effective, always allowing the narrative to take center stage but never fading into the background to be forgotten. What few gameplay mechanics it had improved the game’s immersion and world-building to an incredible degree. That being said, being more cutscene than game isn’t going to win Hellblade 2 any awards for game design.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Visuals - 10/10

Only a continuation of Senua’s journey could ever hold a candle to the pure visual majesty of the first game. Apart from Hellblade 2’s hyperrealistic graphics, its uniquely torturous art direction, professional cinematography, and expert use of motion capture all contributed to an aesthetic that can only be described as a masterpiece.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Audio - 10/10

Ninja Theory knew which aspects of the first game to double down on for the sequel because Hellblade 2 wouldn’t be half the masterpiece it is without its unique implementation of binaural audio. The voice-acting was already transcendent without it, so you know you’re in for a good time when each of the Furies gets an ear to whisper into.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Value for Money - 9/10

Hellblade 2 asks for a lot and gives a lot back in return. $50 is a lot of money to spend on a game no matter which way you slice it; doubly so if the game focuses more on story and immersion rather than being a traditional game. The apprehension at spending this much money on an 8-hour cutscene is understandable, but this once-in-a-lifetime game is certainly worth its higher-than-average price.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Review: A Relentlessly Bloody Masterpiece

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It was clear from the first game that the Hellblade series would be anything but your run-of-the-mill third-person action game. With its oddly visceral yet sparse combat and unabashed commitment to complex narrative beats, it became a gut-wrenching standout among its beat-em-up peers.

It would’ve been a safe bet to think that Hellblade 2—a sequel 7 years in the making—would be much of the same with some improvements here and there to keep things fresh. What I didn’t count on was an across-the-board double down from Ninja Theory that somehow amplified Hellblade’s already bonkers emotional trauma into a cinematic commentary on loss, determination, and sheer human will.

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Now, that’s a lot of words used to simply say that the sequel did well, but trust me when I say that words fail to capture the absolute masterpiece that is Hellblade 2. It’s difficult to call this a game, really, when it’s more of an experience set in video game format. I’m getting far ahead of myself, however, so let’s start where the game excels most: immersion.

Immersion was Ninja Theory’s goal with this game and you can tell. From the complete lack of a UI to the unique aspect ratio—more on that later—it’s crystal clear that this game was all about the sights, sounds, and story.

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Having such a singular goal runs the very real risk of becoming tunnel visioned but, as the game’s own studio head put it, "Instead of taking what we’ve got and adding to it, we looked at how we could go deeper on the thing we really care about."

And go deeper they did. Hellblade 2 is a feast for the senses in every way possible, limited only by the restrictions of its medium. Had there been a way to convey Hellblade’s world and story through touch and smell, I’m confident that Ninja Theory would’ve innovated it the same way it did for sight and sound.

The first game’s visuals were already phenomenal, showcasing a gritty, hyperrealistic take on a culture not often portrayed in modern media. Hellblade 2 broadened that visual scope and innovated its graphics to Unreal Engine 5, creating a peerless combination of great art direction and high fidelity.

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The audio’s also been bumped up, this time in more ways than one. In addition to raw technological upgrades to audio capture, a bigger team and a greater focus on binaural sounds really set Hellblade 2 apart from its predecessor.

Adding directional audio to the voices in Senua’s head was a genius move, I don’t care what anyone thinks. It’s that minor bump in quality and immersion that elevated this game from great to legendary.

The voice acting by itself isn’t half bad either. I’d even call it amazing. It’s mostly comprised of guttural screaming, pained grunts, and cries of mercy, but I can appreciate great voice acting even if it represented the bleakest series of events I’ve ever seen.

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Speaking of a series of events, we can now move past immersion and talk about the game’s story. Ninja Theory’s gone on record to say that they’re doing their utmost to make Senua feel more human and I think these efforts did not go to waste.

Hellblade 2’s story represented the next leg in Senua’s journey both physically and emotionally. In addition to moving the plot forward from her hellbound journey, it served as an evolution of Senua’s psyche—and by extension, the voices that plagued it.

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It’s cathartic to see Senua come to terms with the truth of the voices, to listen to them at times and not just lock them out as neural static. It’s the natural progression of someone going through psychosis and I’m glad that Ninja Theory took the time to develop a facet of Senua’s personality that would’ve been inoffensive if left alone.

The game’s story is also just a gripping tale filled with strife and unimaginable violence that had me hooked for hours at a time. There are themes of abuse, cannibalism, occultism, god-slaying, god-fearing, and good-old human determination, all bundled up with a hint of paganism and ancient Celtic flavor.

It’s a very unrelenting narrative that echoes Senua’s forward momentum toward her next goal. Despite this, the pacing is excellent and the dialogue is well-written for the main characters and the unseen voices judging our every move. Perhaps it's a bit high-concept for the casual player, but I don’t consider that a downside by any means.

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Moving on to Hellblade 2’s gameplay, you might be surprised to learn that there’s not much of that to go around. In stark contrast to Ninja Theory’s maximalist approach to narrative writing, Hellblade 2’s gameplay aimed to excel through simplicity.

The game’s combat is nothing but a literal slug-fest of blows and parries intended to take down the enemy and not much else. No fancy moves, no ultimate attacks; just a flurry of slashes and sole victor.

Devoid of any health or resource bar, these fights often devolve into animalistic brawls with no rhyme or reason. The fights themselves are pretty rare too, with no more than a couple in each major act.

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None of these are hits against the game’s combat system, as the simplicity and rarity convey the ever-permeating fight for survival present in the game’s narrative. Every fight could be your last, and so you give it your all, technique be damned.

The in-betweens of these duels are filled with simple puzzles and exploratory sections designed to get cogs turning without becoming a Resident Evil puzzle. I appreciate that these puzzles never outshine the narrative but don’t feel like filler either. Overall, it’s never a boring time, even if there is a fair bit of walking between each point of interest.

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And that’s the end of the road for my review of Hellblade 2. It’s a phenomenal game with an insanely immersive world and story. The gameplay is sparse but never boring, filling out the nooks and crannies of a sequel that’s more than worthy of praise.

I left much of the story untold so you can experience it for yourself. Like I said, try as I might, words cannot capture the true majesty of Senua’s saga.

Pros of Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Things Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Got Right
Checkmark Photo Mode is Amazing
Checkmark Next-level Binaural Audio
Checkmark Beauty in Simplicity

Photo Mode is Amazing

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I appreciate a photo mode as much as any third-person action game enjoyer, but the one in Hellblade 2 is something else entirely. Due to the developer’s commitment to motion-capturing all in-game movements, all cutscenes in this game are in-engine. This means that they aren’t pre-rendered and are being acted out by actual character models within the game’s 3D map.

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For the photo mode, this means that any scene, at any point, can be captured as an image from any angle. Not only does this open countless possibilities for wallpapers and screenshots, it also adds another layer of graphical quality to the game by allowing the player to inspect each model more closely.

Next-level Binaural Audio

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Audio makes up half of this game’s immersion and the utilization of binaural sound in Hellblade 2’s dialogue served as the linchpin for the game’s amazing sound design.

It’s little more than an auditory illusion in most cases, but Ninja Theory found the perfect way to implement it by framing Senua’s conflicted inner monologue as a voice in each ear. It’s trippy, but boy, does it sell the immersion well!

Beauty in Simplicity

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The Hellblade series has always been purposeful with its gameplay and never added more ceremony to its games’ facets than it needed to. Sure, Hellblade 2’s gameplay is rather repetitive and simplistic, but so are most fights in real life.

Puzzles are a tad simple and could be finished by anyone with a working brain cell, but they were never meant to impede Senua, only to slow or test. Ninja Theory designed this game with a goal in mind and an expansive gameplay loop simply isn’t a part of it. The beauty in this simplicity is that it stayed fun regardless.

Cons of Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Things That Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Can Improve
Checkmark Forced Aspect Ratio
Checkmark More Movie Than Game
Checkmark Mulches Graphics Cards

Forced Aspect Ratio

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There aren’t many gripes to be had about the game’s visuals but the force 21:9 aspect ratio is certainly one of them. I understand that it’s likely to retain the game’s cinematic nature, but if you don’t have a monitor that can handle such an aspect ratio, myself included, you’re left with thick black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.

Surely this can be patched out or made optional in the future, but as it is now, many people find it annoying and detrimental to the game’s overall visual score.

More Movie Than Game

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I’ve alluded to the truly cinematic nature of this game in the review but that doesn’t really indicate how much of this game is just cutscenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if it’s exactly what Ninja Theory intended to sell the narrative. But if you were expecting all-out action at all times, then you’re out of luck.

Mulches Graphics Cards

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Great graphics require great setups and not everyone can afford a great setup. It’s a simple truth that this game has a hefty graphical requirement that can limit its availability. Again, not a bad thing per se, but it’s certainly worth noting if your setup isn’t up to snuff.

Is Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Worth It?

Worth A Trip to Hel and Back

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I won’t lie to you, $50 is a large amount of money to spend on a game no matter which way you slice it. I’d be apprehensive to spend that much money on an action-filled fighting game, much more a narrative-driven immersion trip like Hellblade 2, but a once-in-a-lifetime experience warrants a bit more coinage than you’re comfortable with.

More power to those who pass on this game for its price. I can assure those who bought it, however, that you won’t regret joining Senua on the next leg of her journey.

Digital Storefronts
xxx Platform IconSteam xxx Platform IconXbox
Price $49.99

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II FAQ

Are Headphones Required to Play Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II?

While headphones are not required to play Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, they are strongly recommended as a lot of the game’s combat, exploration, and puzzle mechanics rely on the game’s binaural audio.

Much of the game’s immersion and narrative weight is also carried by its fully voice-acted dialogue, so not wearing headphones might prevent a player from enjoying the full experience.

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Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Product Information

Senua
Title SENUA’S SAGA: HELLBLADE II
Release Date May 21, 2024
Developer Ninja Theory
Publisher Xbox Game Studios
Supported Platforms PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox Cloud Gaming
Genre Action, Adventure
Number of Players 1
ESRB Rating Mature
Official Website Senua's Saga: Hellblade II Website

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