HomeNewsSenua's Saga: Hellblade II Review – Walking Dead In High Definition

    Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Review – Walking Dead In High Definition


    Developed By: Ninja Theory

    Published By: Xbox Game Studios

    Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, PC

    Reviewed On: PC

    Review Code Provided By: Xbox Game Studios


    Simply put, never got around to trying out the first Hellblade – wasn’t really on my play ping radar because the word hell is too commonly used in lots of games in this day and age. Either that and other distractions in the fray, but here we are, playing on PC with a PS5 controller as I wouldn’t feel right at home without it.

    In my initial point of view and impressions without playing it at first, the game looks to be a form of artsy cinematic portraying an expressive female warrior donning Celtic/Viking medium armor; battling through hell and back.

    Well, it wasn’t that far off from the truth but in a sense hell is already here in both reality of the world setting and attacking her state mind.

    Playing it through, the cinematic grandeur does flair up my eyes and the sounds in the game will constantly disturbingly knock me in my senses that deems of a more horror theme vibe perfectly, rather than a pure action flick and alongside simple but almost fun combat flow synergy.

    So yeah, cinematic and sound design are a huge plus; but what’s it gameplay like on the inside?

    Imagine if you will, a game with the visceral, impactful melee hits like The Last of Us 2 or God of War, but leaning more into the linear-driven storytelling aspects without any gameplay UI; kinda like Death Stranding on that front with lots of walking and talking in her mind.

    It does sound incredible yet almost impossible, but here we are in 2024 – a knack for mixing both cinematic and game genres seamlessly.

    Is it any good? Well, Hellblade 2 does kick off strong at the start but then, overall it trickles down and dwindles, turning it underwhelming not in its quality of presentation but the stagnant gameplay and mainly in the main storytelling – leading to one of the most underwhelming ending I’ve ever seen in a game.

    With that being said, here is my review of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II or I will call it just Hellblade II for short from now on.

    Cinematic And Sounds | A Cinematic Feast

    Move aside, Netflix and Disney. This week’s cinematic taking my attention award goes to Hellblade II, which perfectly captures the pores, flowing dripping sweat, and contorted expressions etched on a character’s face – a jaw-dropping experience.

    A form of high-end tech demo cinematic feat with the camera facing close up to their face which is a compliment but does so pretty often in telling a story or what Senua is speaking in her mind.

    Again, the human expressions are portrayed with stunning details, bringing most characters including the main character to life in a theatrical play of facial emotions, bridging the main character’s thoughts, doubts, and fears.

    Making every nuance of her expressions stand out – well that and the camera is mostly aimed straight at her face looking directly at you as a player, as if she’s speaking at you directly on behalf of what’s within herself.

    But that’s not all as the other characters are given that similar level of attention and love depicted with incredible detail, showcasing pores and drippy sweat that gleam through their expressive faces.

    My only gripe with this cinematic is some quirky graphical glitches like blackheads popping up on Senua’s face on the side during cinematic and a bit of screen tearing on Senua’s skin during gameplay when using the default medium graphics settings.

    Oddly though, these issues didn’t pop up when I switched to high graphics settings on my second playthrough.

    As unsettling as it seems with the visuals, it’s not as unsettling as the soundscape it offers which is in constant inner witches-like voiceovers of a call of duty voice chat turned on both fronts left and right ears and is as irritatingly tumultuous mirroring Senua’s state of mind.

    The sounds have the very power to speak the obvious of mostly what’s in front, what ifs and doubts, mirroring her inner state of mind, turmoils, and a mere bit of event intensifies.

    The constant chatter of doubts and fears, emanating from both speakers, can feel overwhelming, leading one to believe in Senua’s inevitable demise.

    Hence the witch voices in Senua’s mind are the main theme of the game, turning music’s joy into a mere background drop albeit sparingly. The music mostly turns to bass-heavy alongside ethereal tones, shimmering crystals, and tribal chants of what I presume is Inuit’s throat singing.

    Thus further enhancing some pivotal moments in the game such as some dialogues, rituals, and combat as well as tuning me deeply to feel the emotions of the segment, rather than just hearing it.

    Furthermore, the voice acting in this game is splendidly done as the actors made efforts to display the right tone of emotions. With a form of presentation resembling a theatrical performance that pretty much captivates me with its authenticity and depth.

    Level Designs | Atmospheric, Yet Still Stiffly Grounded

    Drawing into this world themed with a tone of darkness and sadness to the air sets an atmospheric tone that compliments the detailed Norwegian/Icelandic rocky roads -inspired terrains.

    The set of rocky textures and protruding terrains pops up obviously to the eyes. As Senua moves around, the sounds of gravel and rocks being stepped on are pretty spot on or hit the right spot in my ears.

    However, Senua’s journey feels mostly flat on the walking department, with minimal feel to the elevation changes whilst the roads in view appear curved and layered from far only to the eyes but not to my feel of the field.

    This is where it hits rock bottom, reducing the dynamic feel to the terrain with walking mostly with minimal climbing ladders and sliding down the roads at some point. In my opinion, walking up and down at different elevations could enhance her interactions with the environment and the voices in her head.

    With no items to pick up nor NPCs to interact with, the overall experience felt monotonous in nature or for a long period because walking on flatlands covers most of the aspect of the game while having voices in your head accompanying you as NPCs.

    While exploring Senua often feels stiff, merely looking around and observing her surroundings like a birdwatcher rather than engaging dynamically with her environment, puzzles, and internal voices.

    Puzzles usually include locked doors in ‘Devil May Cry’-esque locked doors adorned with human limbs centered by a specific symbol.

    Senua needs to look for the right part of the symbols in different parts/corners in the area and backtrack which occurs a lot for the right angle, which makes the walking feel even more redundantly tedious than a good exploring.

    In my opinion, this feels like moving on a loading screen accompanied by beautiful landscapes. As it looks stunning, it lacks the engaging elevation and curved, unstable footholds to make me feel more in my controller or to keep me interestingly engaging and invested in the world with its landscapes.

    On other different parts of the game exploring caves or caverns, there will be a shift from realism to a dreamy nightmare theme in which Senua explores not only the land but also its underground belly and her own psyche. This gives me the impression that Senua doesn’t like tight dark spaces at all and her Psychosis gets triggered by it.

    This mix of reality and dreams could be more compelling but I notice some missing assets of gasping slaves or epic boss creatures, which are hinted at in-game but more often than not, missing in view in the background – unsure if it’s all just an occurrence in Senua’s head.

    Gameplay | Intense Combat, Mellow In Exploration

    Other than jogging slowly none stop via the front left analog stick with dialogues and solving puzzles that make you walk more. The voices in Senua’s head will still constantly barrate you with doubts and fears which also means that you are on the right track.

    Nonetheless, it would be cool if you walk in the wrong direction and the voices will still barrage you senselessly.

    Pressing top trigger buttons to focus your view on specific objects to uncover stuff, solve puzzles, and flip the rocky world upside down with water bubbles. It sounds great on paper, but if you were to see it more often- it wouldn’t be that great over time.

    This makes Senua’s interaction more static and less engaging to the world as a mere observer – a kind of bird watcher.

    Other than that, combat, while simple, is where Hellblade II truly shines, even more so with its lack of UI. Turning heads in transitions from one person to the next felt cinematic for sure but mostly just a one-on-one combat focused instead of battling multiple foes at once.

    Relying mostly on light attacks for quick damage and heavy attacks to break enemy guards along with the cinematic parries with perfect timing and dodges for those bright red heavy enemy attacks are a delight to play.

    While there is no visible stamina or health bars UI on sight, the combat is a momentum-driven system where landing continuous hits and breaking guards leads to a satisfying cinematic melee finish, reminiscent of Joel in The Last of Us Part II breaking the enemy head with a plank.

    Conversely, getting continuos pummeled by enemies will leave you concussed, and you’ll need to rapidly press a button (X in my case) to get back on your feet or dodge the final blow. Hence, you can get pummeled to death by enemies as a killing blow death sentence black game over screen.

    Other than the rare occurrence of combat which are few and far between, another gripe I have with the combat is the enemy variety that turns the shine to dull. While it’s cool to face some new types of axe-throwers, spear-chuckers, flame-spewers, and zombie-like creatures (even lesser) other than sword-wielders.

    Most of these enemies are still designed humanoid, making their moves easily predictable over time.

    Turning fantastic combat into a chore once you get the hang of their body language and attack patterns. Additionally, Senua’s sword swings feel a bit sluggish and don’t improve later on, and she tends to scream a lot while doing so.

    Note that, there will be no improvements in Senua’s skillsets and attacks swings as well.

    Boss’s fights are incredible at the beginning but turn into sluggish/slugfest much like Senua’s sword swings at the end.

    Storytelling | Objectively Driven Without An Ending

    If you see me tagging the quote in my tag lines straightforwardly less “uninvested,” or less catchy. It means that the game lines and storytelling while clear didn’t hook me with a memorable catchphrase or theme. Hellblade II delivers most on its premise, exploring why stuff happens in the world and within Senua.

    After a first boss or two that piqued my emotional investment, I find myself less invested in the characters and the world overall afterward because the main quest of the game is just mainly pinning the whole ordeal on that one bigger bad boss.

    The main characters’ drive and others to change were merely driven to change or kill that one big boss mind which pretty much zeroes in on the main quest to tie in all loose ends and motivations.

    Resulting in the story feeling surface-level at best and in return missing out on deeper layered characters’ development and their motivations to a halt.

    It felt rushed midway to the point that when faced with special places that reveal the companion’s worst fears in a foggy forest that is just merely touching the base of losing their soul but yet another surface-level scenario.

    In terms of backstories told about certain bosses, they are told mostly in firefly-formed silhouettes that look beautiful but lack the emotional depth of facial expressions. It’s like watching shadows mimic human expressions by being shimmering pretty but emotionally withdrawn.

    In terms of storytelling in general, the narrative aspects start strong as well with a few initial bosses but wane into an underwhelming and rushed-out project, without a proper ending – prompting a possible sequel. Additionally, there might be some secrets to unlock later, but the gameplay alone doesn’t encourage me enough to rewalk the levels all over again.

    What I Liked About Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

    Level Designs – Protruding rocky terrains make it look and sound solid

    Good movie – cinematic angles paired with awesome 3d models with organic theatrical expressions. There is a level of expression and story to tell how Senua feels – which is appreciated.

    Combat – Another cinematic flow to the eyes with interesting transitions from one enemy to another.

    Sounds – Music sounds atmospheric and interesting, minus the witches’ dialogue in the head

    UI prompts – Absent like John Cena

    Photo mode – Enough said

    What I Wished Was Better

    Storyline – Better told and needs an ending

    Pacing – Walking takes too much time in comparison to cinematic, puzzle, and combat

    Puzzle – Gets stagnant and lacks engaging elements.

    Combat – Gets dry over time with recognizable enemy attack patterns. Noticeable sluggish attacks by Senua.

    Bugs – Minor hiccups include static, cinematic blackheads popping up and flickering to the screen if you are under default medium graphic settings.

    Odd triggered assets/missing assets – some missing big bosses on the view and multi-layered water assets on a second big boss fight on a medium graphic setting.

    Verdict – A Singled Out Player Game

    While trying hard to be special in both cinematic and combat. Like the hands in the main wallpaper, Hellblade II tends to focus more on the hands-on facial cinematics and the cinematics flair aspects but neglects the fundamentals of actual gameplay to keep it even more fun and engaging – keeping it just on the surface level.

    While Walking albeit paired with unsettling voice chats of toxic teammates that bombard you with obvious dry delivery about anything that you do – turns the whole experience like walking on flatlands, resulting in a long loading screen with just a tilt forward to the analog stick to walk forward or merely to climb. There are a few puzzle elements involved but more on observing the symbols and objects rather than physically engaged with the said element.

    I do enjoy some level of the combat and cinematic story but only at the beginning as everything else tends to dry out later on.

    Without that level of engagement, I don’t see much difference between playing it alone versus watching it on YouTube or someone else playing it with a skippable bar click to skip the entire slow jogging/walking – hence making YouTube a better option in comparison.

    Personally, I would rather replay the Hi-Fi Rush/ God Of War/ Last Of Us series/ Death Stranding all over again than replay Hellblade II ever again.

    But if you do enjoy a minimal level of engagement in the game with more beautiful cinematics and lots of walking then by all means this game is meant for you.

    Score: 6.5/10

    He is actually very shy, introvert but no choice, have to go out to buy games. He likes food and food likes him. He somehow manage to find a job with the right time accommodate to gaming. He has a very short attention span, therefore has to finish a game fast or else a simple pun can distract him for the entire day. Yes a Pun, he loves puns as much as he loves games; easily distracted, whichever comes next.

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