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Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 review – An audiovisual marvel

Developed by Ninja Theory, 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game with outstanding presentation; it’s a dark cinematic adventure that attempts to depict psychosis through a stunning combination of visuals and sound. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 doesn’t stray from this template, though thanks to the power afforded to it by next-generation consoles, everything has been cranked up to eleven. Let’s just get it out of the way: this is the most realistic, best-looking game ever made. And if you want to get the most out of it, you’ll want to play it with headphones on.

As if Senua hasn’t already struggled enough, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 opens with her being transported aboard a ship by slavers. The seas present her with an opportunity to escape, however, and so she takes it. But instead of simply running away and finding safety, Senua aims to help her kin who are in need. Then she seeks a greater goal: to stop the slavers for good, so that no more lives need to be ruined, with loved ones taken from their homes, never to be seen again. Still, she could have never expected where her journey would take her, and the enemies she would find herself up against.

Those who have played Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will find Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 very familiar. This is a largely linear experience with players making their way through picturesque environments while the story plays out. There’s the occasional opportunity to explore though, with two types of collectibles to be found for those with a keen eye and a thirst for knowledge. But other than that, the key things that break up simply moving forward here are puzzles and combat.

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Image: Ninja Theory/Xbox Game Studios

Thankfully, the puzzles of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 are a little more varied than they were in the original game. There are still plenty that revolve around finding symbols hidden on the environment, for sure, but this time they’re accompanied by puzzles that require you to focus on what appear to be droplets of water which change the world around you, and more. Eventually they begin to merge with each other, too, forming more complex puzzles that are never too brain-teasing but enjoyable to solve nonetheless.

Related: The best single player games on Xbox Series X/S

It’s the combat that is likely to prove the most divisive here. It’s more intimate than in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, with you only ever taking on one enemy at a time. And while the mechanics haven’t really changed, with you being able to dodge, parry, make use of heavy and light attacks, and use your mirror to focus and effectively slow down time, it feels more tense and dynamic. Like in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 2, seeing your enemies wince as you slice at them adds weight and gravitas to your options.

The trouble is, with such few options at your disposal and no development as you move through the game, it quickly gets repetitive. It’s only the enemies you face off against that keep encounters feeling somewhat fresh. The push for further cinematic presentation, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, also limits your visibility when it comes to certain attacks. Enemies that spew flames, for example, might ignite you even if you believe you dodged in time. Still, the combat is never terrible or even simply bad here; it’s just a shame it isn’t much more exciting or engaging than its predecessor.

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Image: Ninja Theory/Xbox Game Studios

Ultimately, what really matters here is Hellblade 2’s story, and it’s absolutely gripping. Characters are multi-faceted, interesting and well written. Scenarios are varied and utterly hair-raising at times. And, as we mentioned earlier, it’s all brought to life with cutting-edge visual and audio design that takes your breath away. There’s genuine emotion displayed on characters’ faces, and you’ll move from one meticulously-created environment to another without even a loading screen. At times, it truly is as if you’re in control of a movie, directing its lead at your pace.

By the time the credits are rolling on Senua’s latest adventure, which will take most players around eight hours or so, you’ll have been left in awe numerous times. And while there’s not a great deal of replayability here, some will return to perhaps find any collectibles they missed. A particularly neat touch is that after the completing the game and revisiting its chapters, you can also choose from alternative narrators, each offering their own perspective on events.

It’s impossible to not be impressed with what Ninja Theory has achieved with Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. While its combat is a bit of a disappointment, its storytelling and presentation is unparalleled. No other game looks or sounds better: it’s a genuine audio-visual delight. No other game so successfully replicates psychosis, either, with Senua’s furies creating a genuinely haunting experience in which you’re continually built up, knocked down and made to doubt what is and isn’t real. And so, while Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 isn’t perfect, it’s a notable improvement on its predecessor, and a must-play for those who appreciate dark narrative adventures.

This review of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is based on the Xbox Series X version, with a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available on Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 review - GameSpew's score

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2
9 10 0 1
Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 improves on its predecessor in numerous ways, making it a must-play for fans of dark, cinematic adventure games. Visually it's unparalleled, offering photo-realistic characters and environments, and its audio design is spectacular, too. It's just a shame that its combat gets repetitive all too quickly – but in the grand scheme of things, it's a small price to pay.
Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 improves on its predecessor in numerous ways, making it a must-play for fans of dark, cinematic adventure games. Visually it's unparalleled, offering photo-realistic characters and environments, and its audio design is spectacular, too. It's just a shame that its combat gets repetitive all too quickly – but in the grand scheme of things, it's a small price to pay.
9/10
Total Score

We like...

  • Visually astounding
  • Some genuinely hair-raising scenarios
  • Puzzles are enjoyable
  • Impressive audio design

We don't like...

  • Combat quickly gets repetitive

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