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Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review: A Flawless Fever Dream

Hellblade 2 is a flawless fever dream, and easily one of the best story-driven Xbox games of all time.
Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 Review: A Flawless Fever Dream
Ninja Theory

In today's AAA space, it's rare to get a linear single-player title with a groundbreaking narrative and high production values. It's either one or the other, or in most cases, neither. Hellblade 2 is one of those rare exceptions. It's a flawless fever dream with breathtaking visuals, jaw-dropping cinematics, incredible sound design, well-choreographed combat encounters, and a deeply moving story that continues Senua's legacy in all the right ways. 

All of this together makes Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 one of the best games of this year and easily one of the best story-driven Xbox games of all time. 

What is Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 all about?

Hellblade 2 review story gameplay
Senua is more fearsome in Hellblade 2. (Picture: Shreyansh Katsura/Ninja Theory)

With grief comes acceptance, and with acceptance comes empathy. If Hellblade 1 was about Senua coming to terms with her fate, Hellblade 2 is its natural evolution, in which Senua explores empathy to understand and aid the people around her. 

In Hellblade 2, Senua is still a prisoner of the unruly voices in her head, though she has become much more resilient to their cause, sometimes even using them to her advantage, maliciously so, as you can catch her almost smirking in some very dire situations.

Hellblade 2 begins on a stormy and turbulent boat ride along the coast of Iceland - an ominous projection of what's to come - in which Senua and her people are being transported as slave offerings to the Vikings. Senua is here by choice, wanting to save her people from being sacrificed.  

However, things quickly go south, and as the Viking ship succumbs to the deathly sea, Senua finds herself drowning in the cold water but somehow makes it to the shore of an unknown island alone. 

All of this happens in the first ten minutes of Hellblade 2, a harrowing start that is quite the departure from the melancholic and serene opening of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. It's a harsh but genuine reminder that Senua's struggles are far from over. 

Hellblade 2 feels grander in its design but is still positively compact. Fundamentally, it plays similar to the first Hellblade. It's a slow-paced journey full of intense cinematic set-pieces, simple environmental puzzles, and frantic combat encounters that push the narrative forward. However, Ninja Theory has made plenty of subtle changes to make all these aspects much more engaging (and less frustrating) this time around.  

For instance, the puzzles are few but varied, and encountering and overcoming them never feels like a chore. The exploration and the walking sections are far more intriguing because they almost always happen after an intense story or combat beat when you enter a breathtaking new area or while conversing with one of Senua's three companions (more on this later). 

Even the combat feels more exciting this time, not just because Senua has picked up more tricks but because of their immaculate placement and role in the narrative. But most importantly, it's how every attribute ties back to Hellblade 2's biggest strength - its visuals. 

Hellblade 2 review story gameplay
Hellblade 2 is the best-looking game of this generation so far. (Picture: Shreyansh Katsura/Ninja Theory)

Hellblade 1 was one of the best-looking games of its time, so it's no surprise that its sequel follows in its footsteps. But Hellblade 2 is on a whole different level. There's an unparalleled level of detail tucked away in every nook and cranny of this world. 

Ninja Theory has done a stellar job of interweaving visuals into Hellblade 2's every element. The environments are more varied and expansive than ever, with four unique areas to explore. I was slacked-jawed every time the game took me to another of Iceland's breathtaking locales. 

Puzzles use colors and vibrant landscapes to make things more immersive. Every environment puzzle you encounter will transform the scenery around you into something more eye-catching, which is enough to keep you distracted until you figure out the solution and move forward. 

In combat, visuals help intensify the overall combat experience. From the sweat dripping down Senua's face to the frown on the enemy's forehead as you clash your sword with them, everything makes combat so immersive to a degree that it almost feels like playing a movie. 

Hellblade 2's gorgeous graphics work like a gameplay element, constantly rewarding you with new scenery to admire and new environments to explore that somehow look better than the last one. 

It's not an overstatement when I say Hellblade 2 is the most cinematic video game experience of all time. It adapts the original's single-shot camera angle, which follows Senua to hell and back, but switches to a wide-screen format, making this more film-esque than ever. It's 2024, and I'm still astonished at how seamless the transition from cutscenes to gameplay happens. 

I remember watching Resident Evil: Vendetta in 2017 and wondering when video game graphics would start to look like this. Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 somehow looks even better than that, with its shockingly lifelike visuals, brilliant lighting effects, and detailed character models that are vastly superior to anything I have ever seen in a video game. 

 In a generation where most AAA games sacrifice fidelity for their grand open-world aspirations, it's refreshing to play a game that's compact in its design and feels next-gen in the most obvious way. 

But simply calling Hellblade 2 a visual showcase would be selling it short because it's so much more than that. 

What makes Hellblade 2 so special?

Hellblade 2 review story gameplay
Hellblade 2 is a flawless fever dream. (Picture: Shreyansh Katsura/Ninja Theory)

Hellblade 2 feels like a fever dream you wouldn't want to wake up from. It's nightmarish and nauseating. Disturbing and dilapidated. But also enchanting and empowering.

There is an inexplicable sense of serenity in simply walking through this wretched but beautiful world, hearing the narrator's words of despair, and listening to Druth's gut-wrenching stories. Very few modern AAA games manage to set such a distinguishable tone for their world, and Hellblade 2just like Hellblade 1 before it, excels admirably.

While the Hellblade 2's visuals are sufficient to draw you into Senua's dire world, it's her story that keeps you invested in it. Hellblade 2's plot is much more focused than that of the first game. While Senua is at the center of it all again, the story dips its feet into the myths and the cultures of 9th-century Iceland. 

Revealing anything more will mean going into spoiler territory, but the themes it explores circle back to Senua's legacy in meaningful and impactful ways.

The Celtic warrior is once again brought to life by a Bafta-worthy performance by Melina Juergens, alongside a supporting cast who are equally sincere in their deliveries. 

It's also worth mentioning that Juergens' facial and vocal range has improved significantly since the first game, and several hair-raising moments in the game may leave you starstruck.

During her journey, Senua comes across three people who join her cause. Thórgestr is an unruly Viking leader whose philosophies differ quite from Senua's. Fargrímra is a diligent and kind-hearted leader of a peaceful faction. And lastly, Ástríðr, a ferocious warrior and leader who doesn't see eye to eye with Thórgestr.   

All these characters connect with Senua through their pain and suffering, much of which drives the story forward. It is heartwarming to watch Senua interact with, support, and eventually learn to rely ever so slightly on them. This is what I meant when I said Hellblade 2 is, at its core, a story about empathy. Through their struggles, Senua finds comfort in knowing she's not alone. 

Hellblade 2 review story gameplay
Senua's journey in Hellblade 2 feels righteous and worthy. (Picture: Shreyansh Katsura/Ninja Theory)

It's beautifully portrayed, and Senua's journey feels righteous and worthy. That said, I do think the ending is a bit rushed and leaves a few strings open. It's the only thing about Hellblade 2  that didn't fair well with me, but it's also a small inconvenience in an otherwise exceptional sequel in all rights. 

Hellblade 1 was a masterclass in sound design, and Hellblade 2 is no different. If anything, it's even better. The binaural audio allows you to hear Senua's inner voices from all directions, which is enough to make your skin crawl, but Senua's Saga takes a bit further in portraying the many horrors and the beauties of its world.

While navigating areas with the stench of death, you will often hear the gurgling sounds of people bleeding to death, their unflinching pleads, and sorrow-filled screams, all of which add an extra layer of depth to Senua's struggle. 

Hellblade 2's soundtrack also takes notes from Nordic folk music, with some bombastic battle scores and melodious ambient tracks that make combat and exploration a fulfilling experience. 

Speaking of combat, these are highly cinematic and diligently choreographed moments that work very similar to the first game. 

While Senua's melee attacks have some cool new animations that are worth being excited about, what's truly great about these moments is how essential they are in pushing the story forward. 

None of the combat encounters feel forced or contextually similar to one another. The combat is essentially a narrative tool in Hellblade 2. Hence, even when there is very little enemy variety, and you repeat the same five maneuvers every time, these fights never get boring. 

Hellblade 2 review story gameplay
Hellblade 2's combat sections are vital story beats that push the narrative forward. (Picture: Shreyansh Katsura/Ninja Theory)

That said, Ninja Theory's experience with action combat is subtly displayed here, like in the weightiness of Senua's every swing, in the way her sword pierces into enemy flesh, and in the satisfying clanking noise of steel that comes every time you parry someone's attack. 

don't want to go into the details, but there is an early fight sequence with Draugars in a dimly-lit cultist site, and the way everything comes together, from cinematography to music and visuals, makes it one of the most memorable moments of the entire game, and easily one of my favorites of the year. 

The way Ninja Theory interweaves storytelling in its writing, combat, exploration, and music in Hellblade 2 is exceptional and praiseworthy. It results in an immaculate interactive experience that is significantly better in all aspects than most big-budget flicks on OTTs like Netflix. 

Hellblade 2 is yet another shining example of how vastly superior video games are as a medium of cinematic storytelling (albeit a dying one) compared to movies and TV shows. 

Given how much emphasis this game puts on fidelity, I was a bit concerned about how it would run on current-gen consoles and modern PCs. 

I'm happy to report that Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is a highly polished and optimized game on all platforms. I tested the game on an Xbox Series X, Series S, and a high-end PC with an RTX 4080 GPU. 

On Xbox Series X/S, Hellblade 2 is locked at 30 FPS, but it never bothered me because there is no motion blur to make your head dizzy. I rarely noticed any dips, especially on Series X, whose visuals are almost at par with the game's PC version. I was genuinely surprised at how good Hellblade 2 looks on an Xbox Series X. It's now easily the best-looking game on that system. 

 A high-end PC is unsurprisingly the best place to play Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. I was able to run the game at native 4K and get 60 FPS with DLSS enabled, and it looked absolutely breathtaking. 

Hellblade 2 Verdict (5/5)

Hellblade 2 review story gameplay
Hellblade 2 is Ninja Theory's best game to date. (Picture: Shreyansh Katsura/Ninja Theory)

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is Ninja Theory's magnum opus. It's a sequel that's ambitious but not overbearing. With this game, the studio has perfected its craft of portraying immaculate cinematic experiences, glimpses of which can be traced back to its earlier games, like 2007's Heavenly Sword.

Most importantly, with Hellblade 2, Ninja Theory has created an utterly refreshing AAA single-player experience that is unlike anything Xbox has currently to offer this generation. 

The review code was provided by the publisher.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2
Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is Ninja Theory's magnum opus. It's a sequel that's ambitious but not overbearing. With this game, the studio has perfected its craft of portraying immaculate cinematic experiences, glimpses of which can be traced back to its earlier games, like 2007's Heavenly Sword. Most importantly, with Hellblade 2, Ninja Theory has created an utterly refreshing AAA single-player experience that is unlike anything Xbox has currently to offer this generation.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X - Code provided by the publisher
9.5/10