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Senua’s Saga Hellblade 2 review: Perfect but padded

Key Takeaways

  • Senua’s Saga showcases empathy over revenge, challenging players to understand and forgive rather than attack.
  • The game’s powerful narrative is enhanced by unique audio design, immersing players in Senua’s mind.
  • Despite its strengths, Hellblade 2 falls short with repetitive combat and lackluster puzzles, hindering its impact.



The past is a promise, not a prison. This line is the core of Senua’s Saga, which starts with revenge but evolves into a tale of empathy. Like its predecessor, it is a character study that immerses you in Senua’s mental headspace and maintains its grip no matter how uncomfortable it becomes. The commitment to portraying Senua, with all her strengths and faults, succeeds largely because it is a game. While it fully utilizes the gaming medium, Hellblade 2 also adjusts its pacing to be more recognizable as a traditional game. It is not a long game. However, if it had committed to trimming all the unnecessary elements around the core themes, they would have shined even brighter.


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Drawing heavily from Norse mythology and interweaving elements of psychosis, Senua’s Saga cleverly manipulates your perception of reality. You can never be fully sure what is real and what is just a manifestation of Senua’s mind. I appreciate when games strive to be more than just fun, and Hellblade 2 certainly makes that effort. In many ways, it succeeded in evoking powerful emotions from me without relying solely on fun, but it still encountered some pitfalls I had hoped the developers would have addressed from the first game. I sincerely value my time with this game, warts and all, but I do not see myself playing it again. I had my experience with it, and that will stay with me. Playing it again would not make its positives shine as brightly and would highlight its flaws even more.

Senua's Saga

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2

Recommended

Pros

  • Puts you deep into Senua’s mind
  • Visual and audio presentation are unbelievable
  • Performances and animation express every detail
  • Empowering message of living with mental illness
Cons

  • Puzzles feel like busywork and slow the pace
  • Too much combat

Price and availability

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is out now for $50 on Xbox and Steam. Released on May 21, 2024, it’s a third-person adventure game that dives deep into themes of empathy and understanding.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2

Release Date
May 21, 2024

Genre
Third-person adventure

Developer
Ninja Theory


At peace with the Furies

Love is the light

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 review

Senua’s Saga / Pocket-lint

Senua’s Saga begins with a quest for revenge against the group taking and killing her people, but that goal is almost immediately overturned. When she arrives in their lands, she quickly learns that they are not evil for evil’s sake. After the events of the first game, giants have begun appearing in their world and pushing everyone to the brink of extinction. Their solution, which not all agree with, was to sacrifice others to the giants to protect their own. If Senua can stop the giants, which are believed to be unkillable, then the sacrifices will stop.


Each chapter in Senua’s Saga is a lesson on empathy. First, Senua learns to empathize with the slavers, but later each giant as well. Defeating the giants isn’t done through power or anger but by understanding, loving, and forgiving. It is a rare idea for a game to put the power in love, not hate, and it all circles back to Senua herself accepting herself. The voices in her head still speak to her, but she doesn’t let them control or define her. They will doubt, praise, harass, encourage, and insult her, but Senua shows that she is in control.

The story here is not a long or epic one, but is meant to stay intimate with a tight focus on Senua and a small cast. Because the game so tightly wraps you in Senua’s mind, you are never sure just how much of what you’re seeing is real and what is her mind’s creation. Sections where reality shifts and the visuals are allowed to be more experimental and break logical sense are some of the strongest in the game. Of course, I can’t ignore the masterful audio design that plays an even greater role than the visuals in immersing you in not the world, but Senua herself. Playing this game with 3D audio-capable headphones is a requirement. Hearing the voices whisper as if right next to your ear, or the skittering of something behind you from left to right in the blackness of a cave, is how the game is meant to be played.


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Diminishing returns

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 review

Senua’s Saga / Pocket-lint

Almost as much as the medium of games elevates Senua’s Saga, it is also dragged down by those conventions. Pacing becomes an issue after the first few hours when more combat and puzzles appear.

The lackluster puzzles from the first game, which ask you to find specific symbols in the environment to progress, return. They are not numerous, but they are a tedious exercise from the start and do not feel thematically appropriate or satisfying to solve. There is a second puzzle type that eventually melds with the first, but this only artificially extends how long they take to solve. If Senua had a faster movement speed, this could have been alleviated somewhat, but the tasks themselves never felt like more than busywork.


Combat is the greatest tragedy of Senua’s Saga. The initial few encounters had me completely engrossed. The lack of HUD, simple controls, and brutality of it felt fast and viscerally real. Fights were only against one or two foes one after another and felt realistically exhausting. That feeling faded as more combat appeared, not just in frequency but in the volume of enemies thrown at you per encounter. Because the game is completely focused on one-on-one fights, it becomes a little unbelievable that Senua could not only fight so many enemies in a single fight but also how convenient it is that no more than one ever attacks her at a time.

The thing you will feel most is that, as far as the team pushes narrative and presentation, gameplay never evolves. Puzzles might get a slight remix, and a different enemy type could be introduced, but your tools for solving both types of gameplay do not change between the opening hours and the conclusion. That is not a bad thing in isolation, but it becomes dull when repeated as often as it is.


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Should you try Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2?

A thrilling saga bogged down with padding

Senua’s Saga is a thoughtful and honest portrayal of living with psychosis. It highlights the good and the bad without talking down to the audience or miscasting mental health as something that needs to be “fixed.” The narrative is no longer than it needs to be but is broken up by puzzles that don’t challenge the player or reveal more about the character. Combat, while initially striking in its brutality, never evolves and cannot remain impactful for the entire duration. This is a game with a message I believe everyone could benefit from experiencing, but the path through it is not as smooth as it could be.

Senua's Saga

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2

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