Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Review

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was an impressive-looking game considering it was made on a shoestring budget with only about 20 scrappy developers. Ninja Theory, the developers were very tight after Heavenly Sword, Enslaved, and DmC‘s failures and they did the best they could with almost nothing. The result was a nightmarishly surreal action-adventure game that dials back on the action and amps up the pensive moments where there was a lot of walking.

The production values and smart implementation of live-action footage gave the impression that Hellblade was AAA. Focusing on a story that was a twist on the hero’s journey, but with an unreliable protagonist who was effectively insane, Ninja Theory crafted a very original and striking experience that stood out in the sea of story-driven walking sim indie games… and then Microsoft bought them and put them to work on a sequel.

Senua’s Sacrifice was a self-contained and tight story with a definitive end where the protagonist seemingly is in a better place than where she started. A continuation is probably the last thing anyone would expect from it. Maybe Ninja Theory has an idea that would justify Senua’s return? Where can she go? How can the simplistic gameplay be expanded? Find out in our Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II review!

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios

Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Price: $49.99 USD

When Hellblade ended, Senua was able to overcome her harrowing grief of her murdered significant other. This was extraordinarily difficult for her because she was a certifiable schizophrenic during an era when nobody had any concept of what mental illness was.

The game was set around 800 A.D. and to everyone else, Senua was considered cursed because her mom practiced witchcraft. The reality was much more mundane and Senua merely inherited her mother’s mental illnesses.

The entire story was from Senua’s perspective and given her compromised faculties, she was a very unreliable point of view. This made the story more interesting to experience since all reality was being filtered through a pagan woman whose grip on reality was looser than a prolapsed anus at a furry convention.

One would think there wouldn’t be a lot of room for an interesting continuation after how the first game tightly wrapped itself up… and you’d be right.

The setup for Senua’s Saga is that she has given herself up to slavers in hopes of inevitably meeting up with the brutal Vikings that raided her village and killed Dillion, her lover.

After a harrowing storm that strands herself and a surviving slaver somewhere off the coast of Norway, the story incoherently meanders in many directions without a defined goal and motivations changing at the writer’s convenience.

One of the more interesting qualities of Senua’s Sacrifice was how mystical the narrative felt. This quality is greatly diminished in Senua’s Saga and a lot of it has to do with the introduction of physical characters.

Senua usually only had the sounds of the voices in her head, but in this sequel, she interacts with flesh and blood people. This was a missed opportunity to depict how a crazy person would interact with normal historical people, but Senua doesn’t ever seem out of place.

The furies or “head voices” also don’t factor into the gameplay anymore. Combat, limited though it may be, was something that you had to do once in a while and sometimes against multiple foes and the furies would call out whenever one was going to attack Senua from behind.

This made it feel like players connected with these aspects of Senua’s mental state. Regretfully, Senua’s Saga’s battles are dumbed down to only one versus one so that means furies can’t function as a clever game mechanic to warn players of sneak attacks.

Senua also has fewer moves than she had in her first adventure. She can no longer kick to interrupt enemies or break their guard when shielded and she doesn’t have her running attack anymore.

Compounded with fewer enemy types and even fewer bosses than in the first game, it is hard to believe that Senua’s Saga is supposed to be the bigger budget game backed by the most powerful company in the world. The first Hellblade was limited because it was made by a very limited staff with a small budget. This sequel should have more going on, not less.

The gritty historical angle was like the movie Valhalla Rising in which it gets dropped and actual fantasy elements crept their way in. This undermines what made the first game original and interesting since Senua is no longer hallucinating everything. There are physical giants now and other human characters see them too.

The fantasy elements used to be symbolic and had greater implications for Senua’s understanding. The Northmen were depicted as horned monsters because that’s how she imagined they looked based on descriptions as told to her.

While this is still the case in Senua’s Saga, now she has real monsters to deal with on top of her fractured psyche playing tricks on her. The first game had basic gameplay; somehow, the sequel simplifies it further.

Hellblade II does not need to go full open-world and bog players down with tedious activities and things to do, but it also does not need to take things away and ask for more money too. The first game was $29.99 and has more features than the $49.99 sequel. It is video game-inflation thanks to Biden’s economy.

The core gameplay of Senua’s Saga is consistent with Senua’s Sacrifice. Expect a lot of walking, triggering unskippable animations, and very light environmental puzzles. Controlling Senua feels very clicky-clacky; as if you don’t have any control over her and that it is more like pressing a button and she will follow through with an elaborate motion-captured animation.

The artifice of control also extends to enemies when fighting them. There are times when opponents will dodge or clash swords with Senua for a cinematic flourish but it never feels real and the game is making enemies react to the players’ inputs rather than any organic reaction. This is especially the case for killing enemies where there are very detailed and gory fatalities.

Walking around, interacting with stuff in the environment, or the simple act of moving through a tight space will involve lengthy animations. Sometimes Senua will stop and players will have to press up on the analog stick to keep her doing her animation. This can be the case for so long that it becomes tiring to keep the stick in this position and you’ll wonder why it wasn’t this a cutscene.

While the gameplay won’t impress anyone and may even let down fans of the first game, nobody will argue that Hellblade II doesn’t look good. Even on Xbox Series S, this game has some of the best lighting effects and textural detail in the business. The world looks almost primordial and every character is filthy, caked in shit and dried blood. It is a raw and gritty world that you can smell.

Then again, what game in the 2020s doesn’t look good? Video game graphics have long since peaked and gamers have been getting diminished returns for over a decade. Hellblade II was made with the same engine as RoboCop: Rogue City; it isn’t some kind of unique technological advancement.

The binaural sound design is more impressive than its dazzling visuals. Senua’s voices are constantly chattering and with headphones on, it can feel like they are swooping all around you, creating a dizzying and disorienting effect. Zynbel, Senua’s dad’s voice, is especially imposing and nightmarish whenever he’s heard. He stands out as one of the better actors and delivers an unforgettable and monstrous performance.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II does not justify its existence. It is an unnecessary sequel that was made as a cash grab because the first game had genuine artistic merit, flawed though it may be. It looks impressive, but that’s the standard from AAA publishers like Xbox Game Studios.

Having fewer features and a short run time might have been forgivable if Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II wasn’t such an utterly boring game. During my play sessions, I actually fell asleep during one of the many slow-moving scenes.

For a game that is about six hours, it is barren and wastes a lot of time by having players tediously walk through vast and empty environments or trudge through forced walking sequences. It is an unsatisfying experience that fails to live up to the original and you still can’t skip cutscenes.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy purchased by Nichegamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), and Xbox Series X|S.

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The Verdict: 4

The Good

  • Excellent presentation and production values
  • Superb and punchy sound that comes alive with a state-of-the-art sound system or headphones
  • Zynbel has a really cool voice and is the best character
  • Highly detailed photo mode

The Bad

  • Basic moves, features, and actions have been cut from the first game in what is already very minimalistic gameplay
  • Cop-out ending and a poorly paced story that falls apart under scrutiny
  • A dour five-hour long game that feels much longer and is so boring it will put you to sleep due to the lacking and uninvolving gameplay
  • Unskippable cutscenes and no replay value
  • Invisible walls and insurmountable knee-high blockades


A youth destined for damnation.

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