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Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Review: An Odyssey Like Any Other?

Platform(s): Xbox Series (version reviewed), PC
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Third-Person Action Set In 8th Century Iceland

Despite many mixed reviews for the games Ninja Theory makes, I have always held an affinity towards the studio and its brand of storytelling and gameplay. The PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavenly Sword wasn’t the best framerate-wise and was pretty short, but it had quite a memorable cast and story peaks. The devs’ version of Journey to the West, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, is a personal favourite of mine in the late 2000s despite its linear approach.

Even their controversial take on the Devil May Cry series had its silver linings -its colour-based action gameplay and story beats that made main character Dante a tad more believable and interesting- as long as the game ran at 60fps and beyond. And you don’t need me to elaborate on the success and acclaim of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which is Ninja Theory doing what it knows best: doing a finely-tuned balancing act in delivering story and gameplay in a successful mix.

Sure, the less said about Bleeding Edge, the better. But when it comes to projects they are actually passionate about, I can get behind Ninja Theory’s games. And keep in mind: I’m the kind of critic who prioritizes gameplay over story.

The sequel to that 2017 game, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 (or just Hellblade 2 for this review), is just the company reiterating what it’s an expert of and just keeping true to delivering an “independent AAA” style of experience: making a tightly-knit action-adventure experience that doesn’t outstay its welcome. On those merits and tempered expectations, I did have quite a blast with the sequel.



Part of the reason why I am behind what’s offered here is how Hellblade 2’s story is laid out. You play as Senua, a deeply-tormented individual who ventures out of her homeland to stop slavers from terrorizing her countryfolk in 8th-century Iceland. She also has to deal with the voices in her head from the first game; if you’re not sure about the first game’s plot, the game does a decent job recapping everything for you so that you’re up to speed. Along the way, she allies with unexpected folks and trek on through the desolate parts of Iceland filled with vistas and myths, as well as whatever she visualizes out of her psychosis and mindscape which are part disturbing and awesome to witness.

Without spoiling anything, these major parts of the experience are presented and told very well, getting you invested in her stakes and why she presses on despite all her inner doubts & voices that torment her to no end. Mo-cap actress Melina Juergens as the titular saga-doer nails the acting, emotion, and facework from start to finish; I highly doubt the game would hold as much gravitas without her voice & passion in the role as the not-quite-alright warrior.

It’s also best to play this game with headphones as the audio work for her inner voices just adds to the haunting and demented nature of its storytelling. Even if the “one take” transition and presentation are not as innovative now, it’s still effectively done here and just kept me going from start to finish without pausing.

As a Pict warrior, she also has to fight through one-on-one battles with many foes here from slavers to the undead in third-person combat. These parts are challenging, brutal, and can get challenging as you’re not given much instructions save to survive and try out attacks on your own. Senua has a light and heavy attack, as well as a parry that blocks most attacks. Heavier attacks from foes make her recover slower from her blocks, so she’ll have to evade certain moves at times. However, if she times her block at the right time, she goes to a parry animation and makes her enemy vulnerable to the killing blow.

She can also initiate a focus spell that slows down time, giving Senua a short window of opportunity to counterattack with her own sword attacks. What also makes these portions impactful and intense is that there’s no HUD or lifebar present; you have to gauge Senua’s health based on her stance and the colours of the screen. The redder it gets, the closer she is to death. You need to figure out each enemy’s attack pattern and then response appropriately. Some foes get waylaid more with heavy attacks, while others require you to wait a bit before they do a completely unsafe shield bash or big axe swing before you can counterattack. Hellblade 2’s combat is essentially a visceral version of Punch Out! but with swords and a ton of Viking-era violence, and by god it feels good seeing your heroine land her sword hits and eventual kill animations.

To break up combat, Senua also needs to solve puzzles in her journey. These range from spotting hidden runes to open “magic mind gates” to activating special circular switches that remove or summon obstructions, to even lighting up or dousing special pedestals to open up/close pathways. There are even segments where you need to light up certain pathways so that you don’t get dragged into the darkness as part of a solution. These brainteasers aren’t too tough, but they do need your power of observation and logic to get through, and can take a while before they click with you.

It’s not all sunshine and roses in the gameplay department though, as Hellblade 2 cops out at later chapters. There is one section involving a forest where the game becomes an extended walking simulator. This bit (and a few more) just breaks the pacing and could use more of the earlier puzzles I mentioned. True, there are hidden collectables involving faces on the wall that need uncovering and deviating pathways that lead to runes that flesh out more about Hellblade 2’s lore, but these can get aggravating given Senua’s not-quite-fast running speed in these linear non-combat bits.


A Saga Unfolded

In spite of that, the good outweighs the bad. While the story & gameplay’s broad strokes might be familiar, Hellblade 2’s execution, perspective, and overall production values are just stellar and highlight Ninja Theory’s strengths in delivering what it does best: story-heavy cinematic gaming. The characters are fleshed out and well-written, with proper focus on your main character and her turmoils that carry over from the first game, the fighting feels weighty and challenging without being completely frustrating, and the HUD-less approach to presentation is welcome.

The balance between combat and puzzle-solving gameplay treads that fine line between variety and linearity; both do not overstay their welcome and go back and forth enough to keep you invested over its 6 to 8 hours of playtime. I could use fewer walking sim moments, given Senua’s not-quite-fast running speed, and the game could use an “endless” mode for those who want more combat bits beyond the story. But from what I’ve experienced from start to finish, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is surely going to resonate with many people if they want a tailored and less-bloated action-and-story experience.



  • Stellar visuals & atmosphere.
  • Meaty combat segments.
  • Fun & not-too-taxing puzzle segments.
  • Good story with an interesting main character (and perspective) that doesn’t drag.


  • Could use one or two extra gameplay modes.
  • A number of “walking sim” moments feel like padding.
  • Senua’s running speed needs a boost.


Final Score: 80/100

Review copy provided by publisher.

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