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'Senua's Saga: Hellblade II' Review

Source: Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios / Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

It’s been seven years since we first embarked on Ninja Theory’s harrowing journey, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which puts mental health front and center while packaging up the experience in an exceptional video game. Microsoft has since acquired the studio, and the follow-up, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, is here and is honestly the first game that showcases the true power of the Xbox Series X console.

Before embarking on Senua’s next journey, I made it my business to play Senua’s Sacrifice to acclimate myself with Ninja Theory’s groundbreaking game.

For years, I heard how much of a technical achievement the game was, specifically its use of binaural audio, allowing players to experience the titular character’s battle with psychosis or, as she describes it, “the darkness” inside her head.

While it’s not necessary, the studio highly recommends you play the game using headphones to truly experience the technology as the voices in Senua’s head, aka “The Furies,” speak to her, either helping her or misleading her while on her journey to free her dead lover’s soul from the grips of Hela in the Norse underworld.

The developers recorded every ethereal line of dialogue using a binaural microphone, which means that when The Furies speak to Senua, it sounds like the voices are coming from different directions.

Dealing With Senua’s Psychosis

What’s so brilliant about the game is how the developers teamed up with people who have dealt with psychosis and, with the help of actual people who deal with psychosis and Professor Paul Fletcher at the University of Cambridge, to accurately deliver the feeling of dealing with the disorder.

It will truly have you questioning if the things you encounter during the journey are, in fact, authentic or just a product of Senua hallucinating, which is a byproduct of her psychosis.

Combined with solid combat mechanics, puzzles, and a fantastic story, Ninja Theory delivered a unique and second-to-none video game experience.

Now the question is, did Ninja Theory knock it out of the park again with Senua’s Saga? I am happy to say HEL YES.

Senua’s Saga Is Still A Technical Masterpiece

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Source: Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios / Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

Hellblade II follows Senua, the Celtic warrior who is fresh out of Hel (real or not) and is now on a mission seeking revenge on Viking raiders who devasted her homeland, Orkney.

Immediately, you realize the game’s locale is no longer the dark and extremely creepy set pieces of Hel. Senua’s Saga opens up on a rainy beach setting, following an epic boat sequence, totally shi**ing on the first time we meet Sensua in the first game.

Senua is also not alone for most of this journey, but like in the first game, you will wonder if the people following you are actually there or just a product of “the darkness.”

Eventually, you will immerse yourself in the world; the team at Ninja Theory captured real-life Icelandic locations that will have you stopping and using the game’s impressive photo mode to capture snapshots.

2017’s Sensua’s Sacrifice was nothing to sneeze at in the graphics department, but Senua’s Saga graphics are vastly improved.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Source: Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios / Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

Ninja Theory’s penchant for performance capture is taken to another level thanks to the studio’s “Ninja House,” which allows them to capture the full performance of their characters, from individual fingertip movements to the slightest facial movements.

I marveled at Melina Jurgen’s performance as Senua. Thanks to Ninja Theory’s performance capture technology, every bit of emotion could be seen on her face.

Of course, this game’s use of sound is brilliant. The use of binaural audio is not wasted, with The Furies sounding as convincing as ever, and the other voices and sounds you encounter throughout Senua’s adventure are just as haunting as ever.

Combat Is Improved, But There Is Still Room For Improvement

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Source: Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios / Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

When it came to the combat system in Senua’s Sacrifice, you either loved it for its simplicity and satisfying parry system or hated it for how repetitive it felt toward the end of the first game.

That feeling remains in Senua’s Saga, but there are still some subtle differences. Combat feels a bit tighter, and gone is that messy camera that moved when Senua shifted her focus when fighting more than one enemy at a time, which was one of the game’s more annoying moments.

The kick button is gone, and the parrying seems a bit more complicated, but it’s still satisfying when you successfully land a successful parry and deliver a fatal blow.

Senua’s Saga also does make a valiant attempt at throwing more enemy types at you, unlike the first game. Still, you will grow tired of fighting particular types of enemies you will encounter during one of the fight sequences.

Final Verdict

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II

Source: Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios / Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II

Xbox Series X and S owners have been clamoring for a reason to turn on their consoles, and those moments have been sporadic.

But with Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, it’s one of those titles that Xbox owners have been waiting a long time for. While not boasting $70 worth of content, it delivers a short BUT very sweet and rewarding experience that you only have to shelve out $50 or free if you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber.

Senua’s story is beautiful and terrifying at the same while helping you understand what it’s like to deal with a debilitating condition like psychosis.

Working alongside experts and people dealing with psychosis, Ninja Theory once again flawlessly tells a story that will leave you wondering if what you experienced was real while at the same time appreciating the journey.

After rolling credits, I came to love and appreciate Senua as a character. She is a flawed human being who, due to her condition, is completely misunderstood and mistreated by her father and other people who don’t understand “the darkness.”

Senua’s Saga is a masterclass in storytelling and showing people how to deal with their inner monsters. It shows why video games are not just about fun but also art. They can be a tool to teach and help us understand things we usually don’t encounter in everyday life, like dealing with psychosis.

Hellblade II is a beautiful and harrowing tale that everyone should experience.

*Xbox Series X key provided by Xbox*

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