Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the latest release from Ninja Theory. As the developer of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved, and DmC: Devil May Cry, Hellblade is the developer’s product of fear in the human mind. Released for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, the game tells the story of a young woman – a Celtic Pict warrior – named Senua. Our Hellblade review will cover the game’s best, and worst aspects, and whether or not it’s right for your collection!
Set in an ancient, Norse realm , Senua seeks to save her lover from the realm of Helheim. In a world filled with Norse Mythology, it becomes a paradise of lore for those seeking to learn more about its ancient tales. As Senua traverses through the realms of Midgard, Niflheim, and Muspelheim, Senua’s own mental demons drive her closer to madness. The game starts you off on a boat and you begin to hear the voices. They voices get louder as they continue to torment Senua with wicked insults. For those wearing headphones, it truly is a treat for the ears, one could say.
The visuals in Hellblade are realistic and appealing. For starters, the animation and visual quality are indeed detailed. The environmental design looks dark and dilapidated, yet detailed. Senua’s facial animations are particularly quite detailed. You can see the striking animation of her expressions representing anger, sorrow, grief, and at times, happiness. In terms of world design, Muspelheim, for instance, is riddled with darker landscape. Helheim is a world bathed in hellfire and death. While it isn’t destined to be a work of beautiful, environmental landscapes, like Dark Souls or God of War, Hellblade tells the story with convincing enough visual detail.
The audio effects come from the ambience the game delivers. The voice acting is quite good in this game. Senua conveys her emotions and anguish through her screams and her will to fight. The sound effects through combat are also quite satisfying. You’ll hear the crazed whispers that formulate from Senua’s psychosis. Wearing headphones, the voices will attack you at every angle. They’ll tell you you’re not good enough, that you’re weak and shouldn’t bother trying, and other derogatory messages. You’ll also talk, mentally, with other characters inside of Senua’s head as well. My main issue, however, is that some of the scenes feature what I think aren’t CGI. You can see realistic people tormenting Senua. It’s hard to tell whether or not it’s CGI, but the sheer realism of it, compared to Senua’s model, feels jarring and out of place in the game’s world.
The gameplay in Hellblade is a linear adventure game with hack and slash elements. The camera follows over the shoulder of Senua as she adventures through the realms. The exploration is quite linear, encouraging little exploration. You can find shrines that give lore and uncover the backstory to Norse Mythology. There are only several in the game and they are all missable.
Much of the gameplay involves solving runic puzzles. These involve using your sight to open the way by aligning runes together as shapes of other objects. As you progress through the game, the puzzles themselves don’t change. However, their shapes and methods to find them will.
Combat in Hellblade is decent at best, lacking any sort of speed or depth. Senua lacks any special abilities outside of her basic combat. She uses her sword to attack with weak and strong attacks. She can also dodge or even parry an enemy’s blow. The special runic power in her eye can briefly disable or reveal enemies as well, but it’s static throughout the game.
The game warns the player that you can only die a certain number of times before the game deletes your save file. This is merely a bluff, though. And quite frankly, the system just adds problems. It compounds unneeded stress on a player for a gimmick that would have been just as well not used at all. Another issue in this Hellblade is that enemy types are limited in number. You won’t find much more than a small handful of weapon-wielding warriors to attack you.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice delivers an epic story. The tale of a woman who lost her love, she’ll go through any lengths to bring him back to the living world. The game succeeds in telling the story of Senua’s paranoia and trauma. The dark dungeons you enter craft an eerie, haunting feeling of hopelessness. Several of the monsters you encounter evoke a sense of dread in the player. They will bar your way through and can kill you instantly.
Despite its strong intentions in the storyline, the flaws in gameplay quickly become apparent. You can finish Hellblade in roughly 10 hours. Moreover, the game heavily limits your exploration compared to others of its genre. Senua’s plodding pace makes puzzle solving a dragging experience in larger areas. Hellblade undoubtedly emphasizes story and atmosphere above all else, and it shows. The game’s atmosphere and narrative are much stronger than its gameplay.
Also, I find it rather curious, that a character, which bears no superhuman powers, is fighting gods and giants of Norse Mythology. You fell these beings using an iron sword. It makes little sense to me and it’s one of my peeves for the game and its writing. While you get a stronger sword later on, it only serves as a plot point and is created specifically for one purpose.
In the end, though, if story driven games are your forte, this game is for you. Even for one playthrough, enjoy the plot for what it’s worth. But if it’s action you’re after, you can find better choices in your preferred system’s library.