hellblade II senua's saga
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Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Review: Soulful and Stunning

A harrowing, exhilarating, heart-wrenching saga

There is a reason why Senua’s name comes first in the title for Hellblade II. The game’s predecessor — Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice — centered on the protagonist’s fight to save her lover’s soul, but this time the journey is entirely about Senua herself. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is her story, her life, and she is now the most important figure in her own journey.

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Set in Iceland during the 9th century, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II has Norse culture and myth woven throughout. The beautiful way the game includes Norse stories through the game is inviting and cleverly done. Bonus tales hide within the main story’s chapters, waiting for you to uncover them. Finding each hidden lorestangir is a task within itself, but thankfully this doesn’t distract you from your journey. Each rune you uncover combines to form a captivating tale of Midgard, giving more depth to Senua’s world. In addition to the lorestangir, you will find faces hidden in plain sight which once found, reveal another insight into Senua’s culture and history.

Senua’s Saga_ Hellblade face in pool
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Those moments of peace, where you have time to stop and listen to a snippet of a story, are a welcome relief. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is intense, captivating, and breathtaking. From the moment I began to play, the beauty and quality of this game has enthralled me. It was difficult at times to even consider it ‘just a game’. I could spend long periods just admiring the textures and use of light and color. Even in simple moments when you are merely wandering a path or exploring a hut, it looks like a movie.

Senua’s Saga_ Hellblade landscape
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The sound design is stunning and, at times, very unsettling. Playing while using a headset allows the game’s audio to come alive. The furies, voices in Senua’s head, pan from left to right. When they speak they sound as if they are each sitting on a shoulder or just behind you, often whispering, screaming, or wailing. Occasionally, the darkness — Senua’s father — bellows evil thoughts and doom-filled prophecies. These voices, with the addition of a dynamic musical soundtrack, create an atmosphere like none I have ever experienced.

One moment in an early chapter was so intense, I had to take a short break. The combination of the wails from the souls Senua could not save, the cries of panic and warning from the furies, and the low rumble of the darkness were extraordinarily effective. I have been impressed with how well the more vigorous elements have been balanced with calmer, gentle moments.

Senua’s Saga_ Hellblade puzzle in cave
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It is interesting how the relationship between Senua and her furies evolves throughout the game. At first, they are wary, negative, and at times pretty bleak, but every show of strength from Senua seems to give them confidence and a little more optimism. The furies become more like sisters or close friends, voicing opinions and giving advice (although it is not always welcome). Perhaps this change in the furies is a reflection of how Senua herself has managed to control her psychosis, rather than succumb to it.

The third-person combat gameplay in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a little different from the first Hellblade title. The sword-based melee combat is fast-paced, lively, and improved somewhat with an exciting new ability for Senua. The mirror that young Senua would use to focus in the first Hellblade game comes into play here in spectacular fashion. The new focus ability slows enemies in an eruption of shining, rune-etched mirror shards. This gives Senua time to use her sword to quickly attack the enemy with strength and skill. It takes a little time to recharge but seems to be ready just at the right moment.

senua's saga fight hellblade II
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Although you only fight one enemy at a time, it never feels unrealistic or repetitive. Senua is nimble and quick but she must focus her rage and grief to succeed. While you fight off one enemy, another approaches from the side or behind. Senua will often battle with one creature while the other threatens to jump in at any moment. There is a recognizable rhythm from each attacker but they are often varied for an extra bit of realism. Each fight is arduous but exhilarating. It is worth keeping the Dynamic Combat setting on, but if you eventually find it too difficult, or not difficult enough, this can be changed.

The intensity of a battle is balanced perfectly with more peaceful moments. Walking through the moors and cliffs with companions allows you to breathe for a while. Regular environmental puzzles bring a different test for a player. This time Senua’s focus ability opens up a different realm of possibilities. She can see between worlds, manipulate realities, and make her way through each puzzle by finding a new perspective. I found the puzzles to be simple but enjoyable. They could have been tougher but, as they are, they create a good balance for the intense and bloody fights.

Senua’s Saga_ Hellblade puzzle
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There is an astounding amount of attention to detail in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. Each landscape you see is designed beautifully from the gorse and grasses to the water trailing down the rock formations. Thankfully, the game’s photo mode allows you to pause at any point and appreciate the work that has gone into it. The features give you free rein to capture moments as you see fit. You can change the focus, the filter, the lighting, and so much more. I recommend utilizing photo mode to drink in the atmosphere of a scene, or appreciate the beauty in the landscape. I admit I spent too long appreciating textures in the leather and flax, and the shining bronze of Senua’s sword.

Even the faces of Senua and her companions are of a higher quality than I have seen in a game for a while. You can see the texture in the skin, pores, and hair, and the occasional microexpression gives a surprisingly lifelike element. Each character has a distinct personality, with top-tier voice acting showing off what is clearly excellent casting.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a work of art from start to finish. It is a pleasure to play, with intriguing characters, a captivating story, and awe-inspiring creatures to fight. This is certainly one saga I won’t forget in a hurry.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II
Senua's Saga: Hellblade II is intense, captivating, and breathtaking. From the moment I began to play, the beauty and quality of this game has enthralled me. It was difficult at times to even consider it 'just a game'. I could spend long periods just admiring the textures and use of light and color. Even in simple moments when you are merely wandering a path or exploring a hut, it looks like a movie.
Pros
  • Stunning graphics
  • Beautiful sound design
  • Captivating story
  • Wonderful characterization
Cons
  • None!
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on Xbox Series X|S.

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Author
Image of Rowan Jones
Rowan Jones
Rowan is a writer from Devon, U.K with a BA in Education Studies. The first video game Rowan fell in love with was Treasure Island Dizzy on the ZX Spectrum but has since progressed to bigger and better titles. She has been writing game guides for mobile and console since 2020 within Gamurs Group. Rowan has a love/hate relationship with Dead By Daylight and a completely healthy obsession with Fortnite.