Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is a mesmerising cinematic experience

senua's saga hellblade 2
Hellblade 2 is a mesmerising cinematic experienceNinja Theory / Xbox Game Studios

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 launches at an awkward time, just weeks after Xbox announced the closure of studios including Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin. Does Xbox still see a place in its portfolio for shorter and more focused games that dare to try something different?

The first Hellblade game was met with much love back in 2017, and went on to win big at the Game Awards and BAFTAs. It told a compelling story that centred on a warrior named Senua, who set off to save the soul of her lover and who also experiences psychosis.

Set in 10th century Iceland, Senua's journey in the sequel starts off as a quest of vengeance against Viking slavers, before she comes face to face with a new enemy in the form of giants that threaten the land and spread fear and panic among the people.

It is a linear action-adventure in which nearly every aspect boldly serves the storytelling in some way.

senua's saga hellblade 2
Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios

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The narrative is striking, touching on topics including mental health and empathy and incorporating horror elements, and while the writing could have gone further in exploring its core themes, it is no doubt enhanced by the way the story is told within the game.

For the sequel, the developer goes further than before in its aim to present a cinematic experience. There is practically no HUD again, and this design decision is complemented by stunning visuals and cinematography to bring both the quieter moments and the action sequences to life (we played this on an ultrawide monitor, and the game truly feels made for one).

Some of the views you walk past are beautiful, while the one-on-one combat, though mechanically simple, is always filled with tension and stress. Your focus is on the enemy's movements, as you time your dodges and parries while looking for an opening to exploit and strike back.

senua's saga hellblade 2
Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios

The huge set-pieces are also a highlight as Senua confronts the giants, even if we can't go into detail about them – but know that there is more to them than they first appear, and have an emotional impact that ties back to some of the broader themes of the story.

Senua's mental health plays a prominent role again, but this time in a different context. While she continues to experience auditory and visual hallucinations, she has a better understanding of and has come to terms with her psychosis, being able to more confidently walk her own path and push back against the ever-present voices in her mind.

Once again, Ninja Theory worked closely with people with experience of psychosis as well as professionals in psychiatry for Hellblade 2.

We must caveat our thoughts here by saying we do not have lived experience of psychosis, but we feel that the developer has approached the subject with good intentions and delivered an experience that portrays the condition in a way that's only possible through an interactive medium.

senua's saga hellblade 2
Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios

Upon loading, the game suggests that the player uses headphones, a recommendation very much worth following. It uses binaural audio – designed to create the sensation of 3D stereo sound – to portray the voices in Senua's mind.

It's hard to articulate how effective the implementation is in words, but there is a discernible difference between, for example, the auditory hallucinations and dialogue spoken by other characters. It is a powerful feature that immerses you in Senua's perspective, even more so when combined with the cinematic nature of the game.

Unlike in the first game, Senua ends up meeting and travelling with multiple companions. Senua's experience of psychosis does affect her interactions with them, and they in turn make observations on how she sees the world differently. They also trust and put their faith in Senua.

senua's saga hellblade 2
Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios

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We reached the conclusion of the game in a little over six hours (without straying from the main path to find the collectibles) and found the length to be perfect for the story that the developer wanted to tell. If anything, a longer playtime with forced padding would have been jarring and to the game's detriment.

In fact, one of the game's greater strengths is its pacing. In addition to balancing between story and character development, it intersperses Senua's adventure with combat and puzzle-solving not just as a way to mix up the gameplay but also to drive the storytelling. The game doesn't want you to think of them as gameplay challenges to overcome, but rather as a part of the overall experience.

It is a story told at its own pace, and is better for it.

That said, a couple of the longer puzzle segments go on for a fraction too long, to the point where they become a little tedious and that immersion is broken.

senua's saga hellblade 2
Ninja Theory / Xbox Game Studios

Ninja Theory has produced a memorable game with Hellblade 2. It carries forward many of the aspects from the first game that worked while refining and improving upon them, and uses this as the base to tell a narrative that is engaging throughout and leaves a lasting impact.

Its ideas are more confidently executed, and Melina Juergens delivers another brilliant and touching performance as Senua.

It isn't perfect and whether or not it surpasses its predecessor is up for debate – this is a story that is different in scope – but Hellblade 2 is one of the standout experiences of the year so far and has been worth the wait.

4 stars
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Platform reviewed on: PC

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is out now on Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Game Pass.

If you've been affected by the issues raised in this article, organisations in the UK who can offer support include Mind on 0300 123 3393 and Nightline. You can also find out more at

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