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Review: SENUA’S SAGA: HELLBLADE 2 is a stunning cinematic experience in a game

Ninja Theory and Xbox were recently released The Senua Saga: Hellblade II on PC and Xbox. The game is the sequel to the acclaimed 2017 video game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and it has the potential to become one of Xbox Games Studios’ biggest games this year (too bad that doesn’t guarantee the team won’t be eliminated).

Xbox was kind enough to provide me with a free digital copy of Hellblade II, but all the following thoughts are my own. You can purchase the game from your favorite retail locations, including GameStop (affiliate link) and Xbox Store (affiliate link) with an MSRP of $49.99. You can also play it on Xbox Game Pass if you’re a subscriber (affiliate link).

Determined to save those who have fallen victim to the horrors of tyranny, Senua faces a battle to overcome the darkness within and without.

Immerse yourself in the next chapter of Senua’s story, a handcrafted experience told through cinematic immersion, beautifully crafted visuals and immersive sound.

Before I get into the meat of my review, there are a couple of cleaning items that are important. First of all, I haven’t played Infernal Blade Before; I started with the sequel which is always an interesting choice. Therefore, I won’t be able to make comparisons with the first game.

Secondly, in my opinion Xbox did a terrible job of marketing this game and if you forgot, I wouldn’t blame you. It almost feels like Xbox is self-sabotaging this game, which is worrying. This doesn’t affect my score, but I think it’s worth mentioning.

Now let’s get to the good stuff. Hellblade II continues the story of Senua, a Celtic warrior who experiences psychosis while crossing Viking Iceland. If you’ve never played Infernal Bladethe game starts with the video below as an introduction to get you up to speed, but I personally didn’t find it very helpful in understanding what I missed in the first game.

I actually found GameSpot’s summary much more helpful, probably because it didn’t try to be told in flowery language like the one used in the game.

This is one of the most cinematic games I’ve ever played. While playing the game, there are no UI elements to distract you. No health bars, no stamina bars, no mini-map, nothing! This is to create a more immersive experience and it works. I don’t miss the UI at all and the gameplay doesn’t require it. The game does a good job of guiding you from point A to point B without the need for the UI, it becomes quite obvious when you’re on the brink of death. Hellblade II it seems like the main goal is to tell Senua’s ongoing story in the most cinematic way possible and in my opinion they succeed!

Even before the game’s launch, we knew it would run at 30 frames per second instead of the more favorable (in many minds) 60 fps. After playing the game, I can say that it was intentional and works really well, although I wonder what it would have been like if Hellblade II it actually ran at 24fps like most movies. That said, the 30fps was smooth and there was a moment where I noticed frame drops and it was a pretty big moment and I could see that somehow this was an issue with using the Quick Resume feature of Xbox Series

Another huge win for Hellblade II it’s the visual presentation. I don’t know enough to go into detail (which is why I highly recommend checking out the Digital Foundry video), but the game was absolutely stunning. It’s probably the best game I’ve ever played. Everything looked spectacular with the level of detail in the characters and environment, as well as the lighting and movement. The hair also looked absolutely amazing, which longtime readers will know is a huge thing for me.

The audio in this game is also phenomenal. The soundtrack and cues are top notch, the foley is flawless, and the use of 3D binaural audio is fantastic for an experience as immersive as Senua. This brings out one of the first negative aspects of Hellblade II. Binaural audio requires the use of headphones. For PC this isn’t a big deal, but for Xbox it’s a bigger problem because the Xbox Series X/S consoles don’t have Bluetooth. This means your headset selection is more limited because you need Xbox Wireless protocol headphones (I was lucky enough to have the Razer Kaira Pro), connect a wireless dongle to a USB port on your Xbox, or use a wired connection to the controller . It’s just more boring than it should be in my opinion. That said, in my opinion, binaural audio is absolutely worth it.

I want to point out that I also appreciate the efforts Team Ninja made to accurately portray a sensitive issue like psychosis. I have never experienced psychosis, but it seemed very tasty and probably has to do with the tasks performed by the team. They collaborated with prof Paul Fletcher from the University of Cambridge and “people with lived experience of psychosis”.

Why Hellblade II it’s short (typically less than eight hours to complete), I won’t go into any details that I haven’t already mentioned. That said, I think it’s very well told, even if I don’t know what I think of the ending yet. It’s very well made, but I also felt like something was missing. I can see how the team can use that ending to move into a third game or leave it closed with the ending presented and I’ll be interested to see what happens in the future. I really enjoyed the three companions Senua gets on her journey and their personal story arcs.

But let’s talk about the gameplay. There are essentially three components to the gameplay: walking simulation, puzzle and combat. The walking simulation has nothing noteworthy to talk about other than the fact that I found myself holding LB almost the entire time I played because otherwise you move so slowly and the movement is very smooth and feels better than other games I’ve played on Xbox lately Like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The puzzles are simple and honestly not very difficult. The combat isn’t great in my opinion (for reference I set the combat difficulty to Dynamic). It feels really hard to parry attacks (but it feels great when you do) and dodging also feels a bit clunky. It hardly seems pointless to have a heavy attack since the enemy almost always blocks or dodges it. The combat is very simple and repetitive and doesn’t feel very rewarding other than “yeah, it’s over, so I can get on with the story.” I feel like both the puzzles and combat are done this way to help further the story and keep it protagonist. In my opinion it’s okay with the puzzles (although I would have liked something more) but the combat is a big shame honestly and Hellblade IIIt’s the biggest weakness.

It’s time to recap. Hellblade II is a highly cinematic and story-driven video game. I really enjoyed my time with it despite not playing the first game. It suffers from repetitive and frankly boring combat, and to get the binaural audio experience you can’t just use an old pair of bluetooth headphones. I don’t think the 30fps lock on the Xbox Series If you want to try a game that is absolutely gorgeous to look at with an interesting story, I would recommend it Hellblade II, especially if you have Xbox Game Pass since it won’t cost you extra money. I would actually give this game a solid 8.5/10, but since we don’t have graphics for this, we’ll round up.

by Tommy Williams
Source: Geek Tyrant

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