Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II review: an intense story set against a stunning visual and sound backdrop

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    Sequels are usually a hit or miss, but Senua’s Saga doesn’t fail. There is nothing better than continuing a story, and it is deeper, heavier and more emotional, but even more beautiful. Senua’s Saga does exactly that, adding some depth to its gameplay and some stunning visuals to create a top-notch experience.

    History

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    While I’m not happy that Senua has to fight once again, I am happy that we get to see more of her story. And the second part of Hellblade II is honestly just as good as the first.

    Senua’s Sacrifice was praised for its amazing depiction of mental health, and that praise should be extended to Senua’s Saga. The journey to mental health is never a straight path up or down. I like to think of it more as a roller coaster, and like the first, Senua navigates all of these struggles throughout the second chapter of his adventure.

    He fared better at the end of the first game, but his progress understandably takes a few steps back after traumatic experiences like the return of the northerners, finishing what they started, and capturing his people as slaves. It’s no surprise that the shadow returns. And it is not surprising that Senua doubts and fears.

    But she still keeps going. Sometimes the only thing you can do is keep going despite everything. Although she is a warrior from bygone eras, this makes Senua relatable to everyone. She is fighting her own nightmares and getting back up every time.

    She sees the light in the future, in others, even in their darkest moments. But it is not easy. She learned it from her past and it’s a choice she has to make every time, even when the voices in her head doubt it. That’s why I love Senua’s story. The fact that she chose to leave the Slavemaster alive because she saw the rot taking over her body. That’s something she’s very familiar with and she feels for a man who has the same struggle, even though she hates him for what she’s done.

    Mental health problems can often seem very difficult because those they affect do not show who are dealing with them. Senua’s story and struggles shed light on how difficult it can be to deal with mental health issues, and the way she presents herself in the game is heartfelt and sincere.

    Score: 5/5

    How to Play

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    While the game is intense due to the subject matter, it is not that difficult to beat. It’s a perfect balance of challenges combined with an amazing story. I loved the rune puzzles in the first game and in this one they go a step further. There’s a fun new mechanic that I don’t want to spoil that will flip the script for you.

    In addition to the Lorestone collectibles that were available in the first game, there are now hidden faces that you can also discover throughout the chapters. These faces hide a tree that will also spread more knowledge about the world and its inhabitants. I love that when you go to the chapters tab in the Menu, you can see exactly how many Lorestones and hidden faces there are in each chapter. And you’ll know exactly how many you missed. As I write this, I shake my fist angrily at that hidden face in chapter three that has yet eluded me. I will find it.

    Then there is the combat. Senua’s Saga increases not only the number of combat encounters you will have, but also their intensity. There are several different types of enemies, each with their own patterns that you will have to learn to evade, block and parry. They’ll take a few hits to go down, unless you can get the perfect timing to parry them and occasionally deliver an incredibly satisfying one-hit kill.

    That said, there are only about four or five different types of enemies you’ll encounter, so after a while the combat can become too repetitive. However, developer Ninja Theory has spent some time making the combat feel heavier. Senua’s sword has a good weight to it and the way it slices and dices her enemies. Quickly mashing the buttons on your controller to get Senua to her feet and avoid a fatal blow is also immersive and much more intense than simply pressing a button once and watching our heroine get back on her feet.

    Score: 4/5

    Visual design

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    The visuals of the first game were innovative, but the second takes everything a step further. I wish I could have looked more honestly at Senua and her expressions throughout the game. When games get super realistic, human faces can make their way into the uncanny valley, but I never got that feeling when watching Senua and the rest of the cast in the game.

    The cutscenes look amazing, but it’s the fact that many times I can barely tell the difference between them and the actual gameplay that surprises me. There were many instances where I would wait for the scene to end, only to realize that I was supposed to be playing. The fact that it’s so unnoticeable really is a testament to the levels of production Ninja Theory has put into Seanua’s Saga, and it made me enjoy every moment of the adventure a little more.

    What’s particularly refreshing from its predecessor is the variation in the environments Senua traverses. Each chapter brought with it new terrain and environments to explore. From snow-capped mountains, spooky caves, dense forests, and lush cliffside meadows. Every change of scenery made me stand in awe of how beautiful it looked. Even when the rain was pouring and it couldn’t get any muddier, the world still seemed strangely picturesque.

    The only problem I had with the pictures (and it’s really more of an annoyance) is that a lot of the rocks look expensive. I guess it was intentional, or I just wanted to find them all, so I started seeing things. But the amount of time I spent concentrating and looking around was definitely more than I would have liked.

    Score: 4.5/5

    Sound design

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    I can’t say enough about Hellblade II’s sound design. From the background music (and menu), to the ambient sounds, to the amazing voice acting, I can’t decide what’s more perfect. All of the voice actors really hit the mark, but I have to give full props to Senua and the Furies. The voices of doubt, support, questions, worries, negativity, and pessimism were persistent throughout the adventure, and thanks to the 3D binaural sound, you really get a sense of the torment Senua faces in her adventure.

    Did I often turn around thinking there was someone in the room with me when the Furies started talking? Too many times. But that is the point. They sounded like they were in my head, or in the room with me, contributing to the experience.

    Ambient sounds did the same. A fire crackling, a river flowing – all the sounds came together with an incredible soundtrack to make the world of Senua real and magical. The effort that has been put into creating this game in every aspect really has me very impressed.

    Score: 5/5

    Verdict: I don’t want Senua to suffer, but I want more!

    I enjoy when a story has an ending, even if it’s a little ambiguous. He had the first game and could have lived without the second. But I’m glad I don’t have to! Senua’s Saga establishes itself among some of my favorites very easily, with a touching but heavy story, beautiful images and a lot of hope. Is it bad that I wait longer now?

    [Disclosure: A free copy of the game was provided to PGG by Xbox for review purposes.]

    If you want to know what games you can get on Game Pass, check out the full list of Xbox Game Pass Core games in the pro gaming guides.


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