Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 review – A sequel missing the soul

Carver Fisher

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 comes almost 10 years after the initial game’s release in what, to many, is a surprising sequel. If you played the first, you’d know that it wrapped up Senua’s character arc with a complete, gut-wrenching story that felt self-contained.

To add to that, it feels as if a lot is riding on Hellblade 2’s success considering Xbox’s recent layoffs, with them shuttering studios that have released award-winning games in the past – with Tango Gameworks in particular releasing one of 2023’s biggest hits in Hi-Fi Rush.

On the surface, Hellblade 2 has a lot going for it. Every moment is gorgeous, the combat is harrowing, the acting and motion capture are great across the board. But it’s impossible to shake the feeling that something is missing here.

There were fears that a sequel may not be necessary when Hellblade 2 was initially announced – fears that were realized as I ventured deeper on this journey. Hellblade 2 feels like a pale imitation of its predecessor, one that ups the visual fidelity across the board but leaves the original’s soul behind.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Key Details

  • Price: $49.99/£49.99
  • Developer: Ninja Theory
  • Release Date: May 21, 2024
  • Platforms: Xbox Series X|S & PC

The Xbox Series X’s first real system seller – 4 years too late

Whenever a new console comes out, it’s customary for a showcase title that shows what a console is capable of to launch alongside it. These were a big part of what got people excited about new consoles in the past, but they have a history of prioritizing graphics over everything else to showcase what the new hardware can do.

Though I reviewed Hellblade 2 on PC, it falls in that category of ‘system-selling game’ if its appearance on the Series X is anything close to what I played. It prioritizes visual fidelity, smooth animations, and presentation over everything else. If there’s one thing you can’t take away, it’s the way it looks. Microsoft finally has a graphical big hitter in their library that isn’t Forza.

When people buy a new console, they understandably want to have nice games to look at that show off what that new hardware is capable of. Hellblade 2 would have been that game – four years ago. But, in 2024, it’s a bit harder to be lenient on a title that sacrifices so many gameplay elements for the sake of graphical fidelity and that polished, AAA shine.

Environments are varied from wide-open plains and rocky hillsides to frostbitten wilds and hellish, lava-stained caverns. Senua’s Saga will take you to enough locales to keep things interesting and make it feel as if you’re undertaking a massive journey. The game has this filmic quality to it the whole way through.

Hellblade 2 has a real filmic quality to it with a strong sense of direction.

Unfortunately, Hellblade 2 has forced 21:9 letterboxing, and, even though I got around that with a 21:9 ultrawide, being forced to have a large portion of the screen taken up by black bars is a bizarre decision. It sells that cinematic look, but the option to turn it off would have been nice.

Audio design is a real high though. It’s even better than the first game, selling the surface-level concept of Senua’s psychosis by continually bombarding you with conflicting voices in your head that ring through your ears. If you’re going to play this, do yourself a favor and get some good headphones. It’d be no surprise to see Hellblade 2 deservedly rack up some industry awards for its attention to detail in this area.

And that’s without mentioning the music. It’s incredibly well composed and implemented, with it often swelling and waning at just the right moments. From atmospheric, ambient tracks to deep, guttural vocals mixed with the drums of war, every moment is accentuated by the game’s score.

The acting is also great across the board, with facial capture good enough to escape the uncanny valley and faithfully emulate the strong performances of the few essential characters that show up through the storyline.

Hellblade’s identity is lost without Senua

With the first game being so intrinsically tied to Senua’s journey, both physically and mentally – figuring out how the series grows beyond that was a must. Considering her heightened state, there was a ton of potential for that growth to continue through her learning how to make friends and branching out while overcoming her paranoia.

And, while the few characters you’ll meet through the story are well-acted, Senua doesn’t spend much time getting to know them. The cast surrounding her ranges from bland and passable to outright unlikeable, all while expecting you to be won over and care about them. It simply doesn’t lay the groundwork necessary to see the transformation in other characters.

Hellblade 2’s characters are well-modeled and acted, but they lack depth.

There are hints – and I mean slight hints – of Senua’s psychosis making her paranoid of those who try to help her and her having to overcome it. There’s a ton of time spent roaming around and solving puzzles, and it’s a real shame this time is rarely used for delivering dialogue and interacting with the game’s small cast.

Considering how much of the plot hinges on the characters Senua encounters through her journey, all of them being so one-note severely hurts the pacing and structure of the plot. It’s difficult to care about them and get invested, and I’d have a hard time telling you more than a few, surface-level descriptions of each cast member.

With Senua’s character arc and motivations being less interesting this time around, it feels like the people surrounding her were meant to pick up the slack and keep the player invested in what’s going on. For the most part though, they don’t.

Hellblade 2 misses the mark where it matters most

As someone who’s been a fan of Ninja Theory’s work for over a decade, this game hurts. From Enslaved: Odyssey to the West to the controversial DMC reboot & the original Hellblade, you always got a sense that this studio was willing to take risks and fully realize its vision for a title. That uncompromising vision always came with its share of flaws, but has also created some extremely memorable titles that made the studio stand out from the crowd.

There are points where you can see what the devs are going for. The game’s biggest plot revelations and narrative crescendos are grand in their own right, but it feels flat despite so much focus and effort being put into several blockbuster sequences. To figure out why the sequel doesn’t work, we first must go through what made the first so great.

Senua isn’t invincible, but there’s a point in the original where she feels unstoppable. The player gets dragged through the dirt with her as she overcomes the challenges before her and comes out of it changed. This character arc, along with the game deceiving the player and making you question everything, is a large part of what makes it stand out.


For instance, the original told the player that they had a limited amount of deaths and that dying a certain amount of times would result in you losing all your progress. This was a flat-out lie, something meant to deceive the player and raise the stakes. It never felt like the game was being honest with you – like there was always something waiting to manipulate you and try to thwart you until the very end.

The player would regularly get pulled into other realms, having you fight ethereal beings in twisted, warped realities loosely based on the one you were ripped from. You were constantly put in uncomfortable situations unexpectedly – situations that pushed Senua to her limit.

Hellblade 2 has one, five-minute section that gave me anywhere close to that feeling of unease and panic the first had for most of its runtime. The rest largely felt like set dressing – theatrics, and creative visuals that had no meaningful impact. This contributes to the game’s greatest flaw: Hellblade 2’s structure is incredibly rigid and predictable.

A common complaint from the first game was that you’d get flung into combat with multiple enemies and that it was hard to juggle all of them. Hellblade 2 “solved” that by making the combat solely 1v1 and heavily animation-driven, giving the illusion of being in a heated battle.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 has weighty, cinematic combat — but it’s a step back from the first game mechanically.

It looks great when you’re in a fight, but Hellblade 2 wholly lacks skill expression. Senua gets no combat upgrades through the game other than getting her mirror back for a watered-down version of the first game’s focus mechanic, and combat never evolves beyond what you’re doing when the game starts.

As a result of her fighting just one enemy at a time (and only 4 bosses), she feels weaker than she was at the end of her last adventure just by the way the game is constructed. Everything just ends up feeling too on-rails.

Less of a sequel, more of a glorified tech demo

If someone were to try to sell me on what a sequel to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice should look like, parts of this game would be very convincing. The blockbuster moments are there, characters are well-acted and nail their moments (even if those moments aren’t always earned), and, though shallow, the combat is something that never stops looking impressive.

If you were to look at the individual parts of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 and you were a fan of the first title, you’d say, ‘Wow! That looks great! This is exactly what I was imagining out of a sequel!’ You’d be right in certain isolated moments. However, the way Hellblade 2 frames and paces these moments is where things fall apart.

It’s very specifically pointed out to the player what kind of section you’re in at any given time. A cutscene plays, and then you’re in the heat of battle. A cutscene plays, and then you’re running through a heavily scripted section that’s almost impossible to fail.

Cutscene after cutscene takes you out of the flow of play and completely ruins the sense of unease and terror the game could have subjected the player to. Instead, you sit there and watch things happen far too often. Hellblade 2 seems to forget it’s supposed to be a video game sometimes.

Beyond that, it’s just exploring good-looking environments that are underutilized and barren outside of the game’s collectibles. There’s also a whole lot of puzzle-solving that isn’t too challenging but is varied enough to keep from getting boring and repetitive until the game’s fairly short 6-7 hour campaign concludes.

In the end, the player ends up being robbed of any autonomy and ambiguity as to what they can expect. It reeks of the sadness of wasted potential. If the first game was a terrifying and harrowing journey delivered with intensity and atmosphere few other games have achieved, Hellblade 2 is a haunted house made to imitate the first game’s greatness that misses a lot of what made it such a memorable experience.

The Verdict — 3/5

If you’re looking for a cool and fairly unique experience and you’ve got Game Pass, then Hellblade 2 could be worth your time. Its visual splendor and highlight moments are worth experiencing. But, if you haven’t played the original Hellblade yet? Do yourself a favor and go play that instead. In all ways except visual, it’s a better game.

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