Ninja Theory’s idea of “Independent AAA” games, ones that traded the scope of a game in order to achieve production values of the same level, is a far more complicated beast to think about today than it was when they first proposed it. Not least of which is the now strange situation they find themselves in, being one of the many studios who now have massive parent companies backing them but still want to retain the “indie” title. The game market has also matured significantly since then as well, with games reaching AAA levels of success that don’t have any of the production levels associated with them. Which brings us to Senua’s Saga, the long anticipated follow up to the original Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, bringing with it a lot of the same energy that original did whilst expanding on Senua’s journey further. By and large I think it achieves the goals it set out to but it does seem to ask the question where does this series, and by extension Ninja Theory themselves, go to from here.

Senua has willingly let herself be captured by Northmen slavers who were the ones responsible for her people’s deaths and the trauma that followed. Hoping to free what remains of her people she makes the journey across the sea with them to Iceland. Before they can land on shore however the ships are struck by a terrible storm and are destroyed on the rocks of Iceland’s coast. Senua struggles her way through the wreckage looking to find the leader and force him to guide her to his hometown. This is only the beginning of her struggles however as Iceland’s volcano has seemingly ruptured the wall between worlds and the threat of the giants is now a reality for all who dwell here.

Senua’s Saga does not hold back on the production quality at all with every facet of it given an exceptional amount of attention. The wide open environments with their photogrammetric resources make for some incredible visuals, the best I’ve seen in a recent memory. The motion capture is spot on, not suffering the usual desync issues that seems to plague many titles that attempt this same level of fidelity. The acting, both in motion capture and voice, is incredibly well done too with the extended cast making the experience much more dynamic than the original was. Sound design, including both music and foley work, is also beyond many other AAA titles I’ve played. It really is hard to understate just how well crafted this game is.

You’d never think that the gameplay experience of the original could be streamlined but Ninja Theory did it, mostly by removing the scarce few combat customisations you had available to you. Senua’s Saga is now 100% a walking simulator with brief combat parts which, whilst could be called hack ‘n’ slash, are so few in number that you couldn’t really call them a core part of the experience. The same puzzle solving mechanics remain, challenging you to find different ways to look at the world in order to find a specific kind of rune or picture in order to progress to the next section. In much the same vein as the original Senua’s Saga is a refreshingly simple experience, leaving complex mechanics at the door in favour of a more immersive, well crafted experience.

The voices this time around are, thankfully, much more paired back. Instead of what seemed like dozens of different people all speaking to you at once you’re now treated to only a handful of different ones, usually only 2 with one of them in each of your ears. They tend not to speak over each other, but they will still be a constant source of chatter in the back of your head. They seem to be somewhat more helpful this time too, often giving you gentle pushes or clues if you seem to be straying too far away from the intended path. I still found myself playing in short bursts however, although this wasn’t so much to do with the voices as it was with the repetitive gameplay elements.

The combat encounters for instance are very much on rails and there’s only a handful of enemy types that will get thrown at you. After the third or fourth encounter you’re going to have seen basically everything there is to see and subsequent encounters just don’t have the same impact as they did. The exploration also gets pretty repetitive too, especially the underground sections, which felt like they took up a good third of the game but had little to no variety in the environment that you were actually exploring. I can understand the inclusions of these parts for narrative purposes but I do question the choice of length for some of them. They just dragged on far too long.

I have mixed feelings about the narrative of Senua’s Saga. On the one hand I love the interaction with the wider cast as it brought a great dynamic to the experience that the original certainly didn’t have. Each of the story beats feels like it earns its outcome, with the 3 chapters all resolving themselves well enough to feel like a good part of an overall narrative. However I’m left feeling like there’s supposed to be more to be told here as the game’s original premise, Senua’s travels to free her enslaved people, doesn’t get a satisfactory resolution. I guess this mirrors my feelings with the original as whilst I can definitely say there were many parts I enjoyed about it I just don’t know how I feel about it overall.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II shows yet again the strength that Ninja Theory has when it comes to developing AAA level experiences with a fraction of the resources that those titles would usually demand. Everything about the audiovisuals aspects of the game are industry leading, showcasing how capable modern engines can be when powered by the right assets. The core game experience retains almost everything of the original with the only sacrifice to the sequel gods being the loss of the small amount of combat customisation that was previously available. The story still sits in a weird place for me, with the individual parts feeling well done by the overarching narrative just not hitting the emotional punch that I think they were driving for. Regardless this is an experience that’s worth your time, if only to experience what the pinnacle of game’s craftsmanship can look like.

Rating: 8.75/10

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is available on PC and Xbox Series X/S right now for $69.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6.5 hours playtime and 63% of the achievements unlocked.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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