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15 June, 2024
Hellblade 2

Hellblade 2: Artful Masterpiece or Overrated Trash?

The Hellblade series first kicked off in 2017 with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a third-person action/adventure title set in the grim world of Norse mythology. Developed by Ninja Theory, who have crafted other popular games like DmC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was generally well-liked, but it struggled to find footing in the mainstream. Now, 7 years later, Ninja Theory is back with Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, a sequel that Microsoft has been proudly promoting as their showstopper first-party game of 2024. Some are calling it a brilliant step forward for gaming, but others players find it to be a boring slog. Let’s dig a bit deeper and see if this big-budget blockbuster is a misunderstood masterpiece or a waste of hard drive space.

Senua's Sequel is a Giant Adventure

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 picks up a short time after the end of the original game, with Senua, the psychosis-inflicted protagonist, now aboard a slave ship. Held captive by Northern pillagers who have returned to her land and forced her people into enslavement, Senua hopes to eliminate the problem at its source, but a shipwreck throws her plans to the wind. Left stranded on the shores of Midgard, Senua continues her journey and vows to keep her promise and protect those who have been led astray. While Senua’s first adventure was a lonely, solo affair, Hellblade 2 introduces some new companions to the mix, including a slave-driver named Thorgester, the wise guardian, Fargrimr, and a few more. Making weary allies with these shady folk, Senua embarks on a treacherous quest to rid Midgard of literal giants.

Hellblade 2

Hellblade has always been a story-focused series, occasionally at the detriment of its gameplay, and the sequel does nothing to change that fact. At times, Hellblade 2 feels more like an interactive movie than a third-person adventure, which is simultaneously its biggest strength and greatest weakness. Where the first game featured a bit of exploration for curious minds, Hellblade 2 is an extremely linear affair. You will still stumble upon collectibles from time to time, but they’re always just a stone’s throw from the critical path. Puzzles are more varied this time around, but less frequent, making it harder to get stuck, but at the expense of difficulty and a feeling of reward. Likewise, combat has been particularly hobbled, as fights feature fewer opponents, mostly 1-on-1 battles, less enemy variety, and a generally stripped-down set of abilities.

While moments of action feel reduced in Hellblade 2, the presentation is in a league of its own. Without exaggeration, this is easily one of the most visually stunning games ever made. Thanks to an ambitious use of Unreal Engine 5, Hellblade 2 contains near photo-realistic environments, uncanny lighting effects, pristine animations, and much more. The audio is equally impressive, with excellent voice work, music, and general audio design. Award-worthy performances from the entire cast serve as the icing on the cake, especially Melina Juergens as Senua. The impact of the narrative itself will vary from player to player, but even the harshest naysayers must bend to the objective quality of Hellblade 2‘s presentation.

Hellblade 2 Receives Praise But Divides Players

Depending on who you ask, Hellblade 2 is either a remarkably well-told story that touches on important themes of grief, trust, and loss, or it’s the most boring triple-A game in years. If you’re searching for affirmation and accolades, they’re not hard to find, as many outlets have given Hellblade 2 high marks. Trusted critics from Game Informer, Digital Trends, and Eurogamer have doused the sequel in praise, with some even granting it a perfect 10 out of 10 review score. With a current score of 81 on MetaCritic, it seems like Hellblade 2 has hit the mark in the eyes of critics, but we all know that audiences have the final say.

Hellblade 2
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To that end, there has been no shortage of criticism or harsh “feedback” for Hellblade 2. In addition to its short length, lack of difficulty, and cutscene heavy nature, many have been quick to point out flaws in the game’s design. Some players view the game as a significant step back from the original, calling out the lack of combat and deliberately slow pacing. Time and time again, Hellblade 2 has been called a “third-person walking simulator” with “repetitive fights” and “annoying dialogue”. In truth, the negative reviews are kind of right. Hellblade 2 contains no real memorable bosses, a notably slow second act, and a plot that occasionally feels like a thematic retread. Coming from a studio like Ninja Theory, it’s honestly surprising that the action feels restrained rather than highlighted.

Now that Hellblade 2 is out in the wild, only time will tell how general audiences react to this reserved yet graphically brilliant sequel. Ninja Theory is likely hoping for a win, as their last game, Bleeding Edge, was basically dead on arrival. However, with the recent departure of co-founder and creative director, Tameem Antoniades, now might be the time for a sizable shift in company culture. Reactions to Hellblade 2 will likely shape the future of Ninja Theory as an Xbox Game Studios company, but the jury is still out. At the very least, Hellblade 2 is stirring up conversation and has earned a reputation as a divisive first-party release, which should make the end-of-year awards season all the more interesting.


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