In Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, you play as Senua, a young woman on a hero’s journey to bring back her lover’s soul back from the darkness. Set in the viking age, you set off alone with nothing but the head of your lover, Dillion, and a sword. All seems typical of an action-adventure game set in the viking age except for one thing: Senua suffers from schizophrenia where she hears voices in her head and throughout the entire game you’ll have these voices heckle you as you play the game. It tries to tackle the topic of mental illness which few games of this genre attempt to tackle. So how does the game hold up?
Let’s start out with some background information on the developers: Ninja Theory. They are the creators of Enslaved, DMC (Devil May Cry), and Heavenly Sword. They are veterans of the 3rd-person action game. I personally have only played DMC and the combat system in that game was fairly well-done. So I had high hopes for this game with screenshots of multiple enemies to be disposed of, trailers where Senua is kicking ass and the teasers of an interesting story. That’s where my excitement dies down.
Walking-simulator? Or Interactive Movie? Or Both?
The game plays more like a walking-simulator or interactive movie and the story is probably the best part of this game so I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum. As mentioned earlier, the game is played from a 3rd-person perspective, similar to a Resident Evil 4 off-center perspective rather than a centered camera. The game is linear so the gameplay loop is as follows: you’ll be walking around a lot waiting for the area to trigger dialogue between Senua and her voices or someone from her past. After which you’ll be greeted with either a battle or, unfortunately the least exciting part of this game, an environmental puzzle. All of this repeats for the duration of the game which took me about 10 hours to complete.
Simple but Effective Combat System
The combat system is fairly decent. You have a horizontal attack, vertical attack, block/parry, and a dodge move. Later on through the game you’ll gain the ability to focus on your enemies and slow down time and the visual and audio style for this is incredible. When you finish your enemies off they’ll spin in dramatic fashion, glyphs shimmering through the environment add great visual flair to the slow down. You’ll need to dodge and parry to gain enough power to use this ability. The dodging and parrying works well enough for the game. Even when you cannot see an enemy on your screen, the voices will warn you of an incoming attack. While the combat is decent it’s too bad you have to walk to the next area to wait until the next fight.
Environmental Puzzles… A lot of them
Part of the gameplay loop revolves around you finding runes within the environment. While these are not particularly difficult, I did not really enjoy them… at all. Part of the reason is that the movement of Senua is incredibly slow. It basically turns the game from a walking simulator to basic fighter to an item hunt. Although I didn’t enjoy this part of the game, the idea of it is interesting because it does play upon the fact that Senua has a mental illness. For example, doorways or bridges are not there but if you look at it from a different perspective they become real.
Engaging Story – The Highlight of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
The best part of the game is most definitely its story. As mentioned earlier you are on a journey as Senua to bring back her lover from the darkness. As it unfolds you’ll get introduced to different characters, characters that Senua only seems to interact with as visions or hallucinations. Melina Juergens, the actress that portrays Senua, delivers her lines with conviction. The same can be said for the other characters in the game as it makes the world more believable.
Visually Stunning Environments
Hellblade does a lot right with its graphics. The environments range from beautiful and sunny mountains to raging thunderstorms within a forest. Although there isn’t much variety within the areas, in both of these situations the game looks like one of the best I’ve ever seen. While Senua uses her focus ability, you’ll see glyphs shimmering and darkness slowly swirl around your enemies, the effect is done incredibly well.
Your enemies don’t have too much variety and don’t have too many different animations. There are about 4-5 different enemy types. All of them have either a bag over their heads or a deer’s skull on their head and are equipped with a sword, two axes, or a large axe or large sword.
The voices are everywhere!!
Because of Senua’s mental illness, she (and you) will hear these voices constantly throughout the game. The effect is very cool because they used a 3D binaural microphone to record this. Using stereo headphones will greatly increase the effectiveness of this technique as you’ll hear things behind, in front, left, right, etc. The voice acting and the acting itself is well done. The characters are believable and you can hear the emotion from the voice actors when the characters are in pain, terrified, angry. The soundtrack features mostly acoustic numbers that sound almost Norse and tribal. The heavy beating of the drums gives off a God of War vibe and really gets you into the battles.
There isn’t much in the way of replayability in this title, unless you really loved the story, which is exceptional and might deserve a second playthrough. Almost all of the achievements can be unlocked from a single playthrough except for the final one. The achievement has you collect all 44 lorestones and lets you unlock the true ending to Hellblade.
Should you play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice?
I think that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice deserved at least one playthrough because of its story. If you like or are interested in Norse mythology and story-based games there is plenty for you to love about Hellblade. If you are looking for more action-oriented this isn’t really the game for you. I was able to play it through Xbox Live Game Pass which made it worth it for me, however I would wait for a sale if you’re looking to own it.