Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II Review – Poetry in motion

Reviewed May 21, 2024 on PC




May 21, 2024


Xbox Game Studios


Ninja Theory

I play video games for a lot of different reasons. Often it is to unwind from a long and stressful work day. Sometimes it’s a creative outlet or space to talk with my friends. Once in a blue moon, a game is so emotionally heavy and cathartic, it changes my life and forever stays with me. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, the incredibly anticipated psychological thriller follow-up to the 2017 hit, is the latest and most prominent example of this in my life to date.

Arriving at the right place at the right time, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is a masterpiece and is well worth the wait.

Some time has passed since the events of the first Hellblade game, picking up with the tortured titular hero Senua once more. The inciting incident sees her escaping captivity and subsequently embarking on a trying and tormenting journey across 10th-century Viking Iceland. After her first solitary adventure that saw her battling her demons and laying the remains of her deceased lover to rest, Senua’s Saga sees three key new characters that will join her: Thórgestr, Fargrímr and Ástríðr.

All characters have their own demons to face and enter Senua’s lives at intriguing times; Thórgestr is Senua’s captor until a common goal is learnt, Senua rescues Fargrímr and learns their meeting is fate for reasons not initially clear and Ástríðr is a clan leader with serious imposter syndrome and a lack of direction. Each member (including Senua) must work together to overcome the afflictions they have and in true Hellblade fashion, that will be achieved through a trial of blood, tackling visual representations of various mental illnesses and traumas and hoping that you exit as unscathed as possible.

If you’re like me, you might’ve also been a little bit surprised when Hellblade II was announced back in 2019. The first game ends so final and hopeful; Senua has gone through this testing journey and emerged at the end of it, finally getting to properly say goodbye to her partner Dillion. It ends with her reaching Hel, overlooking a vista and bathed in sunlight. Even though in the closing moments the narrator tells the player that Senua’s story is not over, this at the time felt incredibly open to interpretation. Our minds are left to wonder what awaits her, beautifully open-ended and resolved just enough. Thankfully Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II quickly justifies itself, feeling like a natural epilogue to Senua’s story.

How this sequel feels so justified is in this new cast of characters, giving the previously lone wanderer people to bounce off of. Yes, players are in for another gruelling and trying journey starring the poor, downtrodden and traumatised Senua, but it’s not for nothing. She has her lessons from the first chapter which she can apply to not only finding common ground with her companions but also helping them. Her experiences can inform others. Though like real mental illnesses, Senua’s problems don’t go away when a chapter of her life closes. The voices inside her head, her self-doubt and her trauma are all still present, but as you make your way through the 7-8 hour runtime, you’ll see how she’s grown to live with them.

So, the tension is still there. Senua will often be traipsing through dimly lit caves or sidling along a cliffside and still hear these voices, emulating psychosis. They’ll be there as an exemplification of her trauma and anxieties (especially when it comes to the deeper voice of her abusive father, labelled as the Shadow), tormenting her and sometimes even keeping her safe. There are tense, brutal scenes all throughout the game that’ll have you really feeling and fearing for Senua, even at times delving more into horror than the predecessor. Though I promise it’s worth it. Ninja Theory has considered everything with Hellblade II.

“…Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II quickly justifies itself, feeling like a natural epilogue to Senua’s story.”

I can’t personally speak for the accuracy of Hellblade II’s depiction of psychosis in the game, simply because I don’t live with psychosis. In the extras menu, there’s a documentary labelled Senua’s Psychosis Feature, which follows the work that was put into depicting psychosis in-game. Within the video, Eddy of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough National Health Services Foundation Trust (abbreviated as CPFT NHS Trust) describes psychosis as “living in a different reality. A reality that isn’t shared with other people.” I’d say that idea at least is expertly and impactfully explored in the game; Senua is seeing and experiencing things that no other person can in her world. She’s making sense of symbols, seeing things in the trees, hearing imaginary voices that drown out the ones made by her companions in the real world and experiencing instances of her world shifting.

It’s how the game presents this state of being that makes it feel cut from a different cloth. I’ve never experienced sound design and soundscapes quite like this. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II crucially should be played with the best headphones you can get your hands on, taking advantage of the ‘binaural audio’ method (use of two microphones to create a more 3D sound) used in recording sessions. I’ll be the first to admit the technical stuff goes over my head but even for the untrained the nuances are clear. I can distinguish different voices Senua is hearing or the sound of water lapping against a shore in the distance, I can recall the guttural screams that come from our hero, depicted fantastically once more by the returning Melina Juergens. There are sections where Senua’s voices get so harsh in content and tone that you too will long for their end. A clear sign of Ninja Theory certainly doing something right. Simply put, it needs to be experienced to be believed.

The graphical prowess that comes with Hellblade II also defies words, but I will do my best. This current generation of consoles has felt the least iterative to date. I don’t think that’s exactly a bold take, just a sign of the times with gaming tech these days. Hellblade II is the first game in this current generation where I’ve felt that this kind of artistry can only be achieved with modern technology. Grain of salt, I experienced my Viking Icelandic adventures on a pretty beefy PC but if there are any graphical selling points for the Xbox Series skew of consoles, it’s this game. It’s easy to see why this took seven years to come out; the level of realism achieved here feels unbelievable.

The Icelandic hills are flooded with greenery and shrubbery that looks life-like. Lighting, whether it’s from torches in dark and dingy caves or the sun casting over a vista hits just right. Fog in forests that you walk through dissipates seamlessly like smoke. I don’t think I’ve seen graphical fidelity quite like this, even considering recent benchmark titles like The Last of Us: Part II Remastered.

I’m the normal amount of impressed by the visual fidelity that games can provide today, but another part of what makes Hellblade II’s visuals have that little bit extra is that Ninja Theory wasn’t afraid to get a bit weird and gross with it. You’ll come toe to toe with a few giants in-game, each more wicked, visually striking and domineering than the last. Senua will walk through destroyed villages where bodies and limbs are strung up as sigils and sacrifices, twisted artworks left by the brutalist slavers and undead draugr enemies you’ll face in your journey. In such instances, she’ll experience flashes of things that aren’t there but certainly feel like they are; shadows that dance, ethereal lights that prod her along and so on.

Most impressive is just how quickly environments can bend, shape and transform. Like its predecessor, this is largely how you’ll be progressing, using these changing environments to solve puzzles. However, everything is a lot more seamless. Finding that rune symbol in the environment to unlock a given gate is easier because it’s less strict on the exact angle you have to be facing to record it. Instead of those pesky portal gates, you will interact with objects of interest to change the reality you’re in, unveiling a new path without that self-doubt of whether or not you entered or exited the last portal correctly. Gone are the sequences where you’re walking through repeating halls or areas of darkness that look identical to one another, driving you slowly mad. Each puzzle is simple, stringing together sections just right, webbing and weaving into your journey to always keep things moving and never stopping in any spot for too long.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II isn’t quite the one-cinematic-cut-wonder that’s found in the recent God of War games, but it’s pretty damn close. The closest you’ll get to a ‘cut’ is cinematography choices such as panning to an ocean only for it to transform into the night sky, and so on. It hides these cinematic cuts well, transitioning between cutscene and gameplay action with no visual fidelity drops.

It’s done so well that you will sometimes miss it. There were a few occasions I was caught off guard, confident something was still a cutscene only to foolishly see Senua standing there, waiting for me to move on ahead. Even in combat, you jump in and out of it seamlessly; sometimes you’re wandering through an environment only to be tackled by an oppressor that you then have to wrestle and wrangle your way out of. Speaking of the game’s combat, each encounter is the right amount of gruelling. All of Senua’s swings with her sword carry weight, clearly showing her exhaustion and that she’s giving it her damn all. Each hit will take time to collide and must be timed well in between the foe’s more frantic attack motions, always narrowly dodging an attack or just getting that last hit right. Every blow is felt, whether it’s from Senua or her opponents.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II never feels too video game-y. There’s no levelling up or hokey boss encounters, just the narrative and its world in and of itself. It’s such a carefully and masterfully orchestrated piece of art that I’d almost caution collecting too many of the game’s returning Lorestones. Yes, you’re gathering more pieces of the story and learning more tidbits but it’s also a deterrent to the rhythm; Hellblade II is best experienced like, well, an experience. Any time spent straying off the beaten path is distracting you from the prose-like visual feast awaiting you.

I say that without hyperbole. Hellblade II is prose in action. The way Ninja Theory have portrayed mental illness and trauma is incredibly unique, vivid and otherworldly. Senua is a character I feel kindred with. Courage in the face of challenge. Without bearing too much of my soul with you, I have gone through my own complex and severe traumas in my years of living. I don’t have psychosis but I have mental illnesses. I have my demons to fight in anxiety and depression. I have lived and loved and lost just like Senua. I’m in a period of rebuilding, recovering and starting anew from these experiences, finding the love and companionship in others. Just. Like. Senua. To have this kind of experience release at this time of my life and make me feel this heard… it’s utterly surreal.

Playing Hellblade II felt close to spiritual. If you’re the right target, the metaphors will resonate. How they choose to visualise Senua’s journey of recovery and healing… how they delve even more into the fantasy… it’s incredible raw storytelling. This game won’t be for all. It’s an artsy project that naysayers will roll their eyes at, dismiss and spare no second thought. At least for me, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is everything. I’ve bawled over it. Never has a game opened me up whole like this and ripped out my heart in one moment, only to place a hand on my shoulder in the next, reassuring me everything will be okay.

There’s so much I can’t even talk about yet that makes the experience all the more phenomenal. How Senua and friends triumph over their afflictions, how you tackle the several giants in the game… the list goes on. This is the best exploration of mental health we’ve ever had in games, more so than its predecessor. Much of this comes down to the fact that Hellblade II even covers the little things; when your illness isn’t quite at its loudest and most invasive but still droning, and the challenge that comes with learning to live with that. Senua’s issues haven’t ended with her first adventure and she’s still got some work. I adore where this game concludes exploring that idea and all I can say is that if a third series entry is to come to fruition, the only way I can consider it justified is if it’s just hours upon hours of Senua in therapy. Our girl needs it.

Ninja Theory has communicated that its mission as a game development studio is to “craft life-changing art with game-changing tech.” Well, as someone who was taken by their almost impossible-feeling visuals and felt heard in the story they had to share, I can say with overwhelming confidence that they have hit the nail on the damn head.




  • An even better and more thorough exploration of mental health than its predecessor
  • Incredible soundscapes and visual metaphors that aid in storytelling
  • New cast members each play perfect roles in aiding Senua
  • The most photo-realistic game to date
  • Senua is now further cemented as an incredible protagonist


  • Lorestones, while offering quality narrative tidbits, break up game's pace a bit too much

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is well worth the wait and is a serious game of the year contender. Senua’s follow-up journey is the best exploration of mental health that we’ve seen in games to date, using incredibly striking visual imagery, metaphors and immersive soundscapes to have you feel right there next to her. In what has to be the most photo-realistic game of all time, you’re guaranteed to be constantly taken by the hero’s adventure as you take in the beautiful and often haunting Viking Iceland. Through mud and dirt, blood and bones, Senua and Ninja Theory in turn bare all to you, the player. A masterpiece, benchmark and magnum opus, Hellblade II is crucial storytelling you won’t soon forget.