‘Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2’ review: great to look at – but otherwise disappointing

Less is more, but too much of this six-hour adventure feels wasted

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 offers some of the most spectacular imagery we’ve seen in a video game. Psychedelic puzzles tread the line between Midsommar and The Northman brilliantly, and impeccable performances, facial animation, and rigging support phenomenally well-realised characters. Unfortunately, Hellblade 2 isn’t a film – it’s a game that doesn’t live up to the grandeur of its spectacle.

Hellblade 2 returns us to the claustrophobic mind of Senua, a Celtic warrior with psychosis, plagued by voices that boom, whisper, and echo brilliantly. They’re relentless and mercurial, flipping from berating to encouraging at a moment’s notice. This is a game best played with headphones and without subtitles, as trying to make sense of the cacophony inside Senua’s head is an important part of the experience.

In this sequel, Senua has allowed herself to be captured by the same Vikings who raided her village and killed her lover before the events of the first game. She’s on a quest to stop them at their source, but an unexpected storm maroons her on the coast of Iceland alongside her slave master, Thórgestr.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. Credit: Ninja Theory.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. Credit: Ninja Theory.


The full game is around six hours, and while they’re sonically superb and visually intoxicating, they’re bogged down by repetitive combat, trial-and-error puzzles, frustratingly slow traversal, and a story that doesn’t know when to stick with a great character instead of moving on to a dull one.

Hellblade 2’s combat is simple and unchanged from that of the first game – you’ve got light and heavy attacks, a dodge, and a block-parry. It works exceptionally well during a stormy beachfront fight with Thórgestr, whose brutality is masterfully performed by Chris O’Reilly. Senua, too, feels truly alive as actor Melina Juergens screams and scrambles during the cinematic clash. This is when Hellblade’s combat is at its best, during intimate, emotional battles that happen as much within Senua’s mind as they do on the edge of her sword.

Unfortunately, the simplicity that makes such well-performed fights possible makes the arena-style gauntlets of enemies frequently thrown at Senua feel like repetitive, needless padding. The animations are flawless, the blows are heavy, but emotional impact is almost non-existent in most other battles. The few fights that do resonate have their spotlight stolen by the many that don’t.


Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. Credit: Ninja Theory.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. Credit: Ninja Theory.

Between the fighting, Senua has to unlock various gateways both in her mind and the real world by solving puzzles. The perspective conundrums from the first game make a return and are used sparingly, to Hellblade 2’s benefit. The level of challenge they offer seems arbitrary, with a possible missed door causing one to take ages longer than it should, but explore any level long enough and their solutions become apparent.

However, the new inventions from Ninja Theory are a delight to look at. One type of puzzle sees the ground reflected onto the sky, turning the wide, open expanse of Iceland into an oppressive cave. Floating, watery orbs can turn storm clouds into stunning auroras, and fire can shatter undulating, geometrical barriers. None of these offer much in the way of true challenge, however, as a limited amount of interactable objects mean they all boil down to flipping switches, so some guesswork should get most players through these obstacles rather quickly.

Between puzzles and fights comes long walks with forgettable exposition dumps. One area of the game does this fantastically, seeing Senua venturing into a cave and blending tense exploration and visual splendour as she gains a deeper understanding of herself, making for a wonderful moment of ludonarrative harmony. But when similar methods are repeated later, they fall flat in comparison.


Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. Credit: Ninja Theory.
Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. Credit: Ninja Theory.

The vast majority of the walking in this game occurs at a frustrating gait – “sprinting” barely turns a slow walk into a brisk one. It’s understandable Ninja Theory wants people to admire the impressive fidelity of 10th century Iceland, but the inclusion of the sprint button just feels like a tease and a needless requirement for players to press two buttons at once.

Mostly, Hellblade 2 seems like a victim of its own scope, which is a strange thing to write about a six-hour-long video game. It never knows when to stick with one idea, character, or plotline. The presence of Giants is woven well into the start of the story, but after a touching bit of character development and an epic, tragic boss fight that could have been worked into a perfect climax, the game outstays its welcome by throwing more characters, more combat, more puzzles, and more walking at you.

The issue of scope is also true of the setting itself. Ninja Theory has rendered Iceland beautifully, in a widescreen format that gives the game a filmic texture – the one-shot camera rarely leaves Senua’s side, keeping the drama focused on her throughout. It doesn’t make a meal of the technique like God Of War did, but feels far more natural and less restrictive here.

However, the epic vistas are at odds with Senua’s interiority, something that shone in the cramped woods of the first game. The introspection is swapped out for a tale with more going on in the world around Senua. And while O’Reilly’s Thórgestr is an absolutely sensational character, a deliciously cruel and vicious foil to Juergens’ compassionate-yet-deadly Senua, the others aren’t worth the time they take away from this duo. Less is more, especially in a game this short.

It’s a shame, because Ninja Theory’s technical prowess is on full display throughout. The facial animations here are second-to-none, enabling two of the best video game performances ever. The psychedelic, geometric abnormalities littered throughout the stunning landscapes are intoxicating and the soundscape is immersive, epic, and hypnotising. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 would make an amazing film, but a video game needs more than good looks and impressive technology.

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 releases on May 21 for Xbox Series X|S and PC. We played on Xbox.


Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is one of the most visually impressive games of its generation and contains gripping performances from both Juergens and O’Reilly. Unfortunately, repetitive combat, lacklustre puzzles, and dull traversal hamper the experience, as does a lack of focus in the wider story.


  • Phenomenal performances
  • Stunning facial animations and rigging
  • Impressive visuals


  • Repetitive combat
  • Simple puzzles

More Stories

You May Also Like