Hellblade 2 Review Roundup – Critics Divided – WGB

By admin May21,2024

The long-awaited Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 releases today on Xbox and PC, letting eager players finally get their hands on the game which was developed by a small team of around 80 people in around 4 years. The review embargo also lifted today, so let’s take a quick look at what the critics are saying.

Overall, the reviews are good. Based on 73 critic scores at the time of writing, Hellblade 2 holds an aggregated score of 83 on Opencritic with 84% of reviewers recommending it over the majority of other games that have launched in the last 12 months.

There are a couple of key points we can take away before we delve a bit deeper into the reviews:

  • It’s visually stunning
  • It clocks in at anywhere from 6-8 hours
  • It has an arthouse vibe, favouring atmosphere and immersion, meaning there’s also a lot of walking and talking.
  • A lot of simplistic puzzle solving
  • Combat hasn’t been improved much, and some reviews claim it has even taken a step back.

I also wanted to tackle a very specific thing that was mentioned in a few reviews. In the first game, it was fairly clear Senua’s psychosis was distorting reality, explaining why she was fighting undead Vikings and massive Gods. She wasn’t really fighting Hera, she was battling her own turmoil. She wasn’t really fighting an undead Viking monster, it was an ordinary Viking mutated by her condition. In Hellblade 2 though, PC Gamer’s Robin Valentine says the game indicates that monsters and the supernatural actually do exist.

“But though Senua is certainly still hearing voices, she now seems to be in a world of actual monsters and magic, phenomena observed and confirmed by other people around her,” writes Robin. “There are still metaphors at play, but it all seems to be physically real too. Iceland has its own undead Vikings, for example, and perhaps these too are not quite as they appear, but the locals call them monsters, name them draugr, and confirm that they eat people and perform magical rituals, so there’s little room for interpretation.”

Robin goes on to question what this means. If monsters and Gods are real, does that mean we have to reconsider the events of the first game? “If myth is real, why should we assume any of what she experiences is hallucination, rather than actual magic and the real voices of spirits? How is a distinction between what’s real and what isn’t meaningful if surreal and impossible things can happen in either world? And if she really can stand up to seemingly physical gods, then were the events of the first game all literal after all?” she asks.

Ultimately, Robin delivers one of the most critical reviews of the game, handing it a score of 58 out of 100.

Image credit: Gamespot

Jessica Cogswell over at Gamespot also wasn’t overly enamored with Senua’s new adventure, giving it 6 out of 10 and writing “…at this point, I don’t exactly understand where the series is headed, if not to the box office. There are plenty of games that prove games can be art, but as some studios lean harder into proving that in one specific way that cribs from Hollywood, we’re seeing some games that feel afraid of being games. With too much focus on cinematics and too little on creating an experience that is engaging, Senua’s Saga fails to reach the same highs as its predecessor–even if it does look stunning whilst trying.”

Contrasting this is Johnny Chiodini of Eurogamer who awarded it a full 5 out of 5. He describes it as “less a game about somebody battling mental illness and more about somebody who happens to have a mental condition going on a great and dangerous journey.”

He wraps up his glowing review by saying: “In short, Hellblade 2 is as confident a sequel as any I’ve ever seen – Ninja Theory has shown tremendous ambition with this game and the result is equally tremendous. A lot has changed since the release of Senua’s Sacrifice in 2017, not least in terms of our comfort and familiarity with mental health and mental illness as subject matter but, if there was any doubt as to whether Hellblade could move with the times, it can be safely put to rest now. Ninja Theory has not only proven it can read a changing landscape, but that Hellblade and Senua absolutely still deserve a place of prominence within that space.”

Tristan Ogilvie of IGN also really enjoyed the game, albeit not quiet as much. While handing Senua a solid 8 out of 10, he said: “Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II delivers a spellbinding adventure packed with cinematic spectacle and story surprises that maintains a surging sense of forward momentum and never wastes a second of its slender run time. Its combat manages to feel consistently intimidating and immediate despite its mechanical simplicity, and its perspective-based puzzles regularly scratch cerebral itches even though they largely rehash or rework concepts from Senua’s previous story.”

The Metro review gave me a genuine laugh when it criticised the game’s habit of pitting you against one opponent, only for you to defeat them and the game to reveal another enemy nearby. Metro wrote: “We can’t speak to how well the game represents psychosis, but it’s excellent at portraying someone who has no peripheral vision whatsoever. “

Interestingly, the Metro review also took issue with the game’s portrayal of Senua’s mental state, pointing out what while the first game wasn’t clear about how much was real, it didn’t ultimately matter as Senua was experiencing everything on her own. The sequel, however, has multiple characters seemingly seeing exactly what Senua is.

“At times it’s vaguely hinted that they’re misinterpreting natural phenomenon, but you may have seen the gameplay reveal trailer a few years ago, featuring a crippled giant on a beach, that involves several other people fighting together – so are they really battling a supernatural being or not? Strangely, the game doesn’t even pose that as a question.” writes Metro.

It’s one of quite a few problems Metro has with the game’s “muddled” story. Ultimately, the site gives it a 5 out of 10, hitting it with this brutal summary: “A joyless slog of barely interactive entertainment and a muddled portrayal of mental illness… that just so happens to have the best graphics ever on a video game console.”

Rick Lane’s unscored review for Rock Paper Shotgun was another review that made me grin, as he opens his essay on Hellblade 2 with this: “Three questions before we start:

1) Do you like Robert Eggers’ film The Northman?
2) Do you like games that mainly involve pressing ‘forward’ and not much else?
3) Do you like rocks?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above, then I come bearing wonderful tidings for you about Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2.”

Rick taking no prisoners there. That’s ultimately because he talks about how Hellblade 2 is very much more of the first game, including taking control away from the player. He writes: “The disadvantage is that, even in these moments, the game constantly pulls away control, to the point where it’s often unclear whether you’re playing or not. The original Hellblade felt like it could have been a decent Soulslike with a bit more depth, but Hellblade 2 pulls the game further away from that, bringing it closer to a game like Asura’s Wrath. The result is an experience that makes you feel hemmed in by its cinematic aspirations, to the point where it’s like playing a game next to your selfish big brother, who reluctantly lets you sit in front of the keyboard and then constantly mithers for his chair back. I was happier to overlook these tendencies in the first game, because the story it told was so different from other action-adventures. But I don’t think Hellblade 2’s story does enough that’s new or different to justify it being even more restrictive.”

For the last review I’ll cover today, let’s jump back to some positive vibes. Marcus Stewart of Game Informer slapped the game with an impressive 9 out of 10, praising getting to experience a Senua that has accepted her psychosis, where the voices in her head now  “factor less directly into gameplay and are largely used as an effective storytelling flourish: audible manifestations of her innermost thoughts and anxieties.”

He finished the review by saying: “Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II’s conclusion ends on another strong note, and despite my initial reservations about continuing Senua’s story, I walked away happy to see her conquer new monsters, both literal and metaphorical. I’m pleased Ninja Theory avoided the temptation to blow up this formula into something far bigger than needed – this isn’t Xbox’s God of War; it’s a better Hellblade.”

Clearly, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is a slightly divisive game among critics, but the overall consensus does seem good. It’s going to be fascinating to see what the general audience thinks of the game now that it is out, especially amidst fears that the lack of marketing could indicate Microsoft isn’t investing in Ninja Theory as much as they once did. I wrote my own piece on these fears, but there is some potential good news as insiders claim Ninja Theory’s next game has already been given the go-ahead by Xbox.

By admin

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