Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review – Spoiler Free
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a single-player action adventure game that is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4. The game comes developed by Ninja Theory and was made by a small team of developers in the UK. The game is a mix of Celtic culture and Norse mythology. As a player you will experience the journey of Senua, a female Pict warrior on a quest in a dangerous and dark world.
When first seeing the trailer for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in amongst the games available to buy digitally on my PS4 some time ago, it did catch my eye as something interesting but for some reason I never thought of purchasing it. Recently I saw the game on sale as part of the current Winter sale on the PlayStation store and due to my delight experiencing the world of the Norse myths in my recent God Of War adventure, I was looking for something similar. So I committed to purchasing the game this week, but should you do the same? The short answer is yes.
Not really knowing what I was in for other than what I had seen in the impressive trailer for the game, I began my playthrough late last week.
Early on in the game you are introduced to the game’s main character Senua. Senua is a Pict warrior on a journey to Hellheim which is the realm of the dead in Norse mythology. An incident had occurred in Senua’s life recently and her partner Dillion is dead, so she’s travelling to Hellheim in an effort to recover his soul.
Along the way you will hear a vast amount of Norse myths which are narrated to you as you scan the runes in the area. If you’ve played God Of War recently, you will recognise some of the tales, particularly that of Baldr as you progress through the story. Now being a massive fan of Norse mythology and the entire culture of the people of the time, I found the entire experience of hearing all of the tales to be quite enriching.
The voice acting and the various narrators who you hear throughout the story are all quite strong and are very well done. The voice actors are a big part of why the experience of playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was so strong and so entrancing.
But Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was an experience like none other for me this week and that’s something I was not expecting. While the plot of simply travelling to Hellheim is a linear one, the themes, symbolism and character development throughout the journey certainly wasn’t.
The game tackles one of the hardest themes and possibly least covered themes in entertainment media at the moment and that’s psychosis and mental health. This is something that’s virtually unexplored in gaming or even film, but this game represents a time in which the gaming medium seems to excel at a certain theme more than any other medium out there in our time. Playing through the game you will play as and experience Senua’s journey, who is someone who herself is suffering from psychosis. She hears voices, she sees symbols and she has a variety of other issues she is dealing with. As a person experiencing a game like this, which is like no other I have experienced in the past, I found the whole thing fascinating. In fact, I could not put my controller down and didn’t want to either.
The character development for Senua’s character is one of the best one’s I’ve seen in gaming for a long time, but even better than that was that the developers seemed to have delivered a game here that deals with a very difficult theme of mental health and somehow didn’t make it lame, boring or washed down. Having to play as a character dealing with these difficult issues in a past world environment as Pict warrior struggling with the world of Norse myths was one of the most interesting gaming experiences I’ve ever had. By the end of the story I really came to admire Senua and her journey and had a strong understanding of people going through these issues. I learnt a lot from this gaming experience and that’s a great thing.
As far as the gameplay goes. There’s the combat scenes where you fight a variety of enemies using a sword as your weapon. For the most part the combat is fairly simple, you can block, quick attack, heavy attack, punch or dodge. At times enemies can be a little difficult. But there’s no levelling system or xp gains as you go through the story. While combat isn’t the main focus of the game, I did actually feel it was the weakest side of the gameplay experience and at times having such a basic combat system was frustrating. You don’t really get stronger or better at fighting by the end of the game and enemies aren’t really that varied. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.
Where the game does excel in its gameplay is with the level design and the various puzzles that you have to deal with as you journey to Hellheim. Between each area in the game there are doors with runes on them and you will have to search through the world to find these symbols in the environment. At first these things were quite a challenge for me to find as I couldn’t see any patterns anywhere. But as I went on and I started to understand how things work much better I became much better at it. Seeing symbols and things inside the world is something that is apparently to do with people who suffer from psychosis so the game is trying to show you a bit of what that’s all about. One of the things that the game developers do seem to want you to do or learn is that there’s different ways of looking at things in the world and the idea of perspective in the gameplay is pushed quite hard. It was very interesting to see this element in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
The graphics in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice are some of the best in the current generation. What’s interesting about the graphics is that this game was developed only by a small team in comparison to some of the AAA games out there and it looks just as good as some of the big budget titles. The levels are filled with a variety of vibrant colours and small details which do make you feel as if you are in the world the game is in.
Recently a VR version of this game was made available although I recommend only getting it if you have a high end gaming PC and VR is not available on consoles at all because it’s very demanding. Playing this game in VR would be an interesting experience and possibly a much more scary one as Senua’s world is dark and full of death. The game is intense enough without VR so the addition of it makes things so much more stronger and immersive.
Overall Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an excellent game to add to your collection. In some ways I wish I had played this on release, but as it’s now discounted or if you can find it at a time when it is, it will surely be a new treasure to add to your game library. As far as an experience goes, I’ve never played anything like this before and haven’t really experienced anything at all that deals with themes of mental health and psychosis in this way. The way the game was written and the amount of effort put into the level design and character development so that everything had a strong connection the the game’s theme and message was impressive. For some the gameplay may be a little slow or simple and the themes possibly too strong, but for many out there, the game will deliver an interesting adventure and an experience like no other.