Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 review: Maelstrom of the mind

Ninja Theory is finally here with the much-anticipated follow-up to Hellblade. Does Senua's Saga hit as hard as the original?

Image via Ninja Theory

It’s hard to think of a game I could be so enraptured by and at the same time so distressed by at nearly all points of its experience quite like Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. Don’t get me wrong: This game is incredible for the story it conveys and the ways in which it executes. It’s a masterpiece of audio design, visual beauty, surreal elements, and storytelling, not to mention another terrifying, yet seemingly responsible peek inside the views and experiences of a troubled mind. Hellblade 2 left me wanting to keep taking another step forward, wanting Senua to succeed, and yet fearing what horrors awaited her next. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it might be one of the most beautifully designed games of 2024.

Vengeance against the aggressors

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 picks up its adventure a short time after the first game left off. Senua went to hell and back to suffer through the guilt of her lover Dillion being killed and sacrificed by Norse invaders, suffering a “curse” (psychosis) in which the voices of disembodied presences haunted her every step of the way, including that of her cruel father. Whether it was real or not, she walked headlong into the abyss and challenged Hela herself for the soul of her lover and the peace of her fractured mind. She finally found the means to accept that her love’s fate was not her fault and the voices in her head were not a curse as many in her life led her to believe.

In Hellblade 2, with these things accepted, Senua now aims to do something about the Norsemen who killed Dillion and destroyed her home. She let herself be captured by slavers and be taken to their lands with the intention of striking at the heart of their home. It doesn’t go well. It isn’t long before a fierce storm scatters Senua, her fellow prisoners and the slavers into the sea, but by chance, she survives on the beaches of this foreign land. Intent to continue her mission to strike at the Norsemen, she ventures into a 10th century Icelandic country to punish those who hurt her and others like her, and save as many as she can.

Senua staring over an Icelandic landscape in Hellblade 2
Source: Ninja Theory

For my own tastes, I think the first Hellblade had a touch more oomph. The guilt of her home being destroyed and her lover being killed, mixed with the supernatural maybe-it’s-real-maybe-it’s-not elements of her psychosis, made for a highly compelling quest full of emotion and depth that made it one of the best games of 2017. In Hellblade 2, Senua is an aggressor and the mysteries of her mind aren’t new anymore. She is taking her battle to her enemy’s home. While I don’t feel it has the same heavy-hearted depth of the original, I do think Ninja Theory does about as well as it can in delivering a strong and intense story anyways. Part of the emotion leans deeper into fear and confusion this time. Senua is unfamiliar with this land, unfamiliar with its people, and unfamiliar with their rituals, even while her “curse” still haunts her. She handles the voices better, but there are times where even still, she gets broken down by everything happening around her and the voices taunting her along the way.

All of that to say Ninja Theory’s visual and audio game is as strong as ever in Hellblade 2. I wholeheartedly recommend playing this game in headphones just like the first, because hearing the 3D sound of the world outside and the voices in Senua’s head mixing together makes it all the more tense as she and you try to sift out what’s real and what’s not. The Icelandic area Senua lands on is full of both natural beauty and heinous atrocity as well. The coast, the villages, the ritual grounds, and the scarred battlefields make for amazing backdrops to the journey Senua takes to save lives, especially as her mind sometimes dips into supernatural spaces full of inhuman monsters and treacherous grounds that might or might not exist. It’s almost so intense at all times that it was hard to play for long periods of time. I never stopped wanting to see what came next, but I was also so assaulted visually, aurally, and gameplay-wise by the blood-soaked dreariness of it all that it felt necessary to take breaks and catch my breath before going back.

Ever formidable Senua

Senua squaring off against a Draugr in a burning camp in Hellblade 2
Source: Ninja Theory

Combat and exploration in Hellblade 2 has also been upgraded with the years. It was good in the original, if not a bit simple, but in the sequel, every fight Senua takes on is against strong and formidable men, monsters, and a little of both, and they escalate throughout the game. It starts simple with foes you simply need to parry, dodge, and strike at appropriately, but bit by bit, the game layers on more concerns. One opponent will begin hitting you with unblockable attacks to punish your parries, another will dodge back to throw axes at range while another blows fire between their strikes. Still later, supernatural enemies require a more ethereal approach if you’re to successfully dispatch them. Hellblade 2’s fights are good about introducing new things in small increments and making the fights that much more exhilarating as you go.

It often helps that these fights take place in the most intense parts of the game when the world is crumbling around Senua’s psyche. She doesn’t often fight unless pushed to the brink and you can feel the palpitations of desperation in her with each skirmish as she tries to survive and save anyone she can. That last part is especially important throughout the story. With her mission to protect others from suffering the same fate as her and her homeland, Senua takes nearly every innocent casualty personally, no matter how irrational it is to blame herself for them. It makes her desire to protect anyone who needs her help boil over when the moments of combat come.

Senua attempting to solve a puzzle in Hellblade 2
Source: Ninja Theory

One part I wasn’t as thrilled about is some of the puzzle-solving throughout Hellblade 2. There are times in the game where Senua’s psyche or the supernatural block her path, forcing her to “look for signs” or search for clues to move forward. Generally, these weren’t too annoying, but I didn’t entirely like how some of them broke up the intense flow of the game and forced me to spend time looking around to see what I needed to see to get the game going to its better parts again. Senua and just about everyone in Hellblade 2 move in a slow and weighty fashion, so solving puzzles in this game felt similarly slow and weighty. The narration, rich scenery, and voices do what they can to fill the gaps, and they often do it well, but it’s still a bit plodding at these points.

On the other hand, a place I specifically want to congratulate Hellblade 2 is the wide array of accessibility options. Difficulty, colorblind settings, comfort settings, visual and audio cues, and so much more await throughout every main category of options in the game to allow you to tailor it heavily to your own needs and experience. Of all the Xbox Game Studios titles I’ve played, this one definitely has some of the most exhaustive accessibility options and tweaks I’ve seen so far, and I feel Ninja Theory should be applauded for seemingly going all out with it.

Save them, save yourself, don’t fear

Senua being embraced by hands in the dark in Hellblade 2
Source: Ninja Theory

It can’t be easy to do a sequel to a game like Hellblade. You lose the element of surprise of discovering the iconic twists of this universe for the first time, and having previously solved the guilt with her love story and condition makes it a hard act to follow. However, Hellblade 2 still does incredibly well. The new story is weighty, the audio is exceptional, the scenery is ridiculously dense and rich, and the combat feels intense and impactful in new and interesting ways. Slowing down for the puzzle moments feels a bit plodding, but these are small moments in between an otherwise intense and emotionally difficult journey. Add in an extensive suite of accessibility settings to make Hellblade 2 look and play the way you want it to, and it feels easy to call this entire experience one of 2024’s gaming masterpieces.

This review is based on a digital PC copy supplied by the publisher. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 comes out on May 21, 2024 on Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

  • Tale of vengeance is an interesting departure from the first
  • Audio design and the voices are still top-notch
  • Environmental design is breathtaking
  • Combat escalates nicely throughout the game
  • Wide variety of accessibility features
  • Mental illness still feels well-handled rather than a prop
  • Story doesn't hit as hard as the first
  • Puzzle elements slow the game down
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