How far would you go in order to save someone that you loved? Would you go down to Hell
itself? These questions ring through Senua’s head besides the voices in her head throughout her story, leading to a climatic realization that true battles are fought in the mind as well as in reality. In this award-winning game, Ninja Theory makes a remarkable return to form and tell a story fueled by research.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, is a third person action-adventure game developed and published by Ninja Theory Studios. Its self-imposed title of a “independent AAA game” and its collaboration with neuroscientists and people with psychosis makes this journey harrowing, uncomfortable, but memorable and thrilling. Its combinations of puzzle solving, combat, and exploration makes the player fall in the head of its protagonist as you travel through the realms to your goal.
You play as Senua, a Pict warrior who finds herself journeying to Helheim to save the soul of her lover, Dillion. Throughout the game, details are revealed about her- how she is afflicted by voices dubbed “The Furies,” how there is an inherent darkness lying in the distance of her sight, and how her journey will forever change her perspective of her afflictions and ties. Along the way, she meets the spirits of people who are familiar to her- Druth, a wanderer who found himself with Senua’s tribe, her father, and Dillion himself. These spirits guide her to her ultimate goal, to defeat Hela. Her saga, as grim as it is, is a breath-taking combination of historical fiction/nonfiction, yet combines Nordic Mythology as added icing.
The gameplay in Senua’s Sacrifice is in two parts; Puzzle Solving and Action. You are put into a
semi-open world where you are greeted with perspective puzzles, climbing sections, and general
exploring to find your direction. Most of your puzzle solving comes from “Focusing” on items in the world, lining up beams, trees, or ruins of houses to create runes to unlock gates and progress to the next area. As the game progresses, more perspective puzzles open up, such as creating walkways or clearing walls just by looking at a building. It will become more difficult to find these elements and needs a keen eye and exploration to progress. The “furies” in your head act as your compass, supplementing the lack of a map or compass. For you daring of explorers, story markers can be found in areas to tell mythological stories and, if you find them all, unlocks a special addition to the ending of the game.
Action sequences are simple yet elegant. As a lighter character, you will depend on movement and dodging rather than going into the battle headfirst. You have basic sword combinations of light and heavy attacks, blocks, and kicks to break enemy defenses. Later in the game, the focus feature allows you to slow down time and get added hits in. Combat feels like an afterthought, something that is present but not the main focus. One thing that you will need to know is that your deaths matter. Every time you die, a “rot” grows until it reaches Senua’s brain, destroying her and deleting your progress. Now, this has been proven false that it will delete your progress and stops after a brief period of time in an area. Critics have both defended and attacked this creative choice, some calling it an “added source of urgency” while others have said it “took away from the player’s experience.”
The biggest praise for this game goes to Melina Jurgens, making her debut from Video Editor
and Stand-in to Motion Capture actor. Her genuine performance as Senua makes the experience more believable and emotional, despite her self-proclaimed title of “office clown.” I was blown away with her performance at every turn, along with the rest of the cast. I believe that she was a real person with hopes and the feverish dream to find her lover again.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is not a game. It is a masterpiece, an experience you have to play
through at least once in order to see the story through. Ninja Theory Studios have put their money where their mouth is when delivering an “Independent AAA Title.” With a beautiful and immersive world, story, and combat to cleanse the palate, this game works to tell an original and breathtaking story.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is on Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, and soon to be on Nintendo
Switch for $24.99-29.99