finally the Xbox exclusive that everyone agrees on?

Despite the open ending of Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, we did not imagine that Ninja Theory was really going to take the risk of offering a sequel to this real UFO of the AA scene. A game that knew how to tackle a very sensitive subject, little covered and/or not with such accuracy. On the one hand, this is not the habit of the studio which has only released original licenses, if we put aside the two Disney Infinity and the very good DmC Devil May Cry. On the other hand, because bringing back into play the special, gripping and disturbing character of the previous opus, without failing, was an almost unconscious challenge. Hellblade 2 is different from its model and this is one of its weaknesses.

Editor’s note: The first paragraph contains slight spoilers on Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, nevertheless necessary to support our point and that of this new game, although we deliberately do not go into details to leave you the leisure of discovery.

A different journey for Hellblade 2

If you have never played Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, we immediately invite you to do so for several reasons. Despite its very marked flaws, this remains a rare experience in video games. But it is above all fundamental to fully understand everything Hellblade 2 has to say or show – the summary at the start of the adventure being too superficial. Senua, the heroine of the license, is a Pictish warrior suffering from psychosis since her childhood, but who will sink further into her madness, to the point of completely losing her footing and all notion of reality after having suffered several traumas. The massacre of his family during a Viking raid, or the death of his first love, only accentuated his mental condition. But it is also these trials that will allow her to move forward, to mourn the loss of her lover – he who had always agreed to see her as a normal person and to support her in her desire to fight her “demons” alone. -, to perhaps heal or at least live with this illness by letting a light enter its darkness. A light already glimpsed when she crossed the path of her dear one for the first time.

If Ninja Theory uses Norse mythology – which is developed through short stories via pillars on which runes are inscribed – as a metaphor to get its message across, it is indeed mental health which is the main subject of License. “There is no miracle cure” can be heard in a pre-launch video. Senua still hears voices, still has visions in Hellblade 2, but now she knows that she can coexist with that and not let herself be consumed by her state and her macabre thoughts. She is now more in control, wants to resist and why not be in turn, as her past love was, to be an example to improve her world and that of the characters she meets along the way. The message of Hellblade 2 is ultimately more positive, despite a still-present darkness, and shows a combative Senua who has been profoundly changed by her previous adventure. This sequel still deals with the myths and beliefs that can push men and women to lose all humanity, to engage in barbarism or to commit betrayal, including towards loved ones, on the basis of illusory things.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II shadow silhouette

This counterpoint is both the game’s advantage, and perhaps its major flaw. Seeing the world through the lens of someone with psychosis was as unsettling as it was fascinating. A unique experience where Senua shared her mind with voices from elsewhere and with the player. It is this intimate, anxiety-inducing dimension that gave credibility to everything that had been put in place by the developers. But because of the heroine’s journey after this initiatory quest, it’s almost no longer the same. And paradoxically, Hellblade 2 therefore becomes more “conventional”. It is less disruptive, less gut-wrenching. There are certainly still voices and visions, but they no longer penetrate the player’s mind with as much force and power as before. These faces of very real people, which could appear and which served as borderline nightmarish visions, are no more. And that’s perfectly normal. All these hallucinations which are called “positive symptoms” no longer have reason to be so numerous with Senua’s openness and personal journey.

A slap in the gums

Hellblade 2 still offers strong scenes from an artistic and symbolic point of view, even completely crazy by offering a horrific atmosphere à la The Descent, but not as much and/at the expected level. No sequence really struck me or made me nervous like the passage before the end cutscene of the previous part with its simply brilliant music, and its subject which shines through even in the gameplay. I expected more. We sometimes get closer to a classic blockbuster of which there are already dozens and dozens.

The problems with rhythm are always present with a soft underbelly, in particular due to the absence of truly singular things which could have counterbalanced flatter elements, even though the title tries to establish a constant headlong rush with narrative cutting. “Lord of the Rings style” where we cross the landscapes of Iceland at accelerated speed to progress. As a result, a feeling of disappointment and unfinished business took precedence over my general feeling, despite, once again, visually very sophisticated sequences. The opening of the story to other characters is not unrelated to this. This time, the heroine actually breaks her solitude by crossing paths with other inhabitants of the world. But the fate of these traveling companions takes us away from the intimate, anxiety-provoking and more gripping story of Hellblade 1. No emotion really emerges from these moments with the NPCs. The heroine’s past could also have been more exploited and it is ultimately still Senua who does the heavy lifting.

hellblade 2 xbox series pc review

Or rather, I should say, Melina Juergens, who took her first steps as an actress with this role even though she was not predestined for it. Her performance, like those of the “Furies” (the voices Senua hears), is intact and simply remarkable. She is incredibly accurate in all circumstances, and fortunately manages to transcribe the entire evolution of her character in her acting. The imposed VOSTFR takes on its full meaning as always with such a performance. A demonstration supported by binaural sound may also be more restrained, but which is extremely effective with sometimes taxing spatialization, for an immersiveness rarely achieved. But it would be nothing without plastic worthy of the name.

So is Hellblade 2 finally THE Xbox Series X game capable of serving as a showcase after certain failures? All the scenes used to promote the game, with close-ups of Senua or other characters, are unwatchable. We are indeed on one of the most beautiful games in its category with faces of astonishing realism. Really. It’s teeming with details in the eyes, the look, the blood and sweat running down our warrior’s face. The animations are Dantesque and largely highlight the acting of Melina Juergens as well as her features. There is, however, a disparity between the appearances of Senua and the other characters during these cutscenes, which benefit from an obvious graphic boost, and those which are rather incorporated into the gameplay. But apart from that, it’s of a very high level and the expected graphic slap.

hellblade 2 xbox series pc review

Like the first game, Hellblade 2 also knows how to do it when it is necessary to provide a particular atmosphere with elements such as fire, smoke from hot springs or even mist during night passages. There is a gigantic gap with the PS4 episode. The decorations and their composition are also more varied. Of course, these are often sublime expanses, but it is the extraordinary panoramas of Iceland that make it so. The technique is fully at the service of the artistic direction, production and framing. Ninja Theory has the art and the way of framing to bring to life magnificent shots that we see in very few productions. Note that our test was carried out on a PC equipped with a Ryzen 5600X, a 6800XT and 16GB of RAM on a 1080 monitor first, then on a Panasonic OLED 65JZ1500 4K television. In this last configuration, we were obviously far from 70/90 fps in 1080p, but 30fps was exceeded and the game was fluid without having one’s nose on an fps counter, with pre-sets at the top.

Polished gameplay

One of the main criticisms of the previous game was its general repetitiveness, partly due to the nature of its puzzles and combat. We have good news and bad news on this. The puzzles were extremely redundant – we are not going to deny it and this is also one of the faults of Hellblade for us -, but they had the merit of being researched from a point of view. view of the overall theme of the experience. If you want to know more, don’t hesitate to watch the excellent documentary, which is available on the first title menu, but not before completing the adventure! We insist on that.

Senua's Saga: Hellblade II cinematic monsters

Redundancy is less of an issue in Hellblade 2 since the developers have already made it more direct. There is still this system where you have to locate runes in the setting, with visual indications when you approach the goal, but they are easier to detect and there are fewer of them. Now, there are also other puzzles where we must find and place spheres on a receptacle by manipulating the environments. To do this, Senua must concentrate his vision, which will make elements of the landscape appear/disappear or which will, for example, reverse a decoration normally located on the ceiling. In short, it is the equivalent of magic portals.

The puzzles are therefore shorter than before, as are the fights. The clashes could indeed drag on and make people yawn due to lack of interest. There too, there is good and bad. Hellblade 2’s duels have not gained in complexity. All fights are essentially based on a quick or heavy attack, a dodge and a parry. The difference that improves this part is the fact that enemies will tend to counter more blows, which forces you to react with tighter, but still generous, timing and try to achieve as many perfect parries as possible.

hellblade 2 beach clash

But the real improvement has to do with the brutality and viscerality of these face-to-face encounters. It’s gorier, more animalistic with Senua’s warrior side coming out more. The staging around these scuffles, at times, is also often much better. On the other hand, avoid normal mode at all costs for these sequences if you can. The difference with Hard mode is not abysmal, and at least your opponents will react more instead of standing in front of you waiting to be slashed by your sword. The clashes with certain enemies are also more interesting not in relation to the gameplay, but in relation to the actions to be carried out which correspond to the latter’s story. We won’t spoil it. Even with that, and Ninja Theory’s efforts, the cinematic aspect of Hellblade 2 takes precedence above all else, but that’s not a criticism or a bad word in our mouth

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