Ninja Theory is back, and this time they’re doing something a little different. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is for PC and PS4 and is available now.
What You Need to Know
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice follows Senua in a journey into her personal madness. Set in the age of the Viking, Celtic Warrior Senua is affected by psychosis, and she must battle herself in order to save the soul of her dead lover, Dillion. Her journey takes her to Viking Hell itself.
What is psychosis you may ask? WebMD describes it as losing touch with reality, seeing or hearing things that aren’t real and/or suffering from hallucinations. Ninja Theory collaborated with neuroscientists and those affected by psychosis in order to best create Senua.
Your journey starts off with Senua already arriving at the shores of Hel (It’s spelled this way in the game). The story is told through dialogue from her inner voices, flashbacks, and collectable runes that describe the Viking lore.
Ninja Theory treated this game differently compared to their other titles. The game is priced at $30, but is described as an “independent AAA game” meaning that it has all the qualities of a triple AAA title, but at a significant price reduction.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice handles like Resident Evil 4. It’s a third person over the shoulder experience, where your character walks at a slow pace, but can sprint when you hold down L1. You control Senua, as you solve puzzles and dive deeper into Hel. Nothing crazy, right?
At certain points you will encounter enemies. These moments have you facing waves of different enemy types in a 1v1, 1v2, 1v3 (even 1v5 later on in the game) fight to the death. The combat is simple as Senua can evade attacks, block, counterattack, use fast strikes or heavy strikes with her sword. Her specialty is entering a Focus mode that allows you to slow down time to unleash some good hurting on the baddies. There is no HUD; as you take damage your screen turns bloody giving you an indication of how close you are to death. The voices in her head aid you in combat as they scream at you “Defend!” or “Behind you!” or they berate you for every mistake in combat.
It can’t be that simple can it? Correct, it’s not! The game features a Permadeath system. If you die or fail too many times, your save will be deleted, and you will have to start all the way from the beginning. This is introduced in a cutscene early on in the game. Senua’s hand grows a black rot, and it spreads throughout her body each time you fail. The rot is an ever present reminder of the stakes at hand (no pun intended).
I like Ninja Theory’s games because they manage to merge gameplay and story so well, at least in my humble opinion. Although Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was probably their weakest title (again this is my opinion), I always look forward to what they’re going to bring to the table next (I’m still waiting for a sequel to Heavenly Sword).
Their efforts in this title have shown that they are masters of a third element- setting/atmosphere/tone (whichever word you feel is most applicable). It’s not hard to create an atmosphere that mirrors Hell, but Ninja Theory goes a step further, and creates a personal Hell. The world is dark, bodies are littered on the floor and on pikes, the voices haunt Senua saying she can’t complete her journey, that she’s weak, she lacks courage. Put all of that together, and you really feel like you’re experiencing Hell.
The combat gets repetitive quick, but the overarching thought that each encounter is a fight for your life (and save data) keeps it interesting. Each strike of your sword cuts deep into your foes, leaving visible bloody slash marks, until you defeat them. There are boss fights, and they do an excellent job of making you feel helpless, even if though they boil down to a hack and slash affair.
There is a bit of controversy surrounding the after mentioned Permadeath system. Many fans don’t like it, while others are trying to figure out how many times you have to die in order to trigger it. I won’t spoil anything for you, but the game is relatively easy enough that you shouldn’t have to worry too much about dying a lot.
At the time of writing this, I finished my play through. The ending was a little confusing, but I felt good about completing Senua’s quest. Make sure you collect all of the runes as you will unlock the “true ending”.
For what it’s worth, the game is a steal. You may see me write that often, but it’s only $30. Going forward, this is what Ninja Theory is looking to do; give us “independent triple AAA” games that are short, but give you good content and the same quality (if not better) than the bigger games. That may turn some people off because it’s not a full $60 worth of content, but for the half the price, it’s worth the investment.
That’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for you. It’s not a long game, but in this case, quality over quantity is what makes it shine. Are you going to play? If you have already, what did you think about it?