If you reading this, then you’re probably interested in playing Hellblade and want to know whether or not it’s worth playing this year (hence the title of this article) but I’m going to save you a whole lot of time and start this off by saying yes, it is still good and you should play it right now, this very second. Don’t even finish reading this article.
But, if you would like to know why then I encourage you to stick around because I’m about to tell you all about my experience playing one of the best games that I’ve had the opportunity to play this year. The year might have only just begun but I don’t see any game coming along and taking that crown any time soon.
I understand that the story itself does not connect with everybody the way that it connected with me but I could not get enough of this game and will not hesitate to give it a glowing recommendation to any gamer that I meet whos interested in a good single-player experience because Hellblade delivers.
There’s always room for improvement, no doubt, but as you’ll soon find out, I have very few negative things to say about this game and I can’t for the sequel that’s set to come out this year as well. So, without further ado let me tell you why Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is still good in 2021.
HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE
So, What’s It All About?
Hellblade tells the story of Senua, a Celtic Pict warrior on a mission to rescue the soul of her lover from the depths of Helheim, Norse mythology’s interpretation of hell. However, Senua is no ordinary hero. He is cursed by severe Psychosis, and she has to deal with this mental illness all while completing this dangerous quest.
She suffers from deep trauma, brought on by years of isolation and abuse and she will have to overcome these inner demons while battling the monsters that stand in her way with nothing more than a sword and dogged determination to be reunited with her husband, Dillion.
All the action comes from hacking, slashing, dodging, and diving around enemies with a little help from her ‘ability’ called Focus. Senua will concentrate and slow down time enough for her to attack and see invisible enemies but there are a good amount of environmental puzzles to be solved along the way using this ability.
There are also some collectibles in the form of Lorestones which are large stones marked with runes that serve the same function as ‘Audio Logs’ that you find in other games. They are stories of Northmen mythology that give more insight into the world of Hellblade and the characters of the story.
— Stevius Maximus (@SteviusM) January 22, 2021
Then, What’s Good About It?
This is a tricky subject to write about because I want to objectively tell you why I liked this game and that might not be why you like it if you like Hellblade at all. Senua goes on a very personal journey as she overcomes the darkness within her and that’s why so many people come out of this experience with a different opinion. It’s personal for you as well.
There’s a lot to unpack within the narrative and the pace at which this story is told may not hold your attention since, as gamers, we tend to care more about the gameplay that we get to experience than the story behind it that’s holding it all together. So when a game manages to captivate me with its story, it’s something special to me.
That’s what’s so great about this game for me is the fact that I walked away from it feeling like I was moved by what I just witnessed. It’s the same feeling I want when I read a book, or watch a movie. Yes, I want to be entertained but if you can also make me feel like my life would be different if I hadn’t heard this story then…well done.
It ultimately changed my perspective of how the story’s within video games can be told and it paints a solid picture of what you’re in for from the moments the intro credits start rolling. You get to feel the effects of her psychosis from the start as her inner demons speak to you and to Senua herself.
Immediately, what stood out to me the most was the distinct lack of a HUD (Heads-Up Display) on my screen. Every frame looks like a scene from a movie and there’s no health bar or stamina meter to break the immersion and remind you that you’re playing a video game. I mean, there isn’t even a tutorial.
Even the regular button prompts for ladders, doors and other interactable items are absent and I absolutely love that this game didn’t hold my hand and tell me when and where to press X. Thank you, Ninja theory for trusting me to be smart enough to figure the controls on my own (or press pause to look at the guide).
This same concept is applied to combat as well. The first time you encounter an enemy, there is no lesson on what buttons to press, you just have to figure it out once Senua draws her sword and again it makes me feel like this game’s design does its best to make you forget that you’re playing a game.
The first time you encounter an enemy you’re supposed to struggle and fail because it all leads into the next aspect of the game, the Dark Rot. Senua is cursed by rot that is creeping up her arm and it grows more and more each time you die and, if the rot reaches all the way up to Senua’s head, your journey is over, all progress is lost and you have to start at the beginning.
This permanent Game Over style is so old skool and it added a level of intensity that I didn’t know I was missing in a game. Each failure, each death now had serious consequences, and it added a layer of depth to the story, and each fight became so much more satisfying and entertaining because playing badly could stop all the fun and send me back to zero.
The combat is simple yet fluid in a way that made it possible to take on multiple enemies at once without ever feeling overwhelmed by the number of targets on the screen. Enemies had enough variation between them to keep things spicy and Senua’s combos, although easy to master, kept me engaged for the duration of the game.
And, as for Senua herself. I won’t be surprised if Senua gets mentioned in the same sentence as Ellie or Lara Croft, because we won’t be able to have conversations about well-written female protagonists in video games without bringing up her and this amazing performance by Senua’s actress Melina Juergens.
She managed to bring this character to life in a way that demands my total respect because every single line that Senua spoke, every scream, every moment of anguish and self-doubt, and every swing of that sword felt so believable like Senua was a real person fully capable of experiencing all these things and wasn’t some perfect video game superhero that could do no wrong.
In fact, the entire cast of performers could be congratulated for their work on this game. Especially Steven Hartley, the actor behind Zynbel, Senua’s father. Whether that was a vocal effect or not, his voice penetrated whenever it appeared and that menacing tone will haunt you all the way until the game is over.
— Stevius Maximus (@SteviusM) January 24, 2021
And, What’s Bad About It?
Okay, so I’m being very biased but there was very little that I disliked about this game. I mean yeah, there could’ve been a wider variety of weapons and maybe some more moves to make sure the combat is less shallow and yeah, the story is kind of short but making it longer would’ve drawn things out unnecessarily if you ask me.
The fact that Senua doesn’t collect mystical weapons throughout the campaign just added to the realism for me and using ‘concentration’ as an ability kept the story grounded in a way. It’s not a perfect game but for me, it was a perfect experience that I would gladly go through one more time.
So, Should I Play It?
Like I said in the beginning, you absolutely should play this game. I don’t care if you’re a fan of compelling narratives or are just interested in beating up as many enemies as you can, you need to experience this game for yourself at least once because there’s no telling what kind of connection you’re going to make.
If you judge Hellblade as nothing more than a video game, then you’re going to be disappointed. Ninja Theory is stretching the boundary of gaming entertainment, if you ask me, and gave me a level of storytelling that I didn’t know existed in a game. This is art, as cliche as it might be to say it.
Have you played Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice? What did you think of the game when you played it? Let me know in the comments section below?