If we cast our minds all the way back to 2019's The Game Awards, all the way back to that very first reveal for Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, it's a strange thing that, amidst all of the next-gen hype and excitement of that specific time, we still clearly remember considering a sequel to Ninja Theory's 2017 tour-de-force a weird, and maybe even quite bad, idea. Well, that and Geoff Keighley's jacket. But mostly the bad idea thing.

It was an obvious choice to make, of course, Senua's Sacrifice is quite rightly beloved by gamers and critics the world over. It was a big fat mega-hit, baby. It's also a singularly raw, personal and very angry blast of a game that throttles you with something approximating the ins and outs of dealing with mental health issues on the daily. It's dangerous, intoxicating, otherworldly and unique whilst also getting proper real about mind stuff, innit. There have been countless articles and discussions, we all have our own reasons to speak on why we connected so deeply with this character first time around. But why revisit, why go again when it seemed as though everything of import had already been said for Senua?

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Playing Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 after all this time, after five long years of waiting and wondering on how they could wring more of the same level of emotion and connection from a continued saga approach, it's very hard not to be disappointed. Disappointed because it really had to be good for Xbox just purely in terms of business, that's for sure. Disappointed because this sequel feels exactly how we reckoned a sequel might do, and disappointed that so much time, effort and very obvious skill has gone into something that just does not, in any way whatsover, feel vital or necessary.

Oh dear. That sounds very bad. But it isn't very bad, actually, it's quite good. It's a quite good video game. A solid eight hour adventure that still brings a level of artistry, of graphical fidelity and audio work - the soundtrack is incredible - that is leagues above anything else we've seen this generation. In this way it does fully deliver. It looks like a very moody and important movie. An arty one. One of those foreign ones with the subtitles that you put on when that person you fancy is over. We all know, mate.

We don't want to ruin the story, because by God it's slight, but this time Senua has grown into her role, she's shifting her focus to how she can take her pain and inner turmoil and use it in a constructive manner. What is its meaning? What is this power that she holds and how can she use it for good, and so on. Honestly, that's possibly even too much information, but essentially you've got a hero arc now, of sorts. And that's just not as interesting or as personal as the depths of despair she was in first time out. Sorry. We don't make the rules, but everyone is in despair now, so Senua can either be more in despair or she can get lost.

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Jesting, obviously. But there is a nugget of truth in that sentiment, and it's why we can't connect in the same way this time around. No matter how we try. Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is at its best when it shows us a hero doubting themselves. It reframes some gaming tropes in clever ways and raises a smile as it does so. Are these chattering voices, these constant nagging doubts, self-hatred and so on...is this how Link feels when he's asked to "go over there and beat those monsters"? Oh God. Makes you think. Etc. These are the places that we found most enjoyment this time around, when all the noise and darkness makes way for these moments where Senua's plight still resonates. Not in the same way, it's lost a lot of deep personal emotion and impact this time out, but there are flashes and they keep you going.

Had these flashes of reframing the hero's plight in this way been more consistent, and then pared with gaming mechanics that did the whole thing justice - that matched the often eye-popping spectacle - well, now that would have been a whole other thing. However, the fighting here is a drag, unfortunately. A real drag. It's clunky, it's repetitive, it wrestles control away when it fancies it, and it lacks all of the character of the amazing boss confrontations from the first game. All of those things are gone in favour of nameless, faceless monsters for the most part. It feels like the grandeur and pomposity of the speeches has been pared back too, the narration is more sparing - even though that was one of the best parts of the original - and seeking out additional info via hidden runes becomes vital because there's so little to engage up front and centre.

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The puzzles, using Senua's focus skill to warp your surroundings in exceedingly obvious ways and then standing in exact places to trigger a solution, are also as bad as this sentence has just made them sound. They are so basic. Why? Why are they so basic and repetitive? Much like the combat, it does feel as though all of the gameplay aspects have really been dropped off in favour of the narrative for part deux. Some will say the fighting feels perfectly matched to her mindset too, but that doesn't wash this time (not for me at least). It feels bad. It isn't satisfying to play in combat or in puzzles, and so we have a gorgeous walking simulator. With incredible acting. Melina Juergens is spectacular in every scene, she's never less than fully absorbing, it's just a shame that Senua's journey this time feels so much less immediate.

There have been plenty of vital games about mental health, our inner demons, dealing with depression and self-doubt since Senua first arrived on the scene in 2017. Returning to her continued plight in an attempt to strike gold twice was always going to be a risk, and as much as this game is spectacular at times, as much as the first hour is riveting to behold and certain scenes do match the power of the first game, it's diminishing returns and a game that feels like a nice trip to take if you got the time, but nothing that we'd describe as essential or must-play. Which considering the first game...well, it is what it is.

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There's a very positive message to be taken from this game, we should note, one that is as prescient now as it could ever be considering how absolutely dark as night the real world has become. Something so on the money in its timing should be capable of devastating us emotionally. The fact that it doesn't is, we think, all you really need to know.


Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 is the best-looking video game we've ever played. It sounds incredible, Melina Juergens acts herself inside out, and on a purely technical level this is just next-level stuff all round. However, we still don't feel as though extending Senua's plight into a Saga is a good idea. We remain unconvinced, and it's because this sequel feels like diminishing returns, as we had worried it might. It's not as vital or as unique in 2024, and it goes for bombast as a means of smoothing things over, resulting in a good game, an interesting eight hour romp, but nothing that screams must-play. Weak combat and dull puzzles are just more salt in these wounds, unfortunately.