Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is about a Pict warrior woman named Senua who sets out to enter Helheim and confront the Norse goddess Hela in an attempt to free her lover Dillion’s soul all the while struggling with psychosis. On the journey you discover Senua’s background (how she met Dillion, how she was raised, what the other villagers thought of her, how her psychosis affected her upbringing etc.). Along the way you find Lorestones which tell stories about Norse mythology as told by Druth (a former teacher/friend of Senua).
One of my first thoughts on Hellblade was how amazing the graphics are. The animation and the backgrounds are all crisp and well detailed. The sounds were incredible as well. It’s certainly something phenomenal to experience with headphones. I noticed no significant frame rate drop during the entire game. The only glitch I did have was during one of the boss fights the sound would cut out at the start of the fight for about 1 or 2 seconds.
The combat was a bit difficult for me to get used to at first but not overly complex with very basic strategy used throughout (heavy attack, light attack, block, evade and, focus being the options). One of the most interesting things upon playing is that there is no hand holding (no tutorial, or identifying which buttons do what). One issue I had was Senua’s movement speed outside of combat. At her fastest she moved at a jog, which when traveling through some areas made for a slightly frustrating experience. The other thing I’d like to mention are the puzzles which mostly involve using your focus to find different rune patterns in surrounding areas. At first they were interesting but became a little too repetitive by the end. It didn’t ruin the experience for me but others may not enjoy them.
The voice work is probably one of the best features of the game adding to the atmosphere and with the Furies (some of the voices Senua hears) at times being distracting and misleading. It is very story driven and hearing what the main voices (the Narrator, the Darkness, and Druth) are saying is important for most of the game. Also the music was excellent and certainly enhanced some of the situations Senua was dealing with (battle, tense moments, etc.) during her journey.
The story told by this game really impacted me on an emotional level. The creators did a lot to make sure you become immersed in Senua’s world and see things as she does. Throughout the game you get a great sense of who Senua is and what she went through. The voices that constantly whisper to her are both helpful and misleading and it’s not always easy to figure out which one is which. One of highlights for me was one of the four trials she goes through where she is unable to see more than a few inches in front of her and has to navigate a maze-like area with assistance from one of the voices. I can’t stress enough how much the voices have an effect on the game with shouting different “advice” during combat and when attempting to solve some of the puzzles you come across.
My overall impressions are positive as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice presents fantastic sound design, amazing graphics, good control response, and enthralling story. As I previously mentioned her travel speed left much to be desired. large areas with little exploration to be done (except for Lorestones) made it annoying at times. The story was, in my opinion, interesting and worth the play-through. I have to say that I would definitely be interested in playing more games like this (lack of a HUD, story driven, seeing / hearing the world through the characters eyes and ears). Would I replay it? Possibly, but not right away. I strongly recommend that gamers should give this one a try. For the price (around 30$ USD at the time of this posting) it’s a well made game and an interesting look at using the risky subject of mental illness in how the game world is perceived by the hero.