At the 2019 Game Awards, we got a bunch of welcome surprises. One of the biggest being the announcement of the Xbox Series X. In order to show off the console’s capabilities, Microsoft also showed a trailer for Hellblade 2: Senau’s Saga using in-engine footage running in real-time on the Xbox Series X. It looks like the next game in the series is going to be truly next-gen. Some shots from the trailer could even be mistaken for photographs thanks to the photo-realism of the game’s graphics.
Many fans are excited for the release of the second game in the Hellblade series, as the first game stood out for its unique approach. The game did so well that Xbox Game Studios acquired the studio behind the game, Ninja Theory, giving them more resources and a bigger budget to work on future projects.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was unique in that it sought to portray mental illness accurately. The main character, Senua, suffers from severe psychosis. Ninja Theory talked to mental health professionals, psychology professors and people with psychosis to confirm that their depiction of the illness was as accurate as possible. The games on-screen display offer none of the typical information like minimaps, health bars or inventory. Instead, you hear whispers which communicate hints and help, but also a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism. The effect, especially when wearing headphones, is creepy and unnerving.
Without giving away too much, the story follows Senua, a Pict warrior in the 8th century on her mission to retrieve the soul of her dead partner, Dillion, from the goddess Hella. It is a bit of a confusing story, but I found it to be really well thought out. You’ll need to make your way through difficult and mind-bending puzzles, all the while fighting off hordes of demons of variating difficulty.
I found that the scariest part of the game was the dark dungeons and caves. In these levels, you had to navigate carefully through the dark by making sure to stay in the sun-light or torch-light. You had a certain amount of time you could stay in the dark while jumping from light source to light source, or a large creature would attack you, forcing you to start at the beginning of the level again.
Throughout the game, you will hear voices whispering to you. Sometimes they will encourage and help you on your journey, and other times they will try to convince you to give up and that what you’re doing is pointless. They may even laugh at you and make fun of you.
I found that throughout the game there seemed to be so much happening at one time. You have numerous voices whispering and yelling at you, demons appearing out of thin air and trying to attack you, and even the worry of permadeath. This refers to a warning about a rot in Senua’s body that spreads every time you die. It progresses with each death towards your head. It is unclear if this rot is real or if it is just a hallucination, but I found I was always worried about dying because there is even a message that pops up warning you that you will have to start again from the beginning if you die too many times.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a breath of fresh air in the gaming world when it came out in 2017. Many of the games released nowadays seem to be very similar concepts and don’t seem to do anything special or unique. Hellblade, on the other hand, seemed like something almost entirely new and I found that I wasn’t able to compare it to any other games. While it isn’t a game for everyone considering it is a pretty niche game, it is a bold and risky choice for Microsoft to use this innovative game to showcase the next generation of the Xbox console. I found it to be quite enjoyable and it gave me a new perspective on people with psychosis and what they may be dealing with. Of course, most people with psychosis aren’t an 8th-century Pict warrior on a quest to retrieve the soul of their dead lover, but it provides a window into at least some aspects of their suffering.
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