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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review

First Impressions


Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the most graphically stunning game that I have played. Senua herself has incredible character model and the environment held up to almost that same quality. The style of the game may not be for everyone, however, with environments and objects glaring brightly and blurring at time during action. I found this added to the chaotic, treacherous experience that the game is aiming for, but at the cost of pure playability.

Sound in this game is used in that same way. Throughout Hellblade there are voices surrounding Senua and commenting on every step she takes. The voices seem to come from every direction, and it is a unique mechanic that I have not seen anywhere in games before. Again, this adds to the treacherous experience of Senua as the voices all chime in on how she is about to fail, but after a while they become annoying and again take away from the leisure of playing the game by stressing me out much more than helping me. These voices are necessary, though, for advice in trying times as there is no HUD to convey what is happening in the game.

Initial Thoughts

The cinematic beginning credits put me into Senua’s shoes as she slowly rowed her way into Helheim to save her lover’s soul. The visuals and the sounds were stunning and the mystery behind Senua’s story wrapped in Nordic lore seemed interesting. But after getting through the prologue I was tired of Senua’s slow movement and claustrophobic camera. Moving around levels with Senua felt like a chore, and it was tiring going back and forth within a level to figure out a puzzle. Figuring out puzzles was made more stressful because of this and the fact that these voices and these glares that conveyed a sense of psychosis and hallucinations.

The hay on the camel’s back is the fact that there is perma-death. Senua can only “fail” a limited number of times before the game ends and I would need to start again. The game is surely focused more on the cinematic experience than the gameplay, but the gameplay in its presentation and with permadeath gave a unique kind of stress that some may find fascinating, but I never found myself having fun.



Gameplay in Senua is broken down pretty cleanly into puzzle sequences and combat sequences, with the majority of the game being puzzles. These puzzles mostly involve moving around an area looking for a certain shape matching that on the door blocking Senua’s path. This involves navigating the level and interacting with doors, bridges, etc, while stepping though “portals” that show a different reality on the other side. Remembering the differences between each reality and thinking critically about how to shift my surroundings to where I needed them to be was challenging and rewarding. However, again, Senua moves so slowly and with the voices in her head and the glares and blurs shining from lights on the screen I found myself not at all looking forward to the next puzzle.


Combat in Hellblade is basic but challenging and skill-testing. And, again, combat is completely separated from puzzle sequences, which gives the game a strange disjointed feeling. The combat involves a quick slash, a heavy strike, a melee, a dodge, and a block/parry mechanic. It feels like a typical third-person slasher and not in a bad way, except for the fact that there are some major concerns outside of the controls. For one thing, the camera is far too close up to have a good sense of my surrounding in battle. For another thing, there are only a few enemy types, so combat sequences are largely the same from the start to the end of the game outside of boss fights. And finally, perma-death adds an unnecessary amount of anxiety to the combat sequences. This punishing mechanic is certainly on-theme with the story and makes the game a unique experience, however, it is almost cruel to punish deaths in combat so absolutely when the majority of the gameplay is the puzzle sequences, in which Senua (mostly) cannot die.

The game justifies perma-death by having the game be so short (~8 hours) but I would not have wanted to redo a single combat or puzzle sequence again.

Lasting Impressions


There is certainly a lot of lore behind the story of Senua, which is inspired by Norse mythology. The mystery of Senua’s background are slowly revealed along with Norse tales that help to round out and explain the environment of Helheim. Hellblade plays out in a dark and mysterious way, though, with very little explained from the beginning. Early on I was told not to even trust what my eyes saw, and the stress, confusion, and psychosis of Senua became my own. Hellblade is more of a case of interactive storytelling than a typical action-adventure game.


I did not complete the game and I could not imagine anyone wanting to play the game more than once. Some may have to, though, if perma-death forces their hand. The game is so stressful, though, that I imagine most players that die and are forced to start at the beginning never pick the game back up.


Hellblade is a very unique video game, it has such an intriguing air of mystery surrounding it and the beautiful cinematics of the game come center stage as it does not bother with a HUD, tutorial, or other popular video game tropes. I felt put into Senua’s shoes as she worked through psychosis in a trip through hell. I felt her stress and her confusion and her fear as I trudged forward.

This feeling may have gone too far, though, as in the end this video game was more stressful than fun. The gameplay underneath Senua is also perplexing, with the game being in large-part a puzzle game, but with moments of combat thrown throughout that changed the pacing while spiking the stress-levels as fear of permanent death entered my mind. Senua is unlike any game I’ve ever played and therefore I must give it a lot of praise. Part of me thinks others should also try it out to expand their definition of what a video game can be, but I can’t recommend the game to those looking for a fun action-adventure game having trudged though every level not looking forward to the next.


Spectacular graphics

Unique cinematic presentation

Emotions of Senua became my own


Claustrophobic camera and slow movement

Repetitive combat

Perma-death mechanic denies a leisurely experience



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