Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a unique adventure title, following the story of Celtic warrior Senua as she tries to beat Gods in order to retrieve her beloved Dillion from the hands of Hela, the goddess of Hel and death. The studio did a wonderful job at mixing the magnificently rich history of the Celtic and Norse mythology with the right amount of fiction to deliver a breathtaking experience. I often found myself paying close attention to every word being said by the narrator regarding Greek gods and their stories of betrayal, triumph and death.
From the get go, you are overwhelmed with what is going on around you, multiple contradicting voices talking in your mind as the narrator briefly discusses Senua’s background story and the journey she has committed herself to. The game makes it very clear that this is not just a beautiful looking world with some obstacles to overcome, no, Hellblade’s world is much more punishing than you think. You are inevitably killed early on and obliged to watch Senua suffer as the darkness starts to crawl up her body, slowly sucking the life out of her and turning her into a semi-burnt corpse. After this traumatic scene, you are informed of a permadeath mechanic. The darkness you just saw kill you minutes ago is now attached to your hand, and every time you die on your journey, it starts to slowly crawl up your body. Once it reaches Senua’s head, your whole save file is erased and you have to start the game all over again.
Some may find this feature irritating, frustrating and push them away, but it is the one of the main reasons I gave this game my full concentration and attention. Hellblade’s enemies won’t give you an easy time either, you are constantly confronted with enemies on your journey, each with their own attacks and aggressiveness. The game’s world is certainly unforgiving, and as bold as this might seem, Hellblade can even be considered close to the difficulty of a Dark Souls game but with a much more compelling and breathtaking storyline. However, Ninja Theory kept in mind those who are in it for the adventure, providing players the option of changing the game’s difficulty level through the menu.
Moving on from Hellblade’s permadeath and cruel world, the game manages to deliver a story filled with plot-twists, madness, agony, fear and brief moments of relief. Senua’s main goal is to break through the gates of Helheim, a cruel and darkness-filled world where only the dead are allowed inside. The player has to overcome challenges set up by the God of Illusion and the God of Fire before stepping into Helheim and facing the Goddess of Death, a half-human-half-fire creature that brings darkness into the world. Throughout your journey you are accompanied by the voices inside your head, trying to derail you off your path and discourage while other voices push you forward and want you to succeed. Wearing a good quality headset goes a long way in adding to the experience, as you start to feel the different voices messing with your own mind as they start whispering into your ear from every angle. These moments reflect upon how much work and effort Ninja Theory put into correctly depicting psychosis and its most famous symptoms; hearing voices in your head, losing contact with reality, hallucinations and unusual behaviour.
It’s hard not to give away any key moments of the storyline while writing this piece, as every there is a major event happening at almost every point in this game. You will probably be able to complete Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in around 6 to 8 hours, but I can assure you that in those 6 or 8 hours, I have managed to experience some of the best gaming moments of my entire life. This is an “independent AAA” title, as Ninja Theory labels it, but in my opinion, it is far from it. Hellblade manages to deliver an emotionally strong message with visuals that even most AAA titles don’t have. There was moments where I had to press record on my PS4 and re-watch the cutscene, just to consume the level of detail and realism Ninja Theory managed to achieve.
One of the major components that helps Hellblade become the fantastic game that it is, is the dialogue. Every sentence feels like it was writen by Shakespeare or a legendary author. Everything from the narration to the voice acting done by the talented Melina Juergens takes your breath away.
As bold as this statement may seem, no other game released this year comes close to the emotionally breathtaking story Ninja Theory delivered with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Not only that, it also delivers one of the best visual and audio experiences of all-time. I know I haven’t mentioned almost any flaws, but I didn’t find any, why would I try my best to find something wrong with a masterpiece?