Viking. Norse Hell. Damnation. Psychosis… you’re welcome.
2017 brought about a buffet of established franchise games: Star Wars Battlefront II, Assassins Creed Origins, Destiny 2, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: WWII, just to name a few. However, it was the psychological journey through Hell gifted to us by Ninja Theory that still holds gamers in suspense while forcing them to trade their caffeine for Xanax.
Much like Dante’s journey through the 7 Regions of Hell, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice introduces us to our focal protagonist Senua, a Viking warrior woman tortured with the loss of her beloved Dillion who was gruesomely slain along with much of her village. Her inner struggles of psychosis, hallucinations, and voices become very real as she is hell-bent (pun intended) to save Dillion’s soul from eternal damnation. Equipped with Dillion’s severed head and a sword, Senua plunges herself into the depths of Helheim in hopes of defeating the goddess Hela and her hoard of demons, beasts, and guardians of the damned. A mind-warping, suspenseful puzzle solving game with stunning visuals, brain-teasing audio effects, underlying combat, and violence; all wrapped up in a twisted storyline sure to have you at the edge of your seat throughout your journey.
Senua suffers from intensifying psychosis she refers to as “the curse” which plagues her in numerous forms. The driving force obviously coming from the constant flashbacks and hallucinations of Dillion himself, while other forms are a bit darker. The inner monologues or, “Furies” are voices that constantly swirl within her head. Yes, I said VOICES, plural… as there seem to be about 5-7 different voices at once both tempting and guiding Senua to her next decision. While some of the voices seem to have your best interests in mind, others are bound to slow down your progress or worse… get you killed.
As Senua dives deeper and deeper into the bowels of Helheim, it becomes more apparent what Senua’s Sacrifice truly is. Her mind is being bent and stretched beyond repair while juggling her impending death. A constant “Darkness” follows her filling her head with doubt and despair as she meets each one of her next foes. She becomes infected with “the rot” which is explained as true oncoming eternal death. What this means for gamers… if you die too many times during your quest, “the rot” will continue to spread eventually reaching your head thus resulting in PERMADEATH. Oh…and you lose all saved data and restart from the beginning of the game.
Tools for Success:
Another faction of her psychosis is Druth, a former village elder whom helped guide and teach Senua with knowledge of Norse Mythology. Druth appears to be the only positive hallucination she has throughout as he persistently points out helpful hints and details to assist you in solving your task at hand. When all seems lost, listen carefully… both Druth and certain “Furies” will get louder and even shout at you on where to look.
Take Senua’s slow pace as a chance to fully embrace your surroundings and absorb Druth’s lessons on mythology. In order to get through locked gates, you must match key images etched into each gate with that of your natural surroundings. Unlike any game before it, Senua’s “curse” is also a blessing in that she finds these images hidden in plain sight. With help from the “Furies”, Druth and focus-like anxiety that quickens or slows as you are nearing a key image… it is 100% up to you to uncover these unlikely images that could take place in a rock formation, a fallen tree or a simple shadow.
Combat is limited, much like the linear nature of the game itself and for once… I’m completely ok with it. However, there is no tutorial on how to use your sword, block/parry or even evade a demonic attacker. Take the time to test the controls on single, slow-moving apparitions as they appear throughout the game. Early on you’ll get the gist of survival, but as the game progresses unveiling more powerful opponents, boss character battles and entire hoards will put your memory of combat controls to the test. Each will challenge your ability to adapt and remember your survival skills in each specific situation. For instance, some will have you rely heavily on evading and quick attacks while others will demand precisely timed parries and heavy attacks to defeat your foe/foes and move on to the next nightmare.
Color me simple-minded or uncultured, but since Skyrim, I’m not sure I’ve played a game that captivated me as much as this game did. While Night in the Woods was well deserving as 2017’s Indie Game of the Year, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice made a strong case for runner up. Winning an impressive 11 awards out of 13 total nominations between 2017 and 2018, it’s no wonder this game is still relevant and continuing its gripping effect on curious gamers. Two years past its release date, Nintendo just released it on Switch in April of 2019 and is among Game Passes hidden gems available for free download.
*Important*- mental health is very important and not a joking matter. Ninja Theory partnered with licensed phycologists throughout the production of this game to identify key elements of psychosis and mental illnesses. Portrayals of such illnesses are not meant to offend or diagnose. If you are prone to mental instability or easily triggered please refrain from playing. Ninja Theory has amazing helplines and literature on mental health and how to seek help if needed.