- CPU: Intel Core i3 2130 / AMD FX 4300
- CPU SPEED: Info
- RAM: 4 GB
- OS: 64 bit Windows 10
- VIDEO CARD: NVIDIA GT 640 / AMD HD 7750 (DirectX11 Graphics Card)
- PIXEL SHADER: 5.0
- VERTEX SHADER: 5.0
- SOUND CARD: DirectX Compatible
- DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 1024 MB
- CPU: Intel Core i5 9600K / AMD Ryzen 5 2600X
- CPU SPEED: Info
- RAM: 8 GB
- OS: 64 bit Windows 10
- VIDEO CARD: NVIDIA GTX 1660 Ti / AMD RX 590 (DirectX12 Graphics Card)
- PIXEL SHADER: 5.1
- VERTEX SHADER: 5.1
- SOUND CARD: DirectX Compatible
- DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 6144 MB
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a 2017 action-adventure game developed and published by the British video game development studio Ninja Theory. Set in a dark fantasy world inspired by Norse mythology and Celtic culture, the game follows Senua, a Pict warrior who must make her way to Helheim by defeating otherworldly entities and facing their challenges, in order to rescue the soul of her dead lover from the goddess Hela. It was released worldwide for Windows and PlayStation 4 in August 2017, Xbox One in April 2018, Nintendo Switch in April 2019, and Xbox Series X and Series S in August 2021. Hellblade features support for virtual reality, which was added in a 2018 update.
Self-described as an “independent AAA game”, Hellblade was created by a team of approximately twenty developers led by writer and director Tameem Antoniades. The game blends different gameplay mechanics and concepts like puzzle solving, psychological horror and melee combat. Voice acting is an integral part of the game, while its cutscenes combine motion capture by Melina Juergens, and live action performances by other actors. The game’s narrative serves as a metaphor for the character’s struggle with psychosis, as Senua, who suffers from the condition but believes it to be a curse, is haunted by an entity known as the “Darkness”, voices in her head known as “Furies”, and memories from her past. To properly represent psychosis, developers worked closely with neuroscientists, mental health specialists, and people living with the condition.
Hellblade was a commercial success and was well-received by critics, who praised it as a work of art and applauded its uncommon choice of revolving around psychosis, the quality and uniqueness of its approach of the condition, and its story and main character. Its overall presentation, along with Juergens’ performance, was also considered superior in quality to what independent games usually provide, although its gameplay and other elements received some criticism. The game sold over a million copies across all platforms by June 2018. A sequel, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, was announced at The Game Awards 2019.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is divided into two types of gameplay: the first allows Senua to walk freely and interact with her surroundings. Those parts focus on either story via voiceover, as Senua travels from one location to another, or the resolution of a puzzle or challenge of some kind to progress further. She can use a capacity known as “focus”, in reference to her tendency to see things differently from other people due to her condition, to trigger puzzle-related events. If she uses her focus on totems hidden throughout the game, it triggers a memory via voice-over of her friend Druth telling her of the stories of the Norsemen; activating all forty-four of them triggers a bonus cutscene shortly before the game’s climax, that extends on Druth’s backstory. Several areas feature their own exclusive mechanics or trials, such as reaching a safe zone in time before Senua dies, or using the focus ability to modify the structure of her surroundings.
In addition, Hellblade features fights against malformed representations of Norsemen who block her progression, including occasional bosses. During those fights, Senua has her sword drawn out, and is turned towards one of her enemies, on which the camera is automatically focused; she can use two kinds of attacks, quick or heavy, kick an enemy to prevent it from blocking her attacks, parry, or dodge. She can also charge the opponent she is focusing on, to either get closer or directly attack or kick it. If she parries or dodges enough, she can use her focus ability in battle to move faster than her enemies or dissipate the shadows some of them are made of, which makes them impervious to regular attacks. Once she obtains Gramr, Senua can charge her heavy attacks for additional damage and parries more efficiently, both of which can allow her to use her focus ability. If Senua suffers a strong hit, or several hits in a row, she falls to the ground, and the player must press the corresponding button repeatedly as fast as possible before an enemy deals her a fatal blow; if she does not get back up in time, she dies. The closer she is to death, the more difficult it is for her to get back up; she can also die from a regular hit, if she was already very close to death.
Hellblade does not feature any heads-up display or tutorials. Instead, Druth, Furies, or the Darkness, provide audio indications on game mechanics, and how to progress through levels and puzzles. The Furies provide Senua advice in battle, notably warning her if an enemy is attacking from her back. They react when Senua takes damage, and panic heavily if she is close to death: how nervous they are when she takes a hit is representative of how much damage she can still take. The nature of most apparitions, events witnessed, or voices heard, is purposely left unclear, and can be interpreted as either an actual apparition by a spirit, a memory of Senua, or a trick created by the Darkness or one of the deceptive creatures she has to face. As such, the clues given during the game are not always reliable (except for Druth’s): certain Furies try to demotivate Senua, or give false indications such as telling her she took the wrong way, or that she is walking into a trap.
Set in the late 8th century, the game starts with Senua (Melina Juergens), a Pict warrior from Orkney arriving at the border of Helheim in a quest to save the soul of her dead lover, Dillion (Oliver Walker), from the goddess Hela. Senua believes she suffers from a curse that causes her to hear the voices of spirits, referred to as “Furies”, in her head, the most notable of which is the Narrator (Chipo Chung), who is aware of the player’s presence and often breaks the fourth wall by talking to them directly. She is followed by the Darkness (Steven Hartley), a dark entity at the core of the curse. She carries Dillion’s severed head to use it as a vessel for his soul and is guided by her memories of the stories of Druth (Nicholas Boulton), a former slave of the Norsemen well-versed in their legends, now deceased, who became her friend and mentor during a year-long self-imposed exile. To enter Helheim, Senua overcomes several tests and defeats both the fire giant Surt and the god of illusions Valravn, but as she crosses the bridge to Helheim, she is attacked by Hela, who defeats her with a single blow and shatters her sword. Barely surviving the encounter, Senua contemplates suicide, but instead scars herself with her broken blade. She then follows visions of Druth and a man-shaped light she believes to be Dillion to a great tree, where she undergoes four trials that test her body, spirit, and mind and is rewarded with the legendary sword Gramr, a weapon powerful enough to kill Hela.
As the game progresses, Senua’s backstory is unveiled in nonlinear order through her hallucinations, revealing that her mother, the healer Galena (Ellie Piercy), suffered the same curse she did but thought of it as a gift. However, Senua’s devoutly religious father, Zynbel (also performed by Hartley), thought otherwise and burned Galena alive. Senua witnessed the event when she was just five years old, which caused her psychosis to worsen significantly and caused her to block out the memory. Her father, convincing her that she was tainted with evil, abused Senua emotionally and physically and isolated her from the rest of the world until she met Dillion when he visited her village. The two fell in love, and Senua left her father to be with him, as he saw her as different and misunderstood instead of cursed. However, after a plague killed many in Dillion’s village, Senua, believing the fault to be hers, left in exile. When she returned a year later after seemingly conquering the Darkness, she found everyone killed by Norsemen raiders, who had sacrificed Dillion in a blood eagle to their gods. Remembering the stories of Druth, Senua then swore to save Dillion’s soul from the gods of the Norsemen.
Ultimately, Senua fights against the influence of the Darkness, surviving the “Sea of Corpses” and defeating the beast Garm at the gates of Helheim. She realizes that the Darkness is a representation of her father’s abuse and temporarily imprisons the Furies in a magic mirror. She then confronts Hela, who summons a legion of undead warriors; Senua fights them until she is finally overwhelmed and tries to bargain with Hela. In her final moments, she recalls Dillion telling her the importance of accepting loss. As the imagery of Helheim fades away, Hela stabs Senua with Gramr and drops Dillion’s head into the abyss, but as the camera returns to her, Senua is standing in her place, with a dead Hela at her feet. Having accepted that it was never possible to bring her lover back and that she is not responsible for his death or anyone else’s, Senua finally banishes the Darkness from her soul and accepts the Furies not as a curse, but as a part of who she is. She invites the player to follow her, saying that there is another story to tell.
Hellblade was announced for the PlayStation 4 at Sony’s Gamescom media briefing on August 12, 2014, where a trailer was shown. In a joint statement, Ninja Theory described the game as “an experience focused on delivering a deep character in a twisted world, with brutal uncompromising combat”, and stated that they wanted to “make a smaller, more focused game experience that is uncompromising in its combat, art and story”. The developers called it an “independent AAA game”, with their goal being to make a game with all the qualities and production values of any AAA game on the market, but with creative freedom and an “indie spirit”. The team eventually succeeded in releasing the game independently, but to achieve this could only release it via digital distribution.
Hugues Giboire, art director of the previous Ninja Theory game Heavenly Sword, rejoined the studio to work on the game. A Windows version of the game was announced on January 9, 2015. The game is powered by Unreal Engine 4, and was made by Ninja Theory with a team of around twenty developers. Its subtitle, Senua’s Sacrifice, was announced in March 2016. Hellblade: Senua’s Psychosis, a short documentary film included with the game, details the concept behind its story and inspirations, notably the team’s study of mental illness. It was written and narrated by Antoniades, and edited by Juergens.
Hellblade was released for Windows and PlayStation 4 via digital channels on August 8, 2017. Following the period of timed console exclusivity for the PlayStation 4, a version for the Xbox One, with enhanced graphical support on the Xbox One X, was released on April 11, 2018. On July 31, 2018, an update added full virtual reality support via the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets. On February 13, 2019, the game was announced for Nintendo Switch later in Spring of the same year.
While the game was playable through backwards compatibility on the Xbox Series X and Series S, an enhanced version with improved visuals and ray tracing support was released through a free optimization patch on August 9, 2021.
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