“We Have Another Story to Tell” – Why Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II is A Revolutionary Sequel 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an exceedingly special game. A bold, brash direction for Ninja Theory, the decision to craft a focused, narrative experience revolving around mental health was a brave leap, but one that ultimately paid off. Now, seven years later, the studio is gearing up to fully reveal a sequel to Senua’s story, built with the same love and care, but expanding on the debut in every conceivable way. 

In the run up to its May 21 launch on Xbox, PC, and Game Pass, we’ll be bringing you the story of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II from inside the studio itself, as well as stories and insights from Hellblade’s creative leads. This is Ninja Theory’s ultimate form, filled with industry-leading talent, groundbreaking technology, and one of the most unique approaches to game development you’ve ever seen to fulfil the ultimate goal – the pursuit of true immersion. 

Ninja Theory is a truly special studio. The levels of care and passion that exude from every corner of its unassuming Cambridge-based office are immeasurable, and that’s before you’ve even picked up a controller. Recently, the studio opened the doors to outsiders for the first time, and invited Xbox Wire into its mysterious halls to meet its teams, tour its unique facilities, and get hands-on with the first playable demo of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

For Ninja Theory, the idea to continue Senua’s journey was never in doubt. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a complete story in itself; but the studio knew it had more stories to tell. Studio Head Dom Matthews tells us that the team wanted to leave a door open for Senua, but the path to creating a follow-up was initially unclear while the studio remained independent. Now, as part of Xbox Game Studios, it’s quite a different story. This sequel feels larger than life; every single element has been refined, from its hyper-realistic environments, haunting audio design, to its stunning performance-captured combat.

Embarking on a New Quest 

“We have a fantastic building; our performance capture stage, new technologies and techniques, but all of that exists to pursue the same goal,” Matthews tells us. “That goal is to create an experience that allows players to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves fully in this world.”

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II follows swiftly after the final events of the first game, where Senua says goodbye to her lover Dillion for the final time. From here, she’s to embark on a new quest, to ensure that no one ever meets the same fate as Dillion again. Senua is stronger, fiercer, and – while she’s still ailed by her psychosis – she’s come to understand how it manifests, and how its grown to be an important part of her. 

“She’s come to a place of acceptance of two things,” Matthews tells us. “One is her experience of psychosis and unique view of the world, and the other is that she can’t bring Dillion back. So here, we find a Senua that has found determination, and a way to turn her agonizing grief into positive action, so that Dillion’s death wasn’t for nothing.”

In our time with the studio demo, we were able to experience a snapshot of how Senua has grown, as she interacts with other characters for the first time. One chapter had us take Senua through a camp in order to rescue a new character, a task she feels deep conflict over. Her voices are pulling her in different directions, and you can see and feel Senua overcome her fears and anguish in real time as she moves through this space. There’s a hesitancy in every step she takes, a flinch at every noise, you’re not just walking her through a pre-determined path; she’s physically responding to the environment in real-time, and it feels incredible. 

Becoming Senua (Again)

While Matthews shares that there was always an aim to further Senua’s adventure, that path briefly looked a little different for Melina Juergens, the editor-turned-performer that brought Senua to life. Despite a monumental performance in a game that reached critical acclaim, Juergens shares that she wasn’t sure what to do after the launch of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice: “I’m not a trained actress or anything, so I just thought ‘what do I do with my life now?'”

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Juergens was brought on board to reprise the role of a bolder, more powerful Senua. In Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II all of Senua’s scenes are motion-captured in-house and performed by Juergens; animations, facial expressions, combat – all come to life through her, and a number of trained stunt performers.

She’s also overcoming her own hurdles in terms of her unconventional path into acting, and you can truly see and feel the evolution of her abilities as a performer resonating through Senua in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. 

“Hellblade was a huge test for me because I had never acted before, so this time around I am trusting my abilities more, trusting my gut instinct and believing that I can do this,” she adds.

In some ways, Juergens feels as though she actually shares that same mission to raise awareness in our world, as Senua does in hers: “I want to help people, I want to raise awareness around mental health and help them feel understood,” she says. “I have experience with these ailments – how can I turn that into something meaningful?”

“Senua has made peace with her past, but she’s more in control of the visions and voices,” Juergens tells us. “She’s not overcoming psychosis, but she knows how to manage it better.”

Capturing Combat

That energy is felt heavily through the revamped combat in Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. It shares a lot of DNA with the first game, those careful, calculated fights, but every brawl feels so intentional and visceral this time. When Senua enters combat, we understand every foe standing in front of her, the strength she needs to overcome it, and most importantly – the struggle in every swing; made to feel like you’re really there with her as she pushes through. This isn’t combat designed to make you feel like the untouchable hero by mowing through hordes, every fight is one-on-one, expertly woven into her adventure to align you with her persistence, whether it’s a monumental brawl against a known enemy or a random scuffle out of nowhere. 

“If all of this movement – running, climbing, fighting, is derived from performance capture, it’s going to be grounded in reality,” Matthews explains. “It’s going to feel consistent and real.”

We were shown a taste of this in action during our time at the studio; watching real-world actors violently clash swords and slam each other into the ground really emphasised how each hit should feel.

“The key goal was to make combat feel like part of the journey,” Matthews adds.

You Are Senua Now

Of course, the narrative is the one thing that drives all of these individual elements, and Ninja Theory has never lost sight of the goal to expand on a story that is not just dear to a community, but a portrayal of a mental illnesses that is rarely seen in entertainment. Matthews shoulders the responsibility to deliver a worthy sequel not just for the studio, but for everyone invested in Hellblade.

“Senua is not ours anymore,” he says. “All of our fans have a stake in Senua too, they’ve built a relationship with this character, and the onus is on us to deliver the next part of the story in a way that’s true to that.”

“It’s an absolute privilege to have that responsibility – we’re incredibly lucky to have a character and a world that people care so much about.”

Fans of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will find plenty to love in the sequel. It’s a brand-new adventure that feels familiar and rooted in its ambition despite huge leaps in technology. Ninja Theory knows where to guide you, and with a setting as magnificent as this, you’ll have no choice but to follow.

We’ll be fully digging into several elements of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II closer to launch, so be sure to keep an eye on Xbox Wire for exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes peeks at how this monumental game came to life. Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II launches on Xbox, PC, and day one with Game Pass on May 21, 2024.

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The sequel to the award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Senua returns in a brutal journey of survival through the myth and torment of Viking Iceland. Intent on saving those who have fallen victim to the horrors of tyranny, Senua faces a battle of overcoming the darkness within and without. Sink deep into the next chapter of Senua’s story, a crafted experience told through cinematic immersion, beautifully realised visuals and encapsulating sound.