What I’m Playing, part 20

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Please note that everything in this post is a spoiler for the game!  Also please note that there may be some depictions that some may find unsettling and may be sensitive to.

Please take this shit seriously.  Thank you.

It’s difficult to put into words the way we feel when we experience loss.  Sadness, anger, rage, frustration, none of these words accurately portray the pain or the emotion that fills us.  The story of Hellblade is one such story of loss and the intense pain that follows…

Love

Our story begins with our heroin, Senua, on a makeshift boat heading into the lands of the old Norsemen to save the soul of her beloved, Dillian, after her village was ransacked and he was offered as a sacrifice to the goddess Hella.  As Senua narrates her journey, I was filled with an intense unnameable dread as I watched her boat reach the shore.  Conflicting feelings of excitement for the story that’s being told and of dread for what’s to come.  I had to pause once the boat had stopped in order to compose myself and begin this post.

It is during this boat ride that we are greeted by not only Senua, but the nagging voices that live in her head.  Those nagging voices that we all have within, telling us that we’re no good at anything we try to do, we’re worthless, we’re useless.  The constant voices are unsettling and excruciating but set the narrative perfectly.  There is also another voice, that of Senua herself, as she narrates this terrifying journey to the underworld.  The narrator speaks much truth that you would do well to listen to intently.

I haven’t even started the game and I’m already ready to go home.

The game does a good job of making you feel uncomfortable and keeping you in that state.  Every part of me was tense with each session I had with the game, my fight or flight response was on high alert at all times.  Once you have control over Senua, we are greeted by our first collectible, a runic stone.  The runic stones, narrated by a man Senua met in exile named Druth, tell the story of the Norse mythology excellently but their fiery red appearance is unsettling to say the least.  They also remind me just how hardcore Norse mythology is.Afterward, we are greeted with a sight that’s both awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time

This is your ultimate goal throughout the game.

We come upon a lone building on what feels like an empty, lifeless shore and are told by our narrator that this is where we must go.  After making my way through a rocky path and a little climbing you are tasked with one of the other core mechanics of the game, finding runes in the environment.

Find a gate with runes…
…search the environment for floating runes and then…
…focus in on the shape to unlock the door.  Simple yet entertaining!

Through out the course of the game, you are occasionally tasked with environmental puzzles where you have to find rune shapes in everyday objects/surroundings.  It starts out very easy at first, but later on becomes much more complicated.  We are then greeted by a gate, a choice and a fight.

This is the gate that will lead you to Hella.  This is also where the “tutorial” on how to play the game ends.

Upon discovering the gate that will lead to Hella, you are met with your first, and easiest enemy in the game.  Combat is simple yet satisfying.  It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be.  I didn’t figure out until my second playthrough that you can tap R1 at the right time during an enemy’s attack animation to stun them long enough to do some serious damage.  During my first playthrough I pretty much just hammered on square and triangle so I could experience the story of Hellblade.  Landing a strike is very satisfying, you definitely feel the weight of every sword strike as you watch your enemies buckle and start to bleed and limp under your attacks.

Rot inside a corpse’s shell

Upon falling in combat (it’s an unavoidable point in the game that serves to set the stage) you are presented with the consequence of failure.  A consequence that was/is very polarizing among the gaming community.  That consequence is this: as you fall in combat and die, the rot slowly consumes Senua’s body, essentially making her arm your life meter for the game.  If you die enough times and the rot reaches from her arm to her head, you lose your life AND your save file and you must start over.  Speaking from personal experience, even though I died a fair amount throughout the course of the game, I never once lost my save file.

I lived with the fear of this loss throughout the course of the game and it was a constant thought at the back of my mind as I made my way through this awful land.  But thankfully, I was spared.

Try not to worry too much about it, but don’t fuck it up either.

After everything settles, you find that the gate to Hella is sealed by two marks and that each mark is held by the gods Surtr and Valravn.

Valravn on the left in red, Surtr on the right in yellow.

Bathe The World In Fire

I decided to first face the fire god, Surtr.  This was when the game became a bit less linear and presented you with a more open space to explore.

All of the puzzles in Surtr’s realm (and the game as a whole, really) were fairly straightforward and easy to figure out in one or two attempts.  The only thing I had any trouble with was combat since I was new at the game.  Surtr’s realm is where the disturbing imagery of the game really starts to pick up.  In order to progress through certain gates in the area, Senua must touch pyres with Surtr’s mark on them.  Once she does, ashen corpses screaming for mercy start to appear out of nowhere as you run for the gate and progress deeper into Surtr’s territory.  Progressing through this zone was relatively easy, then came time to fight the god himself.  I was filled with fear as this small, frail, lovesick woman went up against a man easily three times her size.  I didn’t think I would be able to defeat him, but ultimately I was gifted with a new ability:  Senua’s Focus.

Senua vs. Surtr during a Focus attack

Senua’s Focus is definitely a game changer for combat and the way it’s displayed/shows up on screen is a lesson in how a minimalist user interface should be implemented in a story driven game such as this.  After landing so many blows on opponents (or getting the shit beat out of her) there will be a small blue/white spiral that appears from Senua’s back.  When one of the voices in her head tells her to “Focus!” it’s time to unleash Celtic fury against who or whatever is in your way.  For a few seconds (or more if you have all 3 spirals filled) Senua becomes a practically unstoppable killing machine, splattering blood everywhere. After a few tense minutes and some swearing, I emerged from the flames triumphant. The first mark was mine, and the music that played during the fight still haunts me all these days later.

The World is an Illusion

Next it was time to enter the realm of Valravn. Valravn is an illusionist, a trickster and navigating his realm was no easy task.  There were portals that changed the very landscape around you and – you guessed it – you had to use them in order to find the god of illusions.

Door
No door.

I remember a haunting sound that would happen when trying to navigate some of the areas.  The voices in Senua’s head said it was Valravn’s voice or his chant.  The thing that really sticks out about his place was this room:

The room with multiple glyphs took me a while to navigate (I eventually just gave up and Googled what to do) and once I got through the rest of his realm, actually fighting Valravn gave me some serious hand cramps.  I’d even go so far as to say that he’s the second hardest fight in the entire game.  Either way, I’m glad that I opted to fight him after Surtr.

Fuck that guy.

The Path of Totality

When Senua looks at the camera, it definitely breaks the 4th wall and is unsettling.

After the battle with Valravn, I just can’t bear re-living the journey as I write down my thoughts, plus I think the remainder of the game is best experienced on your own terms.  Senua’s journey through hell is more than other horror games; more personal, more relatable.  The game does a fantastic job of playing on my old childhood fears of the dark and the unknown.  The imagery, both visual and vocal, of the afterlife and of hell and pain and suffering is something that won’t soon be forgotten.

I can see why Ninja Theory thought that doing the game in this manner was risky, but I think it is a risk that paid off.  Would I change anything about the game?  Absolutely not, I think it’s fine the way it is, even the “threat” of losing your save if you die too many times.  I do wish, however, that I had been warned that after beating the game there would be no way to continue, that you would be forced to start over, but since the game is so short it’s not really that big of a deal.  It’s definitely given me thoughts of trying to speed run the game or maybe even trying to play through with combat difficulty set to Hard.  Fighting Fenrir (the beast) was the only time in the game that I had to set the difficulty to Easy in order to progress.  I was frightened of losing my save file and having to start over.  I knew from looking at the trophy list that I was close to the end and just wanted the torment to end.

Hella waits silently for you to come and face her.

I would like to revisit the game in its entirety at some point in the future when the sting of pain has worn off.  I got so caught up in what was going on, I didn’t even take any opportunity to try out the game’s photo mode (similar to the one in Horizon Zero Dawn).  I did start a second playthrough in order to comment on Surtr and Valravn and I can also tell you that whatever runes you found do carry over to subsequent playthroughs, so getting the platinum won’t be terribly difficult.

Ragnarok

There was many a time I had to put the controller down and just cry, and other times that I was so overcome with emotion that I simply had to save and quit for the night.  I know Senua’s pain, I’ve felt that loss several times in my life, I can sympathize.  I’ve lost friends, family and lovers to the inescapable grip of death.  I’ve felt the torment of wanting them back but ultimately being powerless to do anything; the maddening feeling of helplessness.  Senua’s journey is not for the faint of heart, but I promise you that you’ll be glad you took it.  It reminds me that I would do whatever it takes for the people I love, even my own life.  Hopefully you’ll understand why it’s my #2 game of the year after Horizon Zero Dawn.

To Hella, Dillian was sacrificed and to Hella, you must bargain
Lovers separated by the veil

VNV Nation – Illusion

I know it’s hard to tell how mixed up you feel
Hoping what you need is behind every door
Each time you get hurt, I don’t want you to change
Because everyone has hopes, you’re human after all

The feeling sometimes wishing you were someone else
Feeling as though you never belong
This feeling is not sadness, this feeling is not joy
I truly understand, please don’t cry now

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to hate for all the hurt that you feel
The world is just illusion trying to change you

Being like you are, well, this is something else
Who would comprehend? But some that do lay claim
Divine purpose blesses them, that’s not what I believe
And it doesn’t matter anyway

A part of your soul ties you to the next world
Or maybe to the last but I’m still not sure
But what I do know is to us the world is different
As we are to the world, I guess you would know that

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to hate for all the hurt that you feel
The world is just illusion trying to change you

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, oh please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to change for all the hurt that you feel
This world is just illusion always trying to change you

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to hate for all the hurt that you feel
This world is just illusion, trying to change you

Please don’t go, I want you to stay
I’m begging you, please, oh please don’t leave here
I don’t want you to change for all the hurt that you feel
This world is just illusion always trying to change you

  • Is platinum attainable?  Yes, easily
  • % of trophies at the time of writing according to PSN: 90%