I make no secret about my love for the first Hellblade game. It came as a complete surprise how much I loved it, the game was barely on my radar till Ninja Theory was acquired by Microsoft and I finally played the game once it hit Gamepass – I wish I hadn’t waited. I was met with a visceral, emotionally powerful story with a character who suffers with mental health problems, which were both delicately and realistically handled. I’ve never played anything so daring and original – gaming will often go for very familiar story beats, but Hellblade was unique not just for the medium but storytelling in general. I was seriously impressed.
The new game was announced in December 2019 and though we’ve heard little about the game, the in-engine trailer showed a beautifully realised world and a character model with jaw-dropping realism. Whether the graphics are replicated in the gameplay remains to be seen, but with Ninja Theory’s pedigree there’s no reason why it can’t.
Now I’m no game developer and I never like to make suggestions about games, because I have no idea what will necessarily make a compelling Hellblade game. I trust these developers and their process (especially as this is not yet a franchise), but I’ve complied some things I’d maybe like to see from this sequel from the perspective of a gaming idiot.
More Varied Puzzles
The first Hellblade followed a fairly shallow loop of combat – puzzle – combat – puzzle – boss. I enjoyed the loop and thought it worked well for the length of the game, but a lot of criticism levelled at the game have been down to the rune puzzles that make up the majority of the games non-combat sequences. Though I personally enjoyed lining up obstacles in the environment to create shapes, they are used a bit too often and lose their appeal in the latter half of the game. Though I think these puzzles will remain in the game if they are used more sparingly to give them more impact. Plus with the name “Saga” in the title it seems like it will be a longer length game so stretching these puzzles out over a longer run time might be a detriment to the overall experience.
Some of the other puzzles in the first game were brilliantly implemented, such as using large glass masks to shift the world between time periods to gain entry to a building or using archways to that alter the environment allowing doors to open or bridges to be built – I would personally like to see more of this in the next game and new and interesting puzzles that challenge the player in unexpected ways, using the new Icelandic environment to alter the players perception of the environment would be amazing.
One of the biggest criticism’s of the first game was the combat. Though I believe many people have over-exaggerated the problems with the combat, there is still validity to it. The first games combat was perfectly serviceable and did pose a challenge with some of the large scale fights and boss fights. My complaints with the combat stem from it being a little bare-bones, it felt like a great core system that needed more layers to make it truly interesting. But I did appreciate how the sound design in the game aided in dispensing of enemies, it certainly helped with the cinematic feel of the game.
I think to diversify the combat Hellblade 2 could do a number of things, but I think the most natural for this game would be to add more weapons. Enemies in the first game would to adorned with axes, hammers, twin blades – where Senua is stuck with her sword. Obviously her “Hellblade” needs to be the core device but weapons that affect Senua’s speed and movement in different ways could really open the combat up.
I certainly don’t want Hellblade to be open world, it would completely ruin what made the first game so compelling, but with the next games stunning Iceland setting, having larger environments to explore would be a serious boon. Adopting a mixture of open areas with the linear corridors could be the way to go. I often felt with the first game that the environment could have been used to hide secrets from the player, rewarding exploration – I loved these places and and would have killed to have seen more.
A more open environment may also allow for more gameplay opportunities, such as larger scale battles (hinted at in the trailer) or tie into more intricate puzzles. You could even have some stealth added into the mix, the first game toyed with this in the trials section and would be lovely to see this done again.
Boundary pushing storytelling
This is where the first game truly excelled and it’s a game sequel where I truly cannot predict how the stories narrative will go. The end of the first game did set up for more adventures in Senua’s life, but the first game was such a personal and affecting journey that ended with closure that’s really hard to predict what comes next in her story. But there are hints given, Senua’s father Zynbel is a prominent figure in her first story and is the catalyst to the events leading up the death of Dillion at the hands of the Norsemen, I imagine he will feature in the sequel, a journey of revenge might be a little too obvious, but as The Last of Us 2 showed, you can take a simplistic premise and create something truly thought provoking and brilliant.
All in all, I trust Ninja Theory in their vision for Hellblade 2. I believe they have the storytelling chops to compete with the best the game industry has to offer and even if none of this wishlist comes to pass, I know they’ll create an incredible game that I can’t wait to play it.