August 8 is fast approaching, so let's recount everything you need to know about Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Ninja Theory's most intimate project yet.
It’s a PC and PS4 action-adventure game from the creative minds behind Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry. What’s more, that carefully selected title is no accident — Hellblade is the spiritual successor to Heavenly Sword, and it’s due to light up PS4 and PC on August 8.
Told through the wounded eyes of Senua, a young warrior lost within a living nightmare, the official description for Hellblade reads as so:
"From the makers of, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness. Set in the Viking age, a broken Celtic warrior embarks on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of her dead lover. Created in collaboration with neuroscientists and people who experience psychosis, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will pull you deep into Senua’s mind."
It’s a parable on mental health, essentially, one in which Senua’s confront her demons — both literal and figurative — in her quest to rescue her fallen lover from the Norse underworld. Because sometimes our greatest enemies come from within, and Hellblade’s story chronicles “a personal and emotional journey through a vividly-detailed recreation of Viking mythology, [one that] places equal weight on both the internal and external struggles of conflict and loss and long-term effects of trauma.”
“The Hell in question is no ordinary Hell, but is in fact a Hell that is the manifestation of Senua’s mental illness. Senua experiences psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, as well as suffering from anxiety and depression. As a player you will witness Senua’s living nightmare through her own eyes.”
Though mental illness has featured in video games before (see: The Town Of Light, Knock-Knock, Actual Sunlight, There Are Monsters Under Your Bed), Hellblade is the first to project those themes on a mainstream audience. By working closely with non-profit organizations like Wellcome Trust, not to mention those afflicted with mental illness, it's clear Ninja Theory isn’t taking this lightly.
In fact, the studio’s Dominic Matthews is of the belief that when it comes to mental health, “understanding is a route to destigmatisation.” And we couldn’t agree more.
When outlining the outline the Senua’s damaged psyche, and how that filters into Hellblade's gameplay, Ninja Theory stated:
“It is important for us to portray the physical, emotional, and mental trials of her quest in both the character model and the representation of her reality. An example of this is the voices that Senua hears in the scene. These voices have been recorded binaurally which means that if you listen to them with headphones on they will sound as if they are in the 3D space around you.”
With Hellblade, Ninja Theory is operating in a small pocket of space between indie and AAA, and it seems as though this level of independence has allowed the developer to flourish.
"In Hellblade, we are aiming to revive the lost space between indie and AAA gaming. Where creatively diverse experiences made with AAA values can thrive once again.
"We’ve taken a small team of around 20 people and created a focused and rich experience that looks and feels as good as any blockbuster title. Hellblade is about half the length of a regular AAA game and priced at about half the cost. A price that we think is fair to both you and us.
"Our hope is that if we make our Independent AAA work with Hellblade, other developers will follow, leading to a more creative and diverse gaming world for developers and players alike."
When describing their new IP, Ninja Theory identified the three pillars that make up Hellblade: Story, art style, and combat.
The latter is arguably one of the studio's strong suits, though we've learned that the combat in Senua's Sacrifice will feel more "immediate" than, say, Enslaved.
Further details on that fine-tuned combat system can be found in one of Hellblade's many dev diaries.
At the heart of that story is Senua herself, a fearless Celtic warrior brought to life by German-born video editor Melina Juergens. Having documented the development of DmC, Juergens slowly became more and more involved in the creation of Hellblade to the point that, by 2016, Ninja Theory formally approached her about the possibility of headlining the game itself.
Ninja Theory’s recreation of Juergens is ostensibly one-to-one, and her nuanced performance will no doubt lend a sense of gravitas and tangible emotion to Senua’s Sacrifice.
“Developing Hellblade independently gives us the freedom to tackle a subject as challenging as mental health. It is a subject that we are handling with all the respect it deserves, ensuring that our portrayal of Senua’s condition is both accurate and sensitive.”
Just don't expect any quick time events. Unlike, say, Crystal’s rebooted Tomb Raider series, Hellblade: Senusa’s Sacrifice won’t feature QTEs whatsoever.
From the Viking architecture to the Celtic warrior at its heart, Hellblade is steeped in a rich Nordic lore. Expect tropes such as Ragnarok, Hela and the Viking underworld to be threaded through the story, then.
There's a good reason Hellblade is only launching for digital platforms — Ninja Theory wants to stay on top of costs.
"By going digital-only we can ensure that we keep the cost low for players, whilst more of the price of Hellblade comes directly back to us the developer to reinvest in making more games in the future."
Ninja Theory's new IP will come packing multiple difficulties, too, after the studio noted that,
"We have a few difficulty modes: Default is an auto mode that scales difficulty to player performance. We also have easy, medium & hard."
Priced at priced at $29.99 (€29.99/£24.99), this digital-only release has allowed for a price point that is a little less than your RRP for a AAA game. That being said, Hellblade is said to stretch anywhere between 6 and 9 hours, so your mileage may vary.
"Hellblade is an independently developed, AAA quality game created by a team of 20 developers. Our aim is to bring back the mid-size game, so Hellblade is about half the size of a regular AAA game and sold at half the price."
When Hellblade was first unveiled to the world, NT committed to a simultaneous launch across PS4 and PC. And that launch will take place on August 8.
Curious to take a peek at Hellblade in action? We've got you covered.
And we do mean all of the dev diaries. The creative minds at Ninja Theory have maintained an open dialogue all throughout the production of Hellblade, releasing more dev diaries than you can shake a DualShock 4 at — well, 25, to be exact, and the latest places a laser focus on Senua herself.
If you're wanting to shell out your hard-earned cash ahead of time, you'll be pleased to hear that by pre-ordering Hellblade on PlayStation 4, you'll be entitled to an exclusive Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Dynamic Theme. Meanwhile, those pre-ordering on PC will receive an exclusive digital comic short, Hellblade: Senua’s Song.
If you want to experience Hellblade in 60fps and happen to own a PS4 Pro, you're in luck:
“Today we are happy to share with you the Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Official Trailer. In addition to the release of our new trailer we are announcing that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will be enhanced for PlayStation 4 Pro.
“PlayStation 4 Pro players will have the choice between experiencing Hellblade with enhanced resolution or at a higher framerate of 60fps. High-end PC owners will have the option to play Hellblade with an uncapped framerate and in resolutions up to 4K. Hellblade on PC will also support 21:9 ultra widescreen.”
Not unlike Horizon Zero Dawn before it, Hellblade is a beautiful PS4 exclusive (console exclusive, mind you) that’s anchored by a complex, fascinating female protagonist. And what better way to document Senua’s journey through custom screenshots? Thankfully, Ninja Theory has been keeping one ear to the ground, and recently unveiled Hellblade’s full-fledged Photo Mode.
It features “various filters and tools such as camera pan and roll, focal distance, colour grading, and more.” The Cambridge-based studio went on to state that players can “easily capture Senua in action and the breathtaking scenery of the Viking wildlands.”
Slowly but surely, NT has peeled back the layers of Hellblade's suitably haunting soundtrack. The latest track, "Gramr," can be previewed right here.
Though it was a rough estimate at the time, Ninja Theory went on record to reveal that Hellblade will take around 6-8 hours to complete.
Another estimation, this time from Product development manager Dominic Matthews, who stated that Hellblade will only need to sell 300,000 copies to break-even.
Now granted, that projection came in 2014, and it's likely that development costs have ballooned in the intervening years. But the fact that NT has made a conscious effort to foster an intimate work cycle leads us to believe that that target won't be too far out of reach.
Here's that estimation from Matthews:
"We’re taking our work on Hellblade as an opportunity to question the way the games industry has always done things. To see if there’s a better way, a more streamlined way. To create amazing quality on a smaller budget."
In anticipation of August 8, Tyler Treese listed 10 reasons why you should be excited about Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.
Between the digital-only release and Ninja Theory's decision to construct a make-shift motion capture stage in house, there's a real sense that Hellblade is a AA game with AAA ambitions. Whether it resonates with a mainstream audience, though, is another question entirely.
The review embargo for Hellblade lifts on Tuesday, August 8 at 1pm EST, so stay tuned to PSLS for our official verdict.