Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Graphics Analysis – The Best-Looking Xbox Series X Game?

With Hellblade 2, are video games finally closing the gap to photorealism?

Posted By | On 21st, May. 2024

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Graphics Analysis – The Best-Looking Xbox Series X Game?

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was one of the most important games of the last generation, and it was a driving force in pushing the AA industry at a time when AAA games utterly dominated the medium. Between a strong commercial reception and Ninja Theory’s acquisition by Microsoft, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 was set up as a grand sequel to the original that would take what worked with Senua’s Sacrifice and double down on it in new and interesting ways.

And we are happy to report that Senua’s Saga is all that we hoped for and much more with a gripping story and strong creative direction. One of the game’s defining features has to be the visuals, and this graphics analysis will dive deep into that very aspect and compare the Xbox Series X version with the PC version and how both stack up against one another.

Hellblade 2 Engine And Improvements Over Hellblade 1

senua's saga hellblade 2

The original Hellblade was built on Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, and the team made great use of its robust post-processing pipeline and other features to create a visually striking world brimming with detail and personality. For Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Ninja Theory has bumped the base from UE4 to UE5 and that jump is nothing short of extraordinary.

The team makes great use of Unreal Engine 5’s suite of cutting-edge rendering techniques like MetaHuman, Nanite, and Lumen among other features that puts it among the best-looking games on the market at this point. Having a much bigger budget to work with shows in the production values, ranging from the quality of photogrammetry to the motion capture and much more.

Test Bench Configuration and Graphics Options On PC

Senua's Saga Hellblade 2

For our tests on PC, we chose to run the game on a system comprising an AMD Ryzen 5950x, an Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti GPU, and 32 GB of RAM. We also installed the game on an NVME SSD PCI e 4.0 to enable better comparison between both platforms and to test out loading times and related optimization.

Taking a look at the graphics menu, we get to see a swath of different options and sliders to choose from – allowing you to get the perfect balance between fidelity and performance. You can either choose to go with a pre-defined preset, or you could opt for a custom preset – allowing you to freely map out shadow quality, reflections, and global illumination among other things.

Helpful labels on the side offer valuable insights on each graphic option, and there’s also a resource tracker on the side that shows CPU and GPU response times alongside video memory consumption so you can make better-informed graphics choices and see the ramifications in a clear manner.

For our test purposes, we cranked the resolution all the way up to 4K and maxed out the settings with the high preset. We also set Nvidia DLSS as the custom upscaling implementation and turned on Super Resolution to minimize artifacts from anti-aliasing. At these settings, Hellblade 2 was taking around 6 GB of 12 GB available memory on our RTX 3080Ti which is pretty well optimized in terms of memory consumption.

PC Performance

senua's saga hellblade 2

With the current test bench specifications and aforementioned graphics settings, we started testing out Hellblade 2 across a wide variety of scenarios. The game performed pretty well with frame rates ranging in the ballpark of 40 to 50 fps which might be lower than our V-Sync target but the frame times were consistent leading to a pretty smooth experience across the board. Resource-intensive sequences like combat did result in minor hiccups resulting in a dropped frame or two, but looking at the big picture – Hellblade 2 ran pretty smoothly during our tests and brownie points for not encountering any immersion-breaking bugs or glitches.

Xbox Series X Performance

On the Xbox Series X, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 features only a single graphics mode that runs at a resolution of 4K with a target frame rate of 30fps. There’s no performance mode to speak of, and the reasoning behind this is cited for maintaining a cinematic feel in the gameplay at all times. While this is a subjective topic that could warrant a lengthy discussion on its own, we are happy to report that Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 performs equally great on the Xbox Series X. The game has little to no issues sticking to its frame target, and while there are a few rough edges and dropped frames here and there – it’s a largely smooth experience that rarely falters. Ninja Theory might have missed out on the opportunity to craft a 40fps performance mode for 120Hz displays, but that’s another discussion that’s best left for some other time.

Graphics Overview

hellblade 2

There’s not much doubt that Hellblade 2 is one of the most visually stunning games on the market, and that status can be equally attributed to the raw levels of fidelity as well as the masterful art direction. Unreal Engine 5’s suite of effects truly shines with Ninja Theory’s rendering pipeline. Take a look at the character models, which feature impressively complex skin meshes and textures that don’t break even under intense scrutiny.

The cloth physics is also a pretty highlight of the presentation, and there are several instances of pieces of cloth meticulously swaying to the tune of the winds. Textures have a high level of geometric complexity, and are most likely created using some form of photogrammetry which is why it looks almost photorealistic at times.

As for the lighting and reflections, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 doesn’t seem to be making use of ray tracing in either its global illumination or reflections. There aren’t any graphics options on PC corresponding to ray tracing and there aren’t any visible signs in the presentation either, and this is a bit strange considering Senua’s Sacrifice actually implemented ray tracing with a post-launch patch.

That being said, Senua’s Saga is a linear game and it can use a mixture of baked lighting data and screen space reflections to create some really convincing views – which is very much the case here. Not having the accuracy in the puddle reflections might be off-putting for some, but that doesn’t harm the overall presentation by a significant margin.

Animations are also a strong element of Hellblade 2, and the team has used a lot of motion capture data to translate real-life movements into the game. Senua has an appropriate heft to her movements, which add a layer of physicality to the moment-to-moment gameplay. Animations truly shine in combat where you can almost feel the desperation as she swings the sword with all her might. The animations also blend in well with each other, and there are no awkward clipping motions to speak of.

As for the post-processing effects, Hellblade 2 makes strong use of volumetric fog in its presentation and the particles interact with the lighting in a really convincing manner. Motion blur and depth of field are also used in a generous fashion, and these techniques don’t produce many artifacts along the edges which help in achieving that photorealistic look.

Xbox Series X vs PC

Hellblade 2 Senua's Saga

Now talking about the differences between the two versions, Ninja Theory has done a good job of taking the console version as the base and the PC version as the more premium experience of the two. Both versions share the same rendering pipeline, but the PC version allows players to go a bit ahead of what’s possible on the console.

The most visible difference between the two is in terms of image quality. On PC, Hellblade 2 looks noticeably sharper thanks to Nvidia’s Super Resolution and DLSS upscaling. Xbox Series X might be using some sort of an inferior quality MSAA or TAA-based solution for anti-aliasing which is why it looks softer in comparison.

Animations also feel a lot smoother on the PC, thanks to a higher framerate than the Xbox Series X – and combat works a lot better as a result. Draw distances and reflections are almost identical across both platforms, and we couldn’t make out much differences between other aspects.

Finally, there are the load times. On Xbox Series X, loading from a past save took around 10 seconds while on the PC it takes marginally less time at around 6 to 8 seconds in our testing. Given Hellblade 2’s linear nature, there aren’t any fast travel options – so we don’t have any metrics for that. Either way, it’s important to reiterate that we have installed the game on a PCI e 4.0 SSD, so your results might vary if you are playing off of an inferior SSD or HDD.

Conclusion

Senua's Saga Hellblade 2 - Senua_Unreal Engine

Hellblade 2 is a visually striking game that uses its immaculate presentation to invoke strong emotions within the player. It makes excellent use of Unreal Engine 5, and despite the game not featuring technologies like ray tracing – Hellblade 2 manages to create an extremely pleasing visual image that comfortably ranks it amongst the best-looking games on the market.

In addition to the splendid visuals, Hellblade 2 also impresses with its performance across both platforms. Ninja Theory has ensured good optimizations for video memory consumption, and the slew of graphical sliders make this a great port for tinkerers such as myself who like to play around with options.


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