As previously suggested by rumors from credible sources of the industry, Ninja Theory’s upcoming Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 made an appearance at this year’s The Game Awards. Fans got to a decent chunk of actual gameplay, and while not a lot is known about the game’s combat and other gameplay systems – we certainly have had a good look at the game’s visual presentation. Ninja Theory delivered an excellent game with 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and at least from what’s shown – the developer has outdone itself in almost every regard and as it stands – Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 seems to be one of the if not the best looking game of this generation up until now.
The trailer opens with a stylish top-down cinematic shot as rain pours down to the cobbled terrain, and we get to have a good first look at protagonist Senua as she prepares for a nigh impossible battle. Immediately, we are treated to the game’s overhauled lighting system – courtesy of Unreal Engine 5. The pouring rain leaves a sheen on the surface of Senua’s skin, which reflects the surrounding fire with appropriate precision. The environment is appropriately foggy, which when combined with the high-poly count raindrops creates a chilling mood for the game.
Then the trailer cuts to a panning shot that showcases the huge environments that the game will supposedly take place in. Gusts of wind flow throughout the shot, which serve as great showcases for its cloth physics which, of course, react to the winds accordingly. We can also see traces of volumetric lighting through the gaps in the clouds as thunder strikes in the air and casts its lighting throughout those gaps. Much like the surface of Senua’s skin, a similar sheet of reflective water is present all across the cobbled shore which reflects the light cast from the fire torches that many allies of Senua’s tribe hold. The developers have used photogrammetry to create a realistic look for the surfaces, which is something that shines all across the trailer. While we can’t tell whether the individual cobbles in the surface level terrain are geometry-based like the in-engine trailer or photogrammetric textures, it certainly is a looker either way.
We then move into a dark and abandoned cave that’s entirely lit by fire torches, where we get another look at Hellblade 2‘s excellent audio design. The close-up shot of Senua has a lot of voices surrounding her, which much like the first game – are directional sounds stemming from the character’s condition of psychosis. We also get a look at NPC characters, all of which seem to have a high polygon count. As we move into the cave, we see a giant arising from the trembling waves, which have some impressive graphics of their own with their complexity and quality of textures and meshes.
It isn’t entirely clear whether Ninja Theory is using specular cube maps for reflections or ray-tracing for indirect lighting just from the trailer, but either way – it looks great and reflections are precise in accuracy and plenty in number. Throughout the sequence, we get multiple close-up shots of Senua as she leads her band of companions for as previously mentioned, a nigh impossible encounter with the giant. Much like Senua’s Sacrifice, there’s a lot of attention to detail in Senua’s facial expression – as she struggles to put up a strong face in these adverse conditions.
Then a giant on the brink of death appears – and Senua and her allies prepare their tools for the job. As the giant goes down in flames, we get to see some impressive meshes of the flame and superb volumetric smoke as the debris falls all over the environment which is followed by a short showcase of alpha effects. The shot is then followed by a chase sequence which leads the giant outside – a showcase of how well Hellblade 2‘s engine holds up amidst chaos. There are multiple characters on screen, including the gargantuan giant itself. NPCs are running the giant over with torches, which then renders tons of alpha particles. There are loads of dust particles flailing around, and a high-quality fire raging from the back of the giant.
This shot then leads to Senua throwing away a spear at the giant and then falling back to her comrades as they build a line of defense of fire. The fire rages out instantly, which again – has some high-quality meshes and textures – and casts a lot of light on the surrounding environment. There’s also a thick wall of black smoke erupting from the fire, which conceals the arrival of the giant. As we move forward into the base camp set up by Senua and her allies, the giant slams the construction in one fell swoop – which hints at some form of destruction mechanics being present in the game although given the fact that this is more of a set-piece than actual gameplay loop – it’s best not to bet on a dynamic destruction system. The trailer then ends with Senua realizing some form of prior connection to the giant who cries out to her for help, which sends tears down her eyes – which gets colored appropriately according to her black face paint. Just magnificent!
In conclusion, Ninja Theory has crafted a really great visual showcase for the power of Xbox Series X/S in the form of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. From the dense volumetric effects to high-resolution per-object motion blur and depth of field, from the enhanced cloth physics to most likely ray-traced reflections – Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is chock-full of next-gen visual features. In addition to this, there’s also the art direction, music, and the performances by the oh-so-talented voice actors – all of which coalesce to make the game’s presentation so endearing. When compared to its in-engine reveal trailer, it’s immediately evident that corners have been cut to make the game run on the target hardware which again isn’t a surprise by any means. What’s here is certainly impressive, and given Xbox Series X’s large pool of ultra-fast memory which is made even more efficient through its Velocity architecture, it’s certainly going to be a treat to see all these gorgeous visuals in pristine 4K sometime soon (hopefully).