About halfway through my conversation with Dom Matthews, head ninja at Ninja Theory, and Melina Juergens, lead actor for Senua and video editor at Ninja Theory, I broke. I had to ask why the format of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II title is the inverse of the first game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Why is the “Senua” part first? It’s a small thing, sure, but I had to know if there was anything to it beyond the studio’s secret machinations to confuse me. Juergens laughed and admitted that the change trips her up too (which made me feel a whole lot better), while Matthews surprised me with a serious answer to my otherwise silly question.

“We wanted to recognize the fact that the focus is on Senua,” Matthews told me. “It’s Senua’s saga, it’s Senua’s story–we wanted that to be front and center. And it’s an interesting thing, because, [in language], you can just accept that a [certain] word means something and you can’t break it down and go, ‘What does that mean?’ That’s ‘Hellblade’ now–Hellblade means something. It means something, but not in the building blocks of what it is–it’s [just] Hellblade. And that’s still important to the title of the game but we just wanted to put that focus on [Hellblade II] being Senua’s saga. It’s about her, it’s about her journey. It’s right that that comes first.”

That journey feels like it’s going to be fantastic. I played about 40 minutes of Hellblade II during a visit to Ninja Theory’s studio in Cambridge, UK, and I was enthralled. Unlike the first game, which saw Senua, a Pict warrior with psychosis, struggling to fight her way through Helheim, Hellblade II grounds Senua in Iceland. From what I saw, this change pulls the focus away from the tantalizing mythology brought to life through Senua’s delusions in the first game, and instead centers her conflicts in a more recognizable world. In response, Senua’s movements in combat look and feel more realistic, prioritizing the heft of her sword, felt through her tired desperation during lengthier fights. Whenever Senua clashes swords with someone, Hellblade II makes it feel tense, as if life itself is challenging Senua to earn her right to exist in this world.

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