Hellblade 2 Trailer Impressions

This weak Micosoft announced Hellblade 2 for their new XBox, apparently to everyone’s surprise. Not sure if they plan it as a full or timed exclusive, but given that the first game was first on PS4 and then came to Xbox One a year later, I think there’s a good chance that it will come to PS5 eventually, even though the developer Ninja Theory was bought by Microsoft last year. Guess we’ll have to see.

Even though it’s a short cinematic trailer without any narration, there is actually quite a lot of visual details that are really interesting, if you have played the first game. In the most basic terms, Hellblade is a game about an Iron Age woman who has traveled from Scotland to Norway to rescue the soul of her lover from the Norse underworld after he was killed in a raid by Northmen. She also almost costantly hears and sees spirits all around her that are driving her insane, which are very closely modeled after psychotic hallucinations and have gained a lot of praise for how well they replicate the actual mental condition.

I mistakenly assumed that the Picts in Scotland had disappeared before the Norse settlement of Iceland, but the two societies actually did coexist in the 9th century. I rewrote the following parts quite substantially with that in mind.

The trailer opens with the camera crossing the sea to a frozen, barren land with a big volcano that clearly identifies it as Iceland (and couldn’t possibly be Scotland). We get a small settlement that looks like a miniature version of a typical Iron Age hill fort.

The second shot is Senua with elaborate warpaint, surrounded by fire and shadowy figures in the background. And it really doesn’t look like they are a threat to her and give more the impression of supporting her.

Third is a first person shot of someone walking with a crowd of people with masks and torches towards a great wooden idol that is set on fire. Since the lighting is similar to the shot of Senua, and the camera in the first game was always very close up third person, I think this is probably from her perspective.

And finally there is another first person shot of someone walking with a group of what looks to be Northmen along a beach and awakening a giant. One of the men is clearly wearing a typical Germanic helmet, and the shields are just the type that was used in Scandinavia. The symbols on the shield don’t look Scandinavian, but they match the style that is frequently seen in Norwegian ruins in the first game. And as they get closer to the hill in the background it turns into an awakening giant.

It’s all very vague, we don’t have any additional details, and so I might not get it perfectly right. But I feel that there are some very strong implications here: My impression is that Senua traveled to Iceland after the first game and became a shaman. If she’s with Northmen explorers or some other rival group of settlers isn’t clear. But in the first game a lot of the narration was about Druth teaching Senua stories about Norse magic, and some people said that her lines in the trailer are an approximation of Old Norse.

What the overall tone seem to make very clear is that there is some kind of violent conflict going on, with Senua being in the middle of it. And what I find really interesting is that she seems to be a shaman or druid¬† just as her father was. Not to give too much away, but their relationship was a complete mess. To put it mildly. I could quite well imagine a story in which Senua ends up leading others to war with her powers of visions and knowledge of magic. And given that she’s not mentally well, the first game frequently got quite horrific and intense, and was rated 18 in Europe and M in America, this could become quite a violent and gruesome story.

The first game didn’t really need another story and I think nobody really expected one. It felt pretty wrapped up, eve with its very ambiguous ending.¬† But the game was essentially about how people in the Iron Age would have handled mental conditions, and treating it as a curse is only one option. Another is to regard the hallucinations and visions and messages from the gods, allowing the affected people to take the roles of shamans and oracles. I actually thought this aspect would have been nice to have in the first game as well and I see a very strong potential for a story of that kind.

There’s nothing really definitive about any of this, except that I am 99% certain it’s set in Iceland, but I think the overall tone gives a good impression of what we might expect.