A Smaller Experience
Ninja Theory has explained that Hellblade will be a smaller experience than their previous titles. They claim to be delivering a game of AAA quality but at "half the length" of other games. They did not give specifics regarding the estimated length of the game. They also said that they wanted to bring back the "mid-sized game" which would help fuel additional future projects.
On June 6, 2017 Ninja Theory announced that the game would be released on August 8, 2017 for the Playstation 4 and on PC through Steam and GOG. Later, the game was released for Xbox One X (April 11th).
Almost one year later, Ninja Theory announced that a VR edition would be released for Oculus and Vive, requiring higher specs than playstation VR could support. It was released on July 31st, 2018.
Setting and Psychology
The player takes the role of Senua, a Pict warrior living on the island of Orkney off the coast of Scotland. After her village is destroyed and her partner murdered by a Norse raiding party, she goes on a quest into enemy territory.
Senua is a geilt – an ancient Gaelic word that describes a person driven mad by curse or grief. In modern terminology, she suffers from severe psychosis that causes her to experience powerful delusions, visions and flashbacks. It is for this reason that she was exiled from her village and so survived the Norsemen’s attack.
Ninja Theory aimed to depict Senua’s psychosis accurately and sympathetically. Paul Fletcher, Psychiatrist and Professor of Health Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, was asked to provide feedback and guidance early in the project. Professor Charles Fernyhough of Durham University and The Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London, collaborated with the team at Ninja Theory to help them accurately depict the experience of voice-hearing.
The core gameplay can be divided into two categories: environmental puzzle solving and combat.
The game uses a few variations on the theme of perspective puzzles. The most frequently occurring type is the rune puzzle, in which the player’s progress is barred by a gate bearing rune markings. The player must search the local environment for arrangements of objects or patterns of light that, when viewed from a particular angle, resemble one of the markings on the gate. Once all the markings on a gate have been matched, Senua will be able to pass through it.
Another common puzzle type is the portal puzzle, in which the player looks into or passes through a portal in the environment in order to change some aspect of it. For example, passing through a portal might open a gate that was previously barred or reconstruct a bridge that was broken. By using multiple portals in the correct order, Senua can progressively unlock blocked routes.
Less common are the puzzles in which the player has to simply look at an object from a certain vantage point in order to modify the environment. For example, a bridge may exist in the scene in a frozen exploded form that is unpassable, but by a trick of perspective it will appear whole when viewed from a certain angle.
The game’s combat system is somewhat Souls-ish in its implementation. Senua is armed only with a sword, which she can use to perform a fast or heavy strike on enemies and to block or parry incoming attacks. Parrying an attack (by blocking at the last moment) staggers an enemy and gives the player an opportunity for counterattack; doing so repeatedly will fill a perk meter that can then be spent to slow down enemy movement for a short time. Senua can also stagger enemies when close to them by performing a melee action (a kick or shoulder barge) to knock them off balance – this is particularly useful against enemies carrying shields. Senua can also dodge, roll, and finally, when running she can perform a lunging attack.
The combat is simple to master but is made significantly more challenging by the fact that the player will usually have to take on multiple foes at once, often in constricted spaces. In these situations, the voices that Senua hears throughout the game will call out in warning when she is about to be attacked from behind.