Editor’s note: This video and story have spoilers about the ending.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an outstanding new game that debuted this week on the PlayStation 4 and the PC. The groundbreaking game from Ninja Theory chronicles the journey of Senua, a Celtic warrior who struggles with inner demons, into the Norse underworld to retrieve the soul of her slain love Dillion.
It is a story of madness, and you never know exactly what is real or what is a figment of Senua’s imagination as she fights demons and approaches a final confrontation.
Senua’s father, Zynbel, figures prominently in her disturbed mental states. He was a clan druid who isolated Senua as she was growing up to drive away “the darkness” within her. The darkness is really a form of mental illness, passed down from her mother, Galena.
During the game, Zynbel appears as the Shadow, and Senua finally comes to identify him as Zynbel. She uncovers the memory of Zynbel burning his wife at the stake, as if she were a witch. Senua has blocked this memory, and it comes out as she searches for Dillion’s soul, carrying his skull with her on the journey into Helheim, the Norse hell. The question is whether Senua will realize that her enemy is herself, that Dillion is truly gone, and that she can’t bring him back. Coming to terms with that reality — and breaking out of the nightmare world that she has built in her own mind — is the challenge that she faces.
Her journey takes her into an elaborate underworld, where she battles demon after demon. But is it all in her head? The ending offers us clues, but it is also bizarre. But Ninja Theory offered us a very big clue when it said it consulted an expert on mental illness in its attempt to accurately portray mental illness.
The final scene starts out with Senua clutching the head of Dillion. She still believes that she has traveled into Helheim, the Norse underworld, to retrieve his soul. She beseeches Hela, the goddess of the underworld, to let his spirit go.
But then the scene transforms its view. We see Hela, clutching a sword, looking much smaller than she has in the past. Hela appears sympathetic to Senua. Senua says Hela will have to kill her because she has nothing left, no fear, no quest. Senua says, “You have no power over me.” Then Hela grabs Senua and stabs her with her own sword.
As Senua lies dying on the floor, she sees an image of Dillion. “A life without loss is one without love,” Dillion said. “If you turn your back on death, no one can see the shadow it casts.” He said that when death comes, we must look it in the eye and embrace it.
Senua lies on the floor. Hela comes over and picks up Dillion’s skull. She takes it to the edge, and drops it into an abyss. Then the scene changes once again. Hela has changed into Senua, who is alive once again. She says, “Goodbye, my love.”
It is as if Senua has learned to let go of Dillion. She gets up and looks at her arm, which has been eaten away by black rot during the game. The rot dissipates from her arm, and the voices in her head start to face. She gets up and walks away, happy, and says to come along as there will be a new story. She has pushed the psychosis to the back of her mind.