Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is certainly the most ambitious game the studio has ever created thanks to its “independent AAA” development model and a narrative surrounding mental illness, but fans shouldn’t forget what made Ninja Theory such an acclaimed team: combat.
In a new developer diary, Ninja Theory explains a fundamental difference between the combat in Hellblade and that in its other games, such as DmC: Devil May Cry. Senua is a fragile, human warrior, and her attack animations reflect this.
“It was important for us to make her feel vulnerable and not [like] a superhero,” says senior designer Juan Fernandez.
Instead of taking on a dozen enemies at once like Dante, Senua cautiously approaches her Viking target, bobbing and weaving under his attacks before quickly striking with her blade. Each strike has a real sense of weight and damage, but it’s clear that just a counter or two from her opponent will be enough to send Senua to the ground. Ninja Theory also carefully animated Senua’s facial expressions to show the pain she endures. This was especially important for the combat in Hellblade, as there are no other indicators of damage or health.
“A goal and a challenge for Hellblade was to give the player all feedback without the use of an onscreen HUD [heads-up display],” says “chief creative ninja” Tameem Antonaides. “So taking cues from action movies, everything had to be communicated visually and with sound.”
This extends to enemies’ health, as well, which is shown through wounds that will gradually increase with each attack.
The “realistic,” emotional, and gruesome approach to combat design offers something very different than the character action games that have risen in popularity thanks to PlatinumGames, but it looks like the perfect choice given Hellblade‘s darker subject matter. The game is scheduled to launch this year on PlayStation 4 and PC.