Hellblade 2 developer Ninja Theory pulled back the curtain at its Cambridge HQ during the recent Xbox Developer Direct, offering up an exclusive look at how the studio’s bringing Senua to life on current-gen consoles. However, as soon as studio head Dom Matthews noted that it was going to be a “shorter, narrative-led experience” akin to its predecessor, its $50 asking price was immediately called into question by a segment of the community that still struggles to understand that games shouldn’t be priced on a $/hr of runtime basis.
First off, let’s be real here. Who actually expected Hellblade 2 to be a 30+ hour epic before the Xbox Direct? Admittedly, studio director Tameem Anoniades did say back in 2022 that “its ambition in terms of scale is bigger,” and that Hellblade 2 would make the original “look like an indie game.” But conflating “scale” with ‘length’ is an easy mistake to make, and there are myriad ways for the studio to go bigger in terms of quality rather than quantity when crafting one of the year’s most anticipated Xbox exclusives.
The sneak peek we got at how Ninja Theory’s expanded its operations for the game attests to this, building on its motion capture suite, expanding binaural audio, and, of course, pumping up the visual fidelity to the extent that Hellblade 2 is easily one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for the extra $20 being charged over the original Hellblade, it’s there in the details, and as an experiential series, I feel that suits it down to the ground.
Developing games is an expensive endeavor – especially for studios looking to push the best games consoles to their absolute limits. And with the associated costs of a small pandemic to also factor in, I’m not surprised that Hellblade 2 is retailing for more than its predecessor, despite the deeper pockets afforded to Ninja Theory by Microsoft this time around. And I’d bet $50 that it’s going to be worth every penny, too.
It’s not like we’re being chained down and forced to shell out full price for Hellblade 2, either. For ten bucks you can pick it up day-one on Xbox Game Pass, spend a day with it, and then move on. If you’re in the ‘subscription services are a plague on the industry’ club, I get it, but you can’t then complain about pricing when a wallet-friendly option is there. Or you can simply wait for it to go on sale and hope that it’s discounted to, well, whatever price you think Hellblade 2 is worth.
This does, however, lead to the larger issue at play here, which is the anti-consumer decision to go digital-only – a growing trend with recent Xbox releases. Removing the option to trade in your copy, or pick one up second-hand for a more modest price only narrows down your purchase options to Xbox, and Xbox only. It doesn’t sit right with me at all.
Whether or not Hellblade 2 will follow the cadence set by the original (digital-only at launch before being re-released physically a couple of years later) remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft is taking another step towards doing away with the format altogether.
Though Hellblade 2 is positioned to be another contained experience, I have absolutely no doubt that it’s going to feature prominently in our best games list once it arrives on May 21. Value is always going to be subjective – I appreciate that – but to write off the thousands of hours pumped into developing a quality experience because it’s not taking you days to clear is, quite frankly, ludicrous. A game’s value will always lie in its enjoyment factor, and I’d much rather spend $50 on a piece of media that grips me for eight hours, than on a piece of media that grates me for 80.
If you’re currently catching up with the Xbox Direct, be sure to check out our thoughts on how Avowed solves one of Skyrim’s biggest flaws. If you’re Indy-inclined, then read up on how the Indiana Jones game is missing a core element and how Machine Games has filled the void.