The games combat is simple, yet satisfying. Featuring the light and heavy attack system we have become accustomed to in The Witcher Three and Souls Series titles, it doesn’t take long to grasp. This doesn’t make Hellblade’s combat easy or simple however as the game forces you into situations which do not favour Senua. Tight combat arena’s with jagged edges that can easily trap you in close quarters are a common feature of the game. In addition the game doesn’t make stun locking enemies easy and you can easily be interrupted by an opponent you had thought incapacitated. It is worth saying that in Hellblade, two or three enemies are worrying, you are always trying to even the field whilst not exposing yourself to enemies more than happy to attack simultaneously and push you against walls . It is at these moments, when you mess up your camera control or commit too hard to killing a single enemy that psychosis as a game mechanic comes through. The last minute warnings are frequently all that stands between you surviving or inching closer to perma-death.
Combat is fair. While you are at a constant disadvantage the voices give you ample opportunity to adapt and learn from your mistakes. The focus bar, introduced properly during the Surtr boss fight also allows you to quickly turn a bad fight into your advantage. Focus slows your enemies essentially rewarding good play and surviving, despite disadvantages; with free time to attack and the ability to break through shields. (Not to mention allowing you to dodge attacks last second.) Despite its simplicity the combat in Hellblade is one of its strengths and no where does this shine more than in the two bosses I have fought thus far.
Surtr whilst extremely ugly isn’t a joke the first few times you fight him. In my experience the game didn’t prepare you for overly well. Outside of a few trash mobs that you are able to easily burn through he is your first real taste of the combat system. All of a sudden the arena is much smaller and you have to use the dodge mechanic you barely remember exists. Everything in the game up until now was a matter of block, attack, rinse and repeat. However it does represent the step up in difficulty the game is about to throw your way as it introduces more combat arena’s and pits you against multiple foes not vulnerable to more than one attack without focus.
Valravn however is a little bit different, Hellblade seems to have built you up to watch you fall by the time you face Valravn. He is faster than the enemies you have become accustomed to and introduces ranged attacks for the first time in the game. This boss while in my opinion less challenging than Surtr brings a diversity to the combat, making you focus both on evading and blocking to be successful. Whether or not more enemies of his ilk appear I don’t know but it would be nice to come across faster and less predictable enemies as I progress through the game.