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Stellar Blade

Stellar Blade

Written by Jason Dailey on 4/24/2024 for PS5  
More On: Stellar Blade

You should know right off the bat that I haven’t played hardly any of the games that people have been comparing Stellar Blade to prior to its release. I haven’t played Bayonetta, Nier, Devil May Cry, and I’ve only dabbled in the Souls games. I know what those games are, and enough about how they play to be dangerous, but understand that my baseline coming into Korean developer Shift Up’s big, flashy action game is different than others, for better or worse. Stellar Blade doesn’t check any of my usual gaming boxes, at least in terms of what draws me to a game, but even so, the game does have one very attractive quality that makes it worth playing, and no, it’s not the skin suits or jiggle physics.

I’m talking about combat, you horny toads – combat. Stellar Blade is a roller coaster of making you feel like a complete badass, and completely incompetent. You see, I’m at an advanced age by gaming standards – my best years are behind me. Long gone are the college days of carrying a near 2.0 kill/death ratio in shooters thanks to razor sharp hand-eye coordination. Which is to say that these precision-based action games don’t always treat me well. And while I perished on my fair share of occasions in Stellar Blade, its challenge never did turn me off. In fact, I spent most of my time on the standard difficulty level and was able to hold my own, relatively speaking.

Combat is largely focused on properly timing parries and dodges to create opportunities for powerful counterattacks. You can go on the offensive and button-mash if you wish, but that will only get you so far in Stellar Blade, which for me was usually a date with the “reload last save” screen. With that said, combat is not as defensive-minded as some other Souls-like games, in my experience. It reminds me more of something like The Surge, where the balance between offensive and defensive play is a tightrope act. It can be a ton of fun when you get things rolling, but also frustrating when you lose momentum. Stellar Blade can dish out a cheap death here and there thanks to overwhelming swarms of basic enemies, or one hiding out of sight around a corner – something Souls games are notorious for. Not to mention, some boss battles will make you want to pull your hair out, and for a player of my skill level, might require a double-digit number of attempts to defeat, even after leaning forward in your seat.

Still, getting in a flow state is incredibly satisfying. Nailing a perfectly timed sequence of attack combos, parries, dodges, and combat skills feels a bit like a Musou game. You can rip and tear through enemies with an almost overwhelming amount of combat options; both offensive and defensive counterattacks have multiple strings of combos that can be unlocked in the skill tree. Landing combos and performing perfect counters charges up Beta and Burst skills, as well as one other skill that I don’t want to spoil for you. These are powerful and stylish abilities that can devastate enemies, and quickly turn a fight in your favor. The work done on these abilities to make them both look and feel awesome to use should be applauded. They’re over-the-top in the most fun way possible, as are the brutally gory finishing moves.

In addition to using your (stellar) blade attacks, you eventually unlock the ability to use a drone as a firearm, adding further combat variety with an arsenal of munitions from stinger missiles to slug shotgun shells. With the amount of variety in combat, Stellar Blade feels like one of those games that will pop up in your social media feeds in the days and weeks ahead as highly skilled players share combat compilation videos that’ll have you mesmerized.

Though I ended up enjoying its combat systems a lot, Stellar Blade is a little bit of a slow burn looking back on it. You really need to stick with it for a few hours until you have unlocked additional abilities and skills that start to tap into protagonist EVE’s true potential as an elite member of the Airborne Squadron. In other words, the more I played it, the more I liked it. So, if things don’t click for you at first, give it a grace period that reaches even beyond the demo period that has been out for a few weeks now. This is a rather long campaign by action game standards, and it scales up at a decent pace once you get past the opening area.

Combat further evolves by equipping various pieces of gear to enhance abilities and stats. Each piece of gear caters towards a particular playstyle; you can buff combo damage, or ranged damage, for instance. I settled on a more counterattacking style, opting for gear that increased the timing of perfect parry and dodge windows to aid my poor reflexes. Along those lines, though I didn’t play much at the Story difficulty level, it did make combat far more manageable, if you are looking for a more low-key experience. Perfect parries and dodges are converted to quick-time-event button presses, taking the guess work out of the plethora of enemy attack patterns that you will encounter.

Stellar Blade features an impressive amount of enemy variety across its campaign, with what felt like dozens of baddies that always kept me on my toes. The pacing of introducing new enemies felt finely tuned, giving me time to learn each one’s attack pattern before adding new threats to the mix. Which is part of a larger point to make about Stellar Blade – it is paced very well. You never go too long between a mini boss or boss fight, and just when I was starting to tire of running around the same part of the map, I was whisked off to the next.

The game world is broken up into a mix of semi-open areas and linear levels, which I appreciated as someone with a bit of open world fatigue. Stellar Blade’s future Earth isn’t much to look at, having experienced an apocalypse at the hand of creatures called Naytibas. They’ve decimated our planet, but that isn’t the only reason why the world isn’t much to look at. The open areas are notably bland, with lots of neutral color palettes and rough textures that probably were not meant to be examined as closely as I examined them. To be fair, you likely won’t be disengaged from the action long enough to care, but just don’t come in expecting some beautiful world that will melt your PS5.

Eventually, you can travel between some of the areas you’ve previously visited to clean up any missions you ignored along the way. But you can easily ignore most side quests and just stick with the main fare, should you choose. Honestly, I was surprised by the amount of side quests that kept popping up. Some are simple fetch quests that take five minutes, while others require multiple steps to complete. Quests can be acquired from NPCs or bulletin boards in certain areas. One cyberpunk hairdresser asked me to retrieve his scissors and hair dryer from a junk yard in the wasteland, and I happily obliged, despite him degrading my hairstyle as “dull” – strong words coming from a bald guy.

While on your journey, you will come across camps that act as save points, as well as places to upgrade skills and replenish your inventory of consumables. This de facto checkpoint system can be unforgiving at times, especially since resting at camp will respawn some enemies. Sometimes your best option is to just activate a camp, and not actually rest at it, that way you can claim the save point but not respawn every bad guy in the area. It isn’t the end of the world but is certainly another Souls-like trope to be leery of. Keen-eyed gamers can neutralize the sting of this system by locating and opening map shortcuts that allow you to bypass whole areas the next time through.

I’ve made it all this way and barely mentioned the story of Stellar Blade – that’s no accident. The narrative does its job of keeping the action moving, but beyond that, it didn’t resonate with me, and neither did the main characters. Protagonist Eve and her Airborne Squadron teammates are sent to reclaim Earth from the Naytibas by the off-world human colony, but most of the drop ships are destroyed upon arrival. You see, humans were forced to flee the planet after the Naytibas took over the planet in the 22nd century. It’s not a bad story; it’s just fine. It could always just be a me problem, but I found most of the characters to be campy, and a bit on the melodramatic side. And then there is the music. Most of it is what I would describe as elevator music, and it is pumped through nearly the entire game, whether I’m decapitating enemies, or meandering around talking to NPCs, there is little change in its tone or tenor. I get that some people will love it, but it’s not my kind of vibe. I have a few other smaller issues with the game; some dialogue feels canned, and puzzles can be finnicky, for example, but they’re footnotes more than anything.

Stellar Blade’s stylish combat can make you feel like a stellar badass, and I can confidently say that the gameplay is the star of the show. When you rattle off a chain of perfectly timed attacks, parries, dodges, and skills, it is downright sublime. Despite its challenge, with practice, the combat becomes less of a chore and more of a thrill, even for a challenge-averse gamer like me. The story is serviceable, but its camp and melodrama won’t resonate with everyone, especially if you prefer the style of western action games. Still, it does one thing exceptionally well, which is combat, and I could easily see it being regarded as one of the year’s best action games when the calendar turns over.

In a nutshell, Stellar Blade is just that – a game with exceptionally stylish combat that is both challenging and accessible. The narrative and characterization won’t land with every audience, but developer Shift Up has made a noteworthy console debut.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

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