May 17, 2024

Stellar Blade takes players on a journey into a post-apocalyptic world, offering a fresh perspective on the well-worn battleground of the genre. Developed by South Korean studio Shift Up and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, this PlayStation 5 exclusive promises a captivating blend of adrenaline-fueled action, stunning visuals, and an intricate combat system that rewards precise timing and skillful execution.

As we delve into this review, we will explore the narrative, gameplay mechanics, and technical prowess to determine if it can slash its way to the upper echelons of this genre.


AT A GLANCE

  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Developer: Shift Up
  • Release Date: April 26, 2024
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5
  • Genre: Action RPG

Story

The story of Stellar Blade takes place in a world besieged by strange creatures known as Naytiba. You play as Eve, a young woman burdened by a cryptic past. The opening act throws players headfirst into the fray, witnessing Eve’s fiery descent to Earth. Emerging from the wreckage, she encounters the ravaged remnants of a once-thriving civilization, now overrun by the grotesque Naytiba creatures.

The narrative shines brightest when it delves into the mysteries surrounding Eve. Is Eve a beacon of hope or a pawn caught in a cosmic game of power? The answers remain elusive, slowly revealed throughout the journey. This deliberate pacing may leave some yearning for immediate gratification, but it ultimately rewards patient players with a meticulously crafted narrative that offers depth and intrigue.

However, Stellar Blade isn’t solely focused on existential angst and cryptic lore drops. Interspersed throughout the story are moments of camaraderie and humor. Eve’s interactions with her comrades provide a welcome respite from the unrelenting darkness. Their unlikely partnership adds a layer of complexity and warmth to the narrative.

While character interactions occasionally fall into well-worn tropes, the voice acting delivers a compelling performance, particularly in Eve’s portrayal. The emotional weight of the narrative truly blossoms through environmental storytelling. Desolate landscapes, littered with the remnants of a lost world, serve as a constant reminder of humanity’s tragedy. Gorgeously rendered cutscenes further propel the narrative and character interactions, while not groundbreaking, offer glimpses into the emotional toll the event has taken on humanity, adding a layer of emotional depth.

Gameplay

At Stellar Blade’s core lies a combat system that demands precision and finesse, rewarding players for mastering the art of timing and strategy. Whether engaging in lightning-fast swordplay or unleashing devastating combos, every encounter is a test of skill and reflexes.

Stellar Blade steps up to the plate and delivers a combat system that surpasses expectations set by the genre’s heavyweights. One of the standout features of Stellar Blade is its emphasis on defensive maneuvers.  Unlike many action games where offense reigns supreme, Stellar Blade elevates combat by placing immense weight on defensive maneuvers. Here, survival hinges on impeccable timing and tactical thinking.

Mastering the art of parrying becomes a thrilling gamble – a well-timed parry triggers a devastating riposte, delivering massive damage and turning the tables on the aggressor. This intricate dance of offense and defense elevates combat beyond button-mashing, requiring players to truly understand and exploit the rhythm and flow of battle.

The combat rewards calculated aggression. While basic attacks are solid, chaining them into combos is where the fun begins. Stringing together light and heavy attacks unlocks devastating flourishes, each feeling impactful and visually stunning. Mastering these combos becomes second nature as you carve through hordes of enemies, leaving a trail of sparks and dismembered foes.

Dodging an enemy attack at the last possible moment triggers a brief window of vulnerability, allowing for a powerful counter-attack. Mastering this technique allows players to seamlessly flow from defense to offense, maintaining the momentum of the fight and chaining together stylish combos. But Stellar Blade doesn’t simply reward recklessness. Players who overcommit to attacks leave themselves open to enemy counters, forcing a constant negotiation between aggression and caution.

Eve isn’t just a master swordsman; she’s a walking arsenal. Building your Beta gauge by parrying and dodging allows you to unleash powerful special moves. These range from focused blasts of energy to lightning-fast flurries that decimate tightly packed groups of enemies. Each attack feels unique and powerful, adding a layer of tactical depth to combat encounters.

Stellar Blade manages to elevate the combat by infusing it with visual flair. Every successful parry, dodge, and counter-attack triggers a visual flourish, creating a sense of spectacle and rewarding skilled play.

But the game isn’t just about conquering enemies – it’s about immersing yourself in a world brimming with secrets. Vast environments, from the crumbling ruins of a lost civilization to sprawling urban landscapes choked by vegetation, beckon exploration. Each step offers opportunities to discover hidden lore entries that flesh out the world’s tragic past. But the world doesn’t solely offer narrative breadcrumbs; exploration is rewarded tangibly as well. Hidden pathways lead to secrets, while cleverly concealed shortcuts shave off precious minutes during backtracking. The thrill of discovery is omnipresent, constantly pushing players to venture off the beaten path and unearth the world’s hidden treasures.

Comparisons to genre giants like NieR: Automata are inevitable, and Stellar Blade stands tall amidst such an esteemed company. Both games share a bleak, humanity-on-the-brink setting and a focus on stylish combat. However, Stellar Blade prioritizes strategic defensive maneuvers. Precise parrying and dodging, take center stage as opposed to NieR: Automata’s aggressive fluid combo-driven approach.

Visuals, Audio, and Technical Performance

Where Stellar Blade manages to truly set itself apart from the competition is in the visuals department. The meticulously crafted world is brought to life with visuals that leave a lasting impression and the fantastic character models stand out, offering a level of detail that goes beyond mere aesthetics.

The protagonist, Eve, exemplifies this dedication to detail. Her design masterfully blends elements of the classic warrior archetype with a distinct futuristic edge. Clad in sleek, form-fitting armor that hints at both protection and agility, she wields an arsenal of high-tech weaponry, creating a striking silhouette against the desolate landscapes. But Stellar Blade doesn’t stop at a cool design. Fine details like intricate patterns etched into her armor and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions, from steely determination to fleeting moments of vulnerability, contribute to a sense of believability.

This commitment to detail extends to the supporting cast as well. From the grizzled mentor figure, Tachy, whose weathered face tells a story of hardship and survival, to the enigmatic Naytiba, whose grotesque forms hint at an otherworldly menace, each character is distinct and memorable. Their depth and complexity go beyond the typical tropes found in video games. Whether locked in epic battles or sharing quiet moments of reflection, these characters feel like real individuals with their own hopes, fears, and motivations. This level of detail fosters a deeper connection with the narrative and its characters.

The world of Stellar Blade isn’t simply a backdrop for combat encounters; it’s a living, breathing entity that complements the characters and narrative. From sprawling cityscapes ravaged by war and choked by dust, remnants of a lost civilization, to lush, verdant forests teeming with life despite the encroaching desolation, each location boasts an impressive level of detail and craftsmanship. Lighting and color play a crucial role in drawing players into this world.

The meticulous detail poured into character models, the creation of diverse and believable environments, and the seamless integration of gameplay and cinematics all contribute to a visually stunning and immersive experience that allows Stellar Blade to push the boundaries of visual excellence in gaming.

Stellar Blade delivers an immersive audio experience that complements its stunning visuals. From the haunting melodies that underscore moments of quiet reflection to the thunderous symphonies that accompany epic battles, the game’s soundtrack sets the tone for each scene with precision and artistry. Sound effects are equally impressive, with the clang of metal on metal and the roar of explosions adding a visceral layer of realism to the gameplay. Voice acting is top-notch, bringing the game’s diverse cast of characters to life with convincing performances that enhance the overall narrative. Together, these elements combine to create an audio experience that is truly unforgettable.

The game runs at a consistent frame rate, ensuring seamless action even during intense combat sequences. Load times are minimal, thanks to the console’s fast SSD, allowing you to dive into the action without delay. Additionally, the game makes great use of the DualSense’s haptic feedback, to further enhance immersion.

Final Thoughts

Final Score
9 / 10
9/10

Summary

Stellar Blade emerges as a tour de force in the realm of action-adventure gaming, delivering a captivating experience that pushes the boundaries of the genre.