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Stellar Blade Review

A mix of adequate action and lacklustre themes

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As we enter what is possibly the mid-life phase of the PlayStation 5 console, and following a large COVID-affected window in game development, things may seem a bit off-kilter for the console's library. We've had the heavy-hitters like Spider-Man and God of War, and 2023 was among the most memorable years ever, but now the schedule is looking a little bit thinner than usual. This presents an opportunity for new games to shine, as Sony is choosing to back some smaller projects as PS5 exclusives. Having just recently launched Team Ninja's Rise of the Ronin, the publisher is supporting yet another PS5 exclusive third-person action title in Stellar Blade, a futuristic sci-fi adventure about protecting the last survivors on Earth from an otherworldly threat.

Stellar Blade game

The story follows Eve, a soldier that deploys to Earth in the midst of an effort to reclaim the planet. Eve is a cybernetically enhanced woman from the Colony up in space, whose entire purpose is to fight against the alien species named Naytiba that apparently invaded the planet years ago and have driven humanity from it. The deployment doesn't go as planned, and with the rest of her squadron dead, she is saved by a local survivor named Adam who promises to help her find the Alpha Naytiba that ambushed them. They eventually travel to a small city of Xion where the last of Earth's populace live, where an older cyborg promises to also help Eve, if she collects enough power cells to restore life in the city.

Stellar Blade has a fairly by-the-numbers narrative structure. The goals are clearly set, collecting a certain amount of some important item in order to progress, which means detours to different areas. But even despite this simplicity, the story is just not at all engaging. Even the prologue is unnecessarily awkward, with the game deciding to cut to black at a pivotal moment, just to barely explain things a little later via flashbacks. The game constantly talks about the past, the conflicts that apparently raged on, and how the Colony was formed – but players don't get to see any of it. Thematically, the central goal of trying to save humanity falls flat, as almost everyone you meet is a heavily modified cyborg anyway, even in the supposed last human town. It begs the question of just how and why is humanity extinct, when technology has clearly progressed far and reached Earth, and Eve can singlehandedly defeat most enemies. There is no sense of impending danger at all; it seems like the story is trying its best to fit the setting, and not the other way around. Naming the characters as Adam and Eve does not present any deeper meaning. The ending is also quite underwhelming narratively, with a player choice thrown in; it's somewhat abrupt, unsatisfying and doesn't spell out what actually happens after all is said and done.

It doesn't help that the writing is very barebones and the delivery is equally mundane. The dialogue is very rigid and predictable, while the main cast are very bland. Eve is a mellow character that rarely reacts to much beyond the usual gasps, and trying to be nice to everyone. Adam is even blander, delivering all dialogue with the most monotone voice possible. They eventually recruit a young mechanic to the team, who tries her best to contain the anime tropes that she is clearly designed around. Eve also heavily leans into the "fish out of water" trope – she is often dumbfounded by things like the monorail, a fishing rod, soda cans, vending machines, and musical instruments – which puts questions around her background and just how disconnected the Colony is from Earth.

But while Eve's personality is flat, the rest of her certainly isn't. Her character design is quite hyper-focused on appearance, which expands the tropes to include "born sexy yesterday." It starts off decently understated apart from a few frames in the opening cutscene, but once you get to the human city and meet that questionably young mechanic, who clearly takes after Cindy from Final Fantasy XV, all subtlety goes out the window. Coincidentally, around that same time is when you get access to the vendors in the city and get a chance to purchase and craft new outfits for Eve. To say that half of outfits leave little to the imagination is an understatement. It's certainly going to feel in bad taste for some players, but perhaps less surprising for those who are familiar with the game market in South Korea, where developers Shift Up are based. The combat takedown animations flash some very specific angles, and it doesn't even have any depth to it – there is no integration into the game's core values, like Bayonetta or Lollipop Chainsaw, with stylized attacks or clever animations or a well-crafted themes that focus on the sexuality of it all. It's just skimpy outfits for their own sake, so it feels cheap and difficult to argue in support of.

Stellar Blade game

Like the story, the campaign is also typical in structure. Things kick off in an abandoned city that's partially collapsed, and overgrown by greenery. Enemies roam the streets, and you will have to fight your way through in search of power cores and information on the Alpha Naytiba whereabouts. Comparisons can made to the likes of NieR: Automata and Scarlet Nexus in terms of setting and feel of the environments. The level design is linear, with occasional side paths that contain the usual extra enemies and reward chests. You can unlock certain paths in case you want to backtrack, such as when you find an access code to a chest you came across earlier. There are also fairly frequent camps, where you can save the game and refill your consumables. Resting at these camps restores your health packs for free, but also respawns the enemies, in a souls-lite bit of design. However, most of the time there's no dilemma whether to rest or not, because there no worthwhile reasons to retread your path. You might find more of the myriad of collectible lore notes, or an extra resource or two, but the progression is designed well enough that you won't feel underpowered as long as you do some occasional general exploration. Infrequent environmental puzzles don't slow you down for long.

Upon making it to the city, players will find it to be a small civilian hub where you can run around a few streets and load up on side quests. Most of these quests are extremely simple, but a few carry some story elements, and a couple are multi-stage. Completing them usually involves going elsewhere in the city, or venturing out into the open-world desert area. The camps in this area are more useful as they act as fast travel points and save you from running around for too long. Quests generally award gold, materials, and occasional useful items, alongside experience points. This campaign structure is wholly generic, but it works well enough that it will keep you moderately entertained and occupied as you run around between quest markers. But the pace loses steam and originality points when the adventure begins to re-use its content in the second half. You get to explore a second desert region, more linear underground sewer systems and laboratories, fight the same bosses again, and more than once venture into levels where you are not able to use some combat abilities.

The game also makes surprisingly poor end-game choices. There is no post-game, and the title does a very poor job of warning players – you get more warning and a double-confirm for an exploration section in the mid-game. Once you reach the finale, you are stuck there and not able to fast-travel back out in the game to clean up any remaining quests. There is only a single forced savegame file, so no way to reload something earlier. You can start a new game from scratch on a Hard difficulty (that gets unlocked), but it's not NG+, it's simply starting over again – not even the outfits get carried over, and you can't skip cutscenes.

Stellar Blade game

But thankfully, things get back on track with the combat, which is fairly important for an action game. Stellar Blade takes a very interesting position – its visual style would make you think it's an all-out action title such as DMC or Bayonetta, but some of the exploration elements and level design lean more towards a Souls-like experience. The combat finds itself in that middle ground as well. Players get a light and heavy attack, as well as a parry move and a dodge. Combining these elements together to string combos is straightforward, but the action feels deliberate and quite slower-paced than you might expect. There is a heaviness to the movement, and yet being aggressive is encouraged and possible. Later in the game you gain the ability to use some special modifiers to enhance your attacks, which drain an energy meter that refills with combat. You also get a second such meter, as well as a typical temporary overload mode – however this mode feels rather unsatisfying, as it doesn't do as much damage as you may wish even when fully upgraded, and you are still just as vulnerable to enemy attacks.

The combat can be quite tough, but the nice thing is that you can slow it down a bit. There is no stamina system, so Eve can simply stand and block all but the special attacks from enemies. This flexible design gives you breathing room, and while hardcore Souls enthusiasts may scoff, most players will find it a good approach. It by no means makes the game easy, as enemies will utilize attacks that cannot be blocked, and must be dodged either freely or in a specific direction. And there will be plenty of boss battles where you have to be very quick just the same. But if you are struggling, you can switch to Easy difficulty at any time, which not only eases the enemy health bars, but it also introduces QTE elements, so you can parry and dodge perfectly with the button prompts during combat.

The enemies that Eve will fight against have fairly good variety, from the small alien creatures that pose little threat, to the towering mutants that look like they are from a horror game, to the memorable boss encounters that will test your abilities (with no multiplayer or AI to call upon for help). Elsewhere, you will encounter more mechanical type enemies. A couple of systems can be engaged during combat, such as all enemies having a rechargeable shield that reduces your attack power initially (Eve has one as well, to be fair). Enemies also have a visual indicator of how many attacks Eve needs to parry before the enemy becomes stunned and you can use a punishing move for lots of damage. Enemies can also get stunned as Eve uses a few different throwable grenades, or later in the game she can engage in ranged combat when the drone gains the ability to become an assault weapon or rocket launcher, with limited ammo. It all comes together fairly well, and the many hours spent in combat are generally a good time.

Outside of combat, exploring nets you materials, and special items that are used to upgrade your weapons. Other useful items found in chests and by breaking apart wooden crates include exoskeletons and ability parts. The former can be upgraded with materials up to three times, and provide passive bonuses for specific playstyles, such as more critical damage, reduced incoming damage, making it easier to dodge or block, and so on. The latter are specific passive boosts to damage, energy, defense, and more, with up to four equippable. It's all rather straightforward design for an action game, and you can swap out these items at any time depending on the situation. You will also find cores for health and energy, with 3 upgrading the corresponding meters. Lastly, materials are also needed to craft Eve's outfits, but they are separate from those affecting gameplay.

Stellar Blade game

As expected, there are a few skill trees. You will earn XP from quests, combat, and story progress, which yield skill points to use. These can be assigned to a variety of extra functions, such as more damage to your combos and extended Beta energy attack abilities, as well as other combat styles that become available later in the game. None of the skills will help with the game's poor platforming, however. It is mercifully infrequent, but it feels very unsatisfying and imprecise. Climbing ledges, swinging on horizontal bars, running on walls, and even simply jumping on tight ledges needed more refinement.

Another aspect where Stellar Blade borrows from the likes of NieR is the audio design. The combat sounds fairly meaty and satisfying, as you clash against metal and fleshy bits with your sword. Explosions sound good, and so do the battle screams of both Eve and the enemies. But where the game notably stands out is the background music. The entire soundtrack is composed of heavily vocalized songs, with plenty of lyrics in both English and other languages, and a reliance on light percussion, upbeat melodies and piano. There are quite a few good tracks, and it's also fun when the music goes a bit heavier. Perhaps one downside is that these compositions do begin to loop and some can become annoying, as the song stays the same for an entire level/area, so depending on how long you stick around it can get repetitive.

The visual presentation is fairly strong, with good quality effects and textures. The art style is well realized, although not particularly unique, as these post-apocalyptic scenarios have been done so many times before. Enemy design is also detailed, but again not overly original, with inspirations being drawn from NeiR, Resident Evil, and other action games. Even Eve's designs, as revealing as they are, are nicely detailed and well put together from an artistic and technical perspective. Her sword becoming a hair accessory when out of combat is a cool touch, as is occasional enemy dismemberment. The technical visuals won't push the PS5 to its limits, but playing on Balanced setting, the framerate was steady and hovered around 60fps most of the time. The other two visual settings offer to boost the visual quality or get an even steadier framerate. Other helpful settings include the ability to toggle auto-pickup on items (must do, otherwise you are spamming a button tirelessly way too often), and shortening the length of Eve's ponytail (it freaks out quite a bit at full body length).

Stellar Blade game

Stellar Blade is a character action game that gets a few things right, though it's not particularly impressive in any one area. The story is fairly dull and not very interesting, with strange thematic choices that don't work well and no post-game. The characters are very one-dimensional and the dialogue is too basic, with all style and no substance. The combat is solid, however, and finds an interesting middle ground between all-out action and a heavy Souls-like feel. Level design is functional, and the soundtrack is memorable, although they both borrow from the likes of NieR. Visuals are solid too, with a steady framerate. At about 20 hours of play, having done more than half of optional content, Stellar Blade should appeal to fans looking for a challenging but flexible combat experience with flashy visuals and an unapologetic approach to character designs.

Our ratings for Stellar Blade on PlayStation 5 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
80
Solid visuals, with standout music, and good character designs, even if they feel quite underdressed for the occasion.
Gameplay
75
Fairly robust combat design that is drawn towards Souls-likes, but has a flashy side to it, akin to traditional character action games. Good flexibility in difficulty.
Single Player
65
A predictable story that suffers from basic dialogue, undeveloped characters, and unrealized themes. The levels are decently designed, but content begins to repeat in the second half.
Multiplayer
NR
None
Performance
80
A mostly steady framerate and no notable issues.
Overall
72
Stellar Blade is a mostly enjoyable action game with solid combat, strong presentation, and good enemy designs. Its scantily clad heroine is not very interesting, and neither is the story, but there is enough here to warrant a peek.
Comments
Stellar Blade
Stellar Blade box art Platform:
PlayStation 5
Our Review of Stellar Blade
72%
Good
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Stellar Blade is ranked #1110 out of 1983 total reviewed games. It is ranked #16 out of 37 games reviewed in 2024.
1110. Stellar Blade
1111. TopSpin 2K25
Xbox Series X
Screenshots

Stellar Blade
10 images added 59 days ago
Videos
Stellar Blade - Launch Trailer
Posted: 58 days ago
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