Game ReviewsGamingPS5Sony

Stellar Blade, Review

Anyone who doubted South Korea is now a total powerhouse of game development, needs to read the tea leaves. Stellar Blade is the first “AAA” outing for Seoul based developer Shift-Up and they have knocked it outta the park. Part Nier: Automata and part Sekiro but still… unique and most importantly, brilliant fun. The PS5s arsenal of exclusives is even stronger for having this game in its quiver of titles.

The first thing to get out of the way is the inevitable commentary around the female protagonist EVE and the other female cast members. With their big doe-eyes, anime-esque catsuits and blatant Boob-Giggle-Physics, they will most certainly upset some out there. And yes, it’s 2024. It is probably inappropriate and if I’m honest, it is even a tad creepy at times. But this is Asian gaming, anime and ‘weeb’ culture so its not my place to judge. And if games are “Art”, then the developers can create whatever they want in their games. If you don’t like it, that’s totally fair, vote with your wallet and don’t buy it. However, this decision will in turn will restrict your ability to play one of the best 3rd person, action games released in recent years.

Setting the Stellar Blade Scene

Stellar Blade is set in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi universe, where earth has been overrun by demons called “Naytibas”. Most of Humanity have fled to outer space, but the battle for earth continues. Elite, engineered soldiers from “The Airbourne” drop from orbit like ODSTs to bring the fight to the Naytibas. EVE was one of these very elite “Angels”, but her drop goes sideways and she is left to continue the fight solo.

The game is a 3rd person mele combat game, like Nier: Automata, Sekiro or Jedi: Last Survivor. With parries, dodges and stamina in the form of “shields”, needing to be eroded to get to hard hitting blows. BUT…and I make BUT in capitals for a reason. There is a crucial difference from the Souls-Likes like Sekiro, which I loved but grew to hate. Thereare difficulty settings! Combat assists! And even the option for on-screen input prompts, to help hit those parries. To get the “flash” baked into the big boss encounters. 

Which is great, as this is a game that has massive complexity, combos to learn and hard combat…..if you choose to buy into all of that. Or… it can be an approachable, semi-open world adventure game, that can be played and enjoyed with minimal deaths. Music to my ears! I cannot understate how nice it was to play a melee combat game which looks, feels and smells like a challenging souls-esque game. But under its catsuit, is a title that wants to be fun First…..but provides the option to become a master of perfectly timed dodges and parries Second.

I think this fact made such an impression on me, because the rest of the game is just so appealing. I would have been gutted to have enjoyed everything about the games world and systems only to have missed out on its all if it had featured unforgiving “sekiro-level” combat.

Open World Curiosity beats Open World Fatigue

World wise, Nier: Automata is the obvious comparison. After an initial combat encounter and some early exploration. EVE ends up in a hidden human settlement on Earth, just like Nier does. The main quest sends her out into various biomes and mini-open-world areas. Completing quests, collecting resources, and battling bosses to progress. Noting revolutionary but just impeccably well made in every way.

For example, the “Job Board” and “Quest Givers” is a thing we all know. Go collect this, find that etc… complete the quest. And the game says automatically says, “Would you like to Fast-Travel back to your quest giver?” -Why yes, yes I would! Infact everything in the game is set up to be helpful, without ruining the exploration and mystery of the wider world.

In my recent review of Rise of the Ronin, I lambasted it for not letting me explore. The map was array of markers and to-do-lists. Stellar Blade certainly has Map markers of where quests can be progressed from. But the rest of the map is open to just curiosity, which is how it should be. Such as, a screen that I can interact with. Push the button. What happened? Not sure. There is another pole over there with a button. I’ll push that! Huh, noting yet. But there is a movable chest behind those enemies I wonder if I beat them, grab that and try and climb on top of the container near the button. Ohhhhhh, now I can see a hidden chest, I just need to find the last button. Curiosity and problem solving. Love it.

These fun wee mysteries are all through the game world.

Mostly Stellar, with a few rough edges

As mentioned before, the quality of the game is undeniable. Everything is polished to a fine shine. The animations of EVE in combat, her movement over obstacles, sliding down ladders are all just polished (chefs kiss). The environmental design and the wide array of NPCs and Naytibas are varied and intersting to just look at. With detail abound! This game was built in Unreal 4 and looks gooorgeous. I cannot wait to see what this team can do with UE5!

If I had to pick out a weakness, it would be the characters and voice work. The story happily skips along at pace, but won’t hit you in the feels or anything. Don’t read too much into this though, its is perfectly fitting to the type of game it is. A high-end comparison I know, but it is like Final Fantasy 7. A tad cringy in places, but will certainly be loved by the ‘weebs’. As will the music. Which I hated and turned off. The swelling synth piano and deeply emotional wailings all just got a bit much, but once again, the ‘weebs’ will love it.

Now, I haven’t finished Stellar Blade yet, I’m 18hrs in and there is still plenty of game ahead of me. Not to mention the free update for New Game plus has just dropped and I WILL be doing a hard run with all my new skills and Beta powers.

This is a fantastic Sci-Fi adventure, with deep, satisfying combat, amazing graphics and awesome world building. Stellar Blade is in my GOTY 2024 discussions, for sure!