Stellar Blade Review – 2B or Not 2B

Stellar Blade feels like a blast from the past in the best way possible.

Posted By | On 24th, Apr. 2024

Stellar Blade Review – 2B or Not 2B

Stellar Blade feels almost like a game plucked right out of the 2000s, and I mean that in a positive way. As bloat, overscoping, and feature creep become increasingly prevalent issues in games, Stellar Blade comes as a breath of fresh yet familiar air, delivering a focused, action-driven experience with a cool sci-fi aesthetic and slick combat. It knows exactly what it wants to be and works towards the vision singularly, and does so without feeling like a shallow or one-dimensional experience.

Set in a distant future where Earth has been almost entirely destroyed and human is teetering on the edge of extinction by mysterious, monstrous creatures known as the Naytiba, Stellar Blade puts you in the shoes of Eve, an android and a member of the 7th Airborne Squad, dispatched by an orbital colony of survivors to fight against the Naytiba. After a botched mission, however, most of Eve’s fellow soldiers are wiped out. As the only survivor, it falls to her to continue her mission to eliminate the Naytiba, while also establishing contact with survivors on Earth.

"Stellar Blade feels almost like a game plucked right out of the 2000s."

Shift Up’s action game wears its NieR: Automata inspirations on its sleeves, and pulls in from a number of other popular sci-fi stories, from The Matrix to Blade Runner and more. On one hand, that means there’s very little in Stellar Blade’s core narrative setup that can be deemed genuinely original. At the same time, however, the game does a remarkable job of pulling in familiar elements from all corners of the genre and cohesively bringing them all together in a world with a distinct identity and strong sense of place.

The far-future, post-apocalyptic remains of Earth that you navigate throughout the game benefit from not only consistently strong art design and evocative imagery and environments, but also a surprising amount of rich and genuinely captivating lore, flavour text, and bits and pieces of backstory. Stellar Blade’s story definitely starts out a little slow, in terms of the pace at which it doles out crucial new details, but it becomes progressively more interesting as you progress further into the game and begin uncovering more about the Naytiba, the survivors still stuck on the planet and the conflicts brewing between their own ranks, the all-knowing Mother Sphere that oversees Eve and all of her fellow androids, and even the nature of Eve’s own existence.

I don’t want to oversell things here, because Stellar Blade isn’t a narrative masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. Some of its twists and reveals tend to be a bit predictable, it makes liberal use of some common genre tropes, and the writing can frequently be uneven, with character dialogue and exchanges in particular often being hard to sit through. In spite of those issues, however, the game does a surprisingly good job of making its world feel like a genuinely multifaceted place with a long history that the central plot is built on top of. Though not the star of the show by any means, Stellar Blade’s story and setting are a more prominent part of the experience than I had expected. Matters are also hugely helped by the game’s surprisingly high production values, with a number of slick, flashy, and stylishly directed cutscenes interspersing gameplay (though the frequent fade-to-black transitions between series of cutscenes can get a bit grating at times).

stellar blade

"Though not the star of the show by any means, Stellar Blade’s story and setting are a more prominent part of the experience than I had expected."

What is the star of the show, however, is the combat, to no one’s surprise. Once again, this is an area where the game makes no bones about the games it takes inspiration from. There’s a little bit of Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in here, which, of course, means that the combat is fast, fluid, boasts mechanical depth, and can often genuinely put your skills to the test. On a fundamental level, every single hit lands with crunching impact, while every single move and action by not only by Eve, but also the enemies she faces lends a great deal of immediacy and responsiveness to every encounter.

Those enemies, in fact, are a big part of why combat in Stellar Blade is as consistently enjoyable as it is. From grunts to minibosses to full-fledged bosses, there’s a staggering amount of enemies on offer here. Each enemy comes with unique animations and attack patterns, different variants can require different strategies to defeat, and each one of them is ripped apart in gloriously gory fashion with Eve’s killing blows. Bosses in particular are highlights of Stellar Blade, boasting incredible visual designs, cleverly crafted attack patterns, and challenge gates that push you to your limits without feeling unfair. Each fight also culminates with delightfully over-the-top QTEs and cutscenes that almost threaten to evoke the heyday of God of War in the best way possible.

As the game continues to throw new enemy types at you, combat encounters grow increasingly enjoyable. Knowing when to unleash flurries of attacks, when to pull back to avoid damage, when to time your parries and dodges, and when to make use of your consumables and special abilities- juggling all of these elements while fluidly slashing and hacking at different types of enemies lends a great sense of momentum and constant flow to Stellar Blade’s combat, making each nearly each encounter an absolute blast.

stellar blade

"Bosses in particular are highlights of Stellar Blade, boasting incredible visual designs, cleverly crafted attack patterns, and challenge gates that push you to your limits without feeling unfair. Each fight also culminates with delightfully over-the-top QTEs and cutscenes that almost threaten to evoke the heyday of God of War in the best way possible."

Though combat is very much Stellar Blade’s biggest selling point, that’s not all there is to the game- though in these other departments, the game’s by-the-numbers approach is less effective, even if it often proves serviceable. Take exploration, for instance. For the most part, Stellar Blade is a linear game that has you constantly moving forward from point to point, with campsites that function similar to Dark Souls’ bonfires providing momentary respite from time to time. Fast travel points allow you to return to previous locations, and you do often find branching paths and optional explorable sections, but for the most part, the game is defined by constant forward momentum. The exception to that are areas where Stellar Blade adopts a semi-open world approach, allowing you to explore larger, more open-ended areas with plenty of missable content, hidden collectibles, side quests, and more.

“Serviceable” really is the best way to describe Stellar Blade’s optional offerings. Side quests do occasionally come with some interesting story tidbits, lore details, or valuable rewards, but design wise, they’re rote at best, and unforgivably dull at worst, at times to the point of feeling like pointless fluff. Thankfully, exploration itself does tend to reveal useful rewards from time to time, allowing you to upgrade Eve’s abilities across combat, healing, ranged options, and more by spending the variety of resources you find. If nothing else, grinding XP and skill points against enemies always proves gratifying in its own way, with Stellar Blade’s skill trees offering a decent amount of unlocks that end up being genuinely useful.

Then again, there are other aspects that hold back Stellar Blade’s attempts at providing compelling exploration, chief among them being its sluggish movement controls. In combat, Stellar Blade is hyper responsive and slick as an eel, but outside of combat, you spend a surprising amount of the game making your way through platforming and traversal challenges, solving environmental puzzles, and the like. It’s here that the game’s flawed movement mechanics come to light- jumps are too floaty, distances are frequently hard to gauge, and Eve just generally feels a bit too unresponsive to control, especially when the game tasks you with chaining together multiple actions to overcome some of its more elaborate obstacles. Even walking up to objects or points of interest and interacting with them can feel frustratingly clunky.

stellar blade

"Feeling decidedly old-school in everything from its design sensibilities and its aesthetic to its character action combat style and more, Stellar Blade is ultimately an easy game to recommend. Even though it doesn’t tread any new ground with the vast majority of its offerings, there’s no denying that when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s a hell of a time."

A steady clip of adrenaline-fueled encounters, evocative environments in the game’s crumbling world, and head-turning lore and story reveals do ensure, however, that Stellar Blade never dips below a minimum standard of quality. Feeling decidedly old-school in everything from its design sensibilities and its aesthetic to its character action combat style and more, Stellar Blade is ultimately an easy game to recommend. Even though it doesn’t tread any new ground with the vast majority of its offerings, there’s no denying that when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s a hell of a time.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

The setting does a great job of pulling you in, thanks to captivating lore and a strong visual aesthetic; A solid, fairly compelling story; Well-produced cutscenes; Incredible, fast-paced, stylish combat; Staggering enemy variety; The boss fights are an absolute treat; Excellent animations; Serviceable progression and exploration.

THE BAD

Spotty writing, especially for dialogue and exchanges between characters; Generic, uninteresting side quests; Sluggish and floaty movement make traversal and platforming sections a chore.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Fluid and adrenaline-fueled combat, a compelling setting, and a stylish aesthetic make Stellar Blade an action game well worth experiencing.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.
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