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Stellar Blade review – A stellar experience

Stellar Blade review header
Image: Shift Up/Sony Interactive Entertainment

It’s a shame that most of the discourse around Stellar Blade is probably going to be about the body and outfits of its lead character, because this collaboration between Shift Up and Sony Interactive Entertainment deserves so much more. After playing the demo we were already keen to dive into this action-packed adventure, but little did we know that that small slice of the game was to turn out perhaps the weakest part.

In Stellar Blade you take control of Eve, a member of the 7th Airborne Squad sent to Earth to free it from the Naytiba, a strange and often grotesque alien race that has humanity on the brink of extinction. It doesn’t take long for Eve’s mission to go wrong, however, with her entire squad wiped out and her best friend maimed. And just as it appears that Eve might be killed too, an unknown hero saves the day, evacuating her to safety. The action then picks up again sometime later, and though the odds are stacked against her, Eve is still determined to complete her mission.

Clocking in at around 20 hours or so, the story of Stellar Blade, as you’d expect, isn’t on the same level as The Last of Us. It does, however, draw you in. And by the time the credits have rolled there’s been some surprising revelations, some hard choices to make, and some tugging on the heartstrings. Needless to say, not everything is quite as it seems in Eve’s world, and it’s fun seeing how things unravel. With multiple endings there’s a reason to go back, too.

Stellar Blade review
Image: Shift Up/Sony Interactive Entertainment

As entertaining as the story of Stellar Blade is, though, it’s the action here that will really keep you going back for more. The combat here sits between that generally found in a Soulslike and a typical character action game. It’s tense and has weight to it — you have to commit to your actions — but without a stamina meter and having access to a wealth of special attacks, it’s very flashy and rewarding. Key to success is studying your enemy and their attacks. Parry attacks that flash red and you can eventually open up an enemy for a powerful riposte-like attack. And if they flash yellow, blue or purple, you have manoeuvres to capitalise on those, too. It’s all a matter of timing.

Related: The best games like Dark Souls on PS5

It takes a little while to get to grips with Stellar Blade’s somewhat unique combat system, but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s one of the most rewarding out there, with pulling off parries and counters having satisfying feedback, and opening enemies up for some attacks that provide real eye-candy. And the great thing here is that you’re given a lifeline if you’re not all that great at Soulslikes. There aren’t really any penalties if you die, for example. And a Story Mode difficulty lowers the challenge considerably. Throw in an item that lets you revive in combat, and a mid-game ability that allows you to momentarily become invincible and power yourself up, and you have a game that doesn’t have to be overly challenging if you don’t want it to be.

But forget the brilliant combat for a minute, let’s go over what’s surprised us most about Stellar Blade: the variety of gameplay it provides. There are essentially three sides to this experience. The first you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played the demo — linear, melee combat-driven levels, with one or more boss fights along the way. A short way into Stellar Blade, however, you end up at a city called Xion, and from here you can access the first somewhat open-world area of the game. You can simply head through the wasteland if you wish, doing as little side-content as possible and focusing on the story. Alternatively, you can pick up a wealth of side-quests to complete, and many of them flesh out the narrative or add more meat to the world.

Stellar Blade
Image: Shift Up/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Some of our favourite moments in Stellar Blade, however, found us going underground, to explore laboratories where valuable power cells can be found. Here, you don’t have access to your trusty sword, and so have to make use of your firearm attachment to dispatch your foes instead. It’s in these dark labs that Stellar Blade momentarily becomes more like a horror game, with your drone often being your only source of light and enemies appearing from dark corners and other hidey holes. It certainly makes for a nice break from the typical action.

In truth, variety can be found all the way through Stellar Blade. There are puzzles galore, for example, areas that test your platforming skills, tense escape sequences, and an exhilarating section that finds you speedily riding through a tube. It’s a game that genuinely keeps you on your toes, never sure what might be around the next corner. But throughout it all, boss fights are the real highlight. Monster design across the board is on point here, but the bosses truly stand out. And while going up against them can be challenging at times, it’s always an absolute blast.

As if we haven’t sung Stellar Blade’s praises enough already, it’s also an audio-visual tour-de-force. At times, we have to wonder if this might be the best-looking PS5 game yet. There are certainly moments where the game’s detailed textures, complex models and sublime lighting all come together to create a scene that’s eerily lifelike. Well, if we were living in a post-apocalyptic future. The game’s soundtrack is delicious, too, reminiscent of the brilliant Nier Automata. In fact, Stellar Blade is reminiscent of that game in multiple ways, and if that’s not praise we don’t know what is.

Stellar Blade review naytiba
Image: Shift Up/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Three graphical modes are on offer, with Performance mode offering a solid 60fps experience at the cost of image quality, and Resolution mode targeting 30fps while being super sharp. The latter just doesn’t sit well with the fast-paced action on offer here, though. The best option for those who can make use of VRR is Balanced mode, which offers near flawless performance and crisp visuals. This is the mode we played the majority of the game on and didn’t encounter any noticeable performance issues. We should also add that loading times are super quick, and there’s great use of haptic feedback. Overall, Stellar Blade greatly demonstrates the PS5’s capabilities.

It’s safe to say that Stellar Blade has took us by surprise. After playing the demo, we simply expected more of the same, spread across numerous environments. Ultimately, that’s only loosely what Stellar Blade actually is. Thanks to its open world areas, underground sections focused on ranged combat, and a smattering of puzzles, platforming challenges and other mechanics that keep you on your toes, it all adds up to be so much more. Add in the phenomenal visuals, sublime soundtrack and engaging story, and you have a game that very much deserves to sit alongside Sony’s first-party offerings. Simply put, Stellar Blade lives up to its name.

This review of Stellar Blade was facilitated by a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available exclusively on PS5.

Stellar Blade review - GameSpew's score

Stellar Blade
10 10 0 1
More than just a Soulslike with a protagonist to serve as eye-candy, Stellar Blade has far surpassed our expectations, offering varied gameplay, outstanding visuals, a sublime soundtrack and an engaging story. It's a must-play for action game fans.
More than just a Soulslike with a protagonist to serve as eye-candy, Stellar Blade has far surpassed our expectations, offering varied gameplay, outstanding visuals, a sublime soundtrack and an engaging story. It's a must-play for action game fans.
10/10
Total Score

We like...

  • Visuals are outstanding
  • Soundtrack is sublime
  • Great enemy and boss design
  • Varied gameplay

We don't like...

  • The platforming sections could be a little tighter
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!