“Stellar Blade” – a worthy exclusive not without its nuances

“Stellar Blade” made quite a buzz before its release – gamers discussed the appearance of the heroine, combat mechanics, the plot setup in the demo, and other aspects of the game. We delved into this “reality” and are eager to share our thoughts on Shift Up’s creation. It was fun and engaging, but not perfect, so there are both criticisms and praises to be found…

Saving Earth

The main storyline unfolds in the best traditions of action games – an unknown race of monsters, biotivs, has taken over the entire planet and driven humans into space. Special assault squads were created to defend the world from the alien invasion, tasked with reclaiming territories from the enemy. Players will discover the story of Eva, the sole survivor of the seventh landing group, whose main goal is to find the strongest biotiv and destroy the invaders’ nest.

Unfortunately, the story can hardly be called surprising: it does not offer any unique twists and is very linear. The exception will be the ending, where depending on some of the heroine’s actions, it will be possible to change the final scenes. Problems are also noticeable in the lack of explanations for some character arcs. With careful examination of the context, players will surely have questions – why certain events occurred and what they led to. It’s not critical, but more information about such a unique universe would be appreciated.

The story cannot be called robust, but even without answers to many questions, the narrative moves sequentially, does not strain, and is sometimes captivating. With each passing minute, you want to learn more about the world and events, gather all the known information about the people and biotivs, and get to know the game’s conclusion as soon as possible.

The main characters are not empty shells; they have their motivations and goals, but their personalities are familiar to gamers from other games. Of course, their names and images will be forgotten after a month, except for the main heroine, but watching them throughout the plot will not be torture.

In the end, the lore, plot, and characters evoke mixed feelings. The genre may not require detailed story development, but you still want more. Hence the strange perception of the game’s events – the universe is very cool, and you don’t want to skip the dialogues and frequent cutscenes, but the internal response to what’s happening is missing.

Secondary tasks don’t help either, most of which can be safely skipped. Players are unlikely to want to run after a marker to find a cat or help the locals. These simple missions are activated on the task board on Xion. They help to gain additional experience and money but do not reveal the lore. However, basic secondary quests will improve the player’s understanding of the world and provide more information about Eva’s companions. Thanks for that as well.

Combat Diversity

Stellar Blade shines in gameplay. The only “but” is the too simple battles with enemies. Even most bosses can be defeated on the first try, and there’s no need to mention basic monsters for farming. The basic gameplay principles are borrowed from souls-like games – several types of attacks, blocking, parrying, dodging, several variations of special attacks, and the ability to destroy targets from long distances. Add to this the standard three ampoules for healing, several consumable items like grenades and additional “healing”, as well as the presence of intermediate safe locations.

Obviously, the set of mechanics is reminiscent of the hardcore genre, but in SB, developers managed to simplify each of them. Enemies don’t hit as hard even through blocking, the heroine doesn’t lose accumulated experience and money after death, ampoules significantly replenish health, leveling up is very fast, and deflecting a powerful attack is incredibly easy. Listing each of these aspects is pointless – even inexperienced gamers will cope with the influx of enemies and easily reach the final credits.

And the leveling system is very reminiscent of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but with a more diverse skill tree. For any action (destroying an enemy, studying notes, completing tasks), Eva gains experience. When the scale is filled to a hundred percent, the heroine will open a skill point that can be spent on improving her abilities. And it’s not just a bonus to some characteristic because to enhance attacks, unlock new gadget slots, increase healing ampoules, and increase beta-energy, resources are needed. Here, points are only needed to activate new techniques.

The skill tree contains new abilities that expand the “paratrooper’s” combat potential and simplify fights. You can unlock additional combinations of techniques after dodging or parrying or gain the ability to reuse the beta-skill. Completing the game will unlock a total of ninety-six abilities. The leveling system turned out to be multifaceted but not very balanced in relation to battles with biotivs – as we mentioned earlier, except for a couple of bosses, there will be no problems anywhere.

There are enough diverse enemies to hone your skills, but not in such quantities as to overlook their similarity. After all, you’ll often have to chop down the same opponents. Besides the usual battles, players will be able to search for collectible items. Exploration can be engaging, but not in deserted zones. We’ll tell you a little more about the locations in the subsequent section, but in advance, we’ll note that semi-open locations can tire even the most avid explorers who enjoy collecting items and searching for secrets. In this respect, it’s somehow a bit monotonous, but the battles with biotivs and the leveling process sincerely please.

A Memorable Universe

Earlier, we touched on the lore a bit, but without mentioning the events and atmosphere. We apologize and correct ourselves. Despite noticeable plot flaws, “Stellar Blade” manages to immerse the player in the process. And it’s not just about the well-thought-out and diverse gameplay but also about the memorable environment of the apocalypse. Semi-destroyed buildings, high-tech gadgets, and the world’s structure will delight adventure seekers. There’s a constant desire to explore locations, search for secrets, and study the notes left by deceased operatives (may the deserts forgive us).

The immersion is aided by pleasant melodies that can be changed in safe locations. So, players always have a choice of what to listen to in the background. The soundtrack is truly mind-blowing. By the way, the composer is Keiichi Okabe, who previously worked on NieR: Automata. Perhaps by the twentieth hour, the tracks might become tiresome, but we didn’t notice such a problem, so we wholeheartedly praise the musical design.

However, the game’s graphics design and environmental detail leave something to be desired. There are no issues with close-range visuals – no complaints about the appearance of enemies, Eva’s costumes, strike animations, colorful effects, and other details in the frame. But as soon as the camera pans to distant objects, you immediately want to return to battles with biotivs. Distant backgrounds are bleak even in special cutscenes that focus the player’s attention on the ruined world. The gray color filter that follows Eva throughout the adventure doesn’t help to enjoy the views.

And when it comes to biomes, there are some questions. All the territories are so bleak that they don’t attract gamers with their appearance and diversity: corridor zones of urban type, desolate semi-open areas, and underground laboratories. Perhaps this is due to the setting, but it would be nice to visit more colorful locations.

Let’s not miss the opportunity to rejoice in the quality optimization. All actions and mechanics run smoothly, without any frame rate drops. You can enjoy what’s happening on the screen without any second thoughts. Finally, we’ve waited for this… it’s hard to believe.

“Stellar Blade” has turned out to be a high-quality game that will definitely distract fans of straightforward slashers from their everyday chores. Of course, it doesn’t reveal the magnificence of the world and hardly challenges hardcore enthusiasts, but it’s playable and engaging. If you have a PlayStation 5, it’s worth taking a look at this project, but buying the console just for the charms of Eva is definitely not worth it. Well done, Shift Up – we look forward to the sequel!

Verdict: “Stellar Blade” is a very high-quality game set in a unique universe with diverse gameplay. It’s good in its genre, but it still doesn’t reach the level of Sony’s giants. We recommend it to fans of dynamic fights and hope for a sequel.

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