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Stellar Blade Is an Absolute Blast [Review]

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Stellar Blade is a gorgeous, challenging action-adventure game from Shift Up that blends Dark Souls and Devil May Cry, while boasting an intriguing plot. Overall, and despite the controversy leading up to its release, the new title from Shift Up is truly stellar.

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Eve’s First Time on Earth

Adam, Eve, and the engineer in Stellar Blade
Screenshot by The Escapist

In Stellar Blade, you take on the role of Eve, a member of a special military group known as the 7th Airborne Squad. The squad is composed of cybernetically enhanced female warriors who are in charge of defeating the Naytiba, vicious monsters who have taken over the Earth. However, it doesn’t take long for her to realize that things are far more complicated than going in and defeating the enemy.

Eve is aided by Adam, a human from Earth who saves her from an incredibly powerful Naytiba when she’s about to be killed. He hopes that she can help him save the last human city, a place with barely any people left. This is when you might start noticing that things aren’t quite what they seem, and the Naytiba may not just be brainless monsters.

Dark Souls May Cry

Stellar Blade Suply Camp
Screenshot by The Escapist

If you’ve played Dark Souls, you know what to expect from Stellar Blade. You’ll advance through stages, search for hidden items, and battle enemies until you reach the next checkpoint or shortcut.

The checkpoints are called supply camps and they work a lot like bonfires. They are these places where you can spend your money and experience to get new items and skills. They also restore your healing items and make enemies re-spawn.

Shift Up’s combat system takes a lot of inspiration from Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles, too. Although Stellar Blade doesn’t have a stamina bar like in those games, defeating enemies means performing well-time blocks and dodges. As part of that, players will attempt to drain an enemy’s balance gauge to make them “Groggy.” That enables the ability to perform a special attack called a “Retribution,” which deals substantial damage.

Initially, you’ll heavily rely on mastering the fundamentals of the combat system. Eve isn’t very powerful at the beginning, forcing you to never underestimate your opponents. That initial difficulty gets tied into the game’s characterization of Eve in a really interesting way. At the start of Stellar Blade, Eve is feeling scared and hopeless. Over the course of the story, I loved seeing that change. Her way of speaking and interacting during cutscenes slowly shifts. You can hear the change in her voice as she meets new characters, reflecting her growing self-assurance.

What I find particularly interesting is how I felt like the gameplay justified the change in Eve’s behavior. As I interacted with new characters and noticed Eve’s growing confidence, I also unlocked several new combat skills, mirroring her development. It’s a clever way to connect the player’s progression with the character’s development.

Combat in Stellar Blade
Screenshot by The Escapist

Over time, Eve becomes an extremely powerful warrior capable of handling dozens of enemies on her own. However, like Dark Souls, even smaller creatures can pose significant challenges if not approached with caution, maintaining a balance that feels both challenging and rewarding.

While the Dark Souls influences are evident, that’s just one aspect of Stellar Blade‘s combat system. You can be methodical and defensive, but you can also adopt a more aggressive playstyle. As you attack, parry, and dodge, Eve will fill her Beta Energy gauge, which you can spend to perform powerful combat techniques.

If you spend your points on Eve’s offensive skills, you’ll have access to area of effect attacks and powerful, single-target strikes that quickly deplete the enemy’s life bar. That’s when Stellar Blade feels a bit more like Devil May Cry or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The combat system is uniquely intricate, combining distinct elements from different genres into something far greater than the sum of its parts.

A Futuristic Blend of Old Concepts

Orcal the Oracle of Xion in Stellar Blade
Image via Sony Interactive Entertainment

Even though Stellar Blade‘s world isn’t particularly original, the game has a very distinct visual style that sets it apart. It blends realism with anime aesthetics as seamlessly as it blends western cyberpunk concepts with post-apocalyptic visuals like in older Japanese manga such as Battle Angel Alita.

I guess that’s a recurring theme in the game. In many ways, I’ve seen similar themes and visuals in other works of art, but not in the way that Stellar Blade presents them, and I find that commendable.

Technically speaking, Shift Up created something impressive with Stellar Blade. I didn’t experience any game-breaking bugs or immersion-breaking issues. In fact, it was running smoothly from beginning to end. Shift Up knows how to make the most out of Unreal Engine 4’s capabilities and it shows.

Eve’s animations are remarkably well done, with smooth transitions that showcase the care put into every detail. The post-apocalyptic Earth is exquisitely rendered, featuring abandoned cars, towering glass structures, and colossal statues among the overgrown ruins. It’s a setting that creates an uncomfortable blend of tranquility and dread.

The character models, textures, designs, and especially the enemy designs are impressive, showing how menacing and original the Naytiba look. Stellar Blade oozes creativity. I was constantly mesmerized by the new regions enemies. It kept me going forward because I wanted to see how cool the next boss was going to be, what the next region would look like, and so on.

Eve Is More Than Meets the Eye

Eve the space warrior cyborg from Stellar Blade
Screenshot by The Escapist

There has been much discourse about Stellar Blade primarily aiming to please a certain demographic. Most of the criticisms directed at it focus on the game’s overtly sexy character designs. Frankly, it’s a fair criticism, but only to a limited extent.

I honestly find the impractical elements of the 7th Airborne Squad’s uniform way more annoying. Why is a combat cyborg from space wearing a tie? And why do her high heels lack the spikes? Those are the questions that keep me up at night. 

Does Eve have some sexy costumes just for the sake of it? Yes, she does. However, extra outfits are just optional content. Players can always choose outfits that suit their taste better once those are unlocked, which shouldn’t take too long.

Although parts of Stellar Blade may be controversial to some people, I don’t believe that they detract from the overall quality of the game. Reducing the game to the way Eve looks is a disservice to all the artists and developers involved.

Stellar Blade has been an absolute blast. From its compelling gameplay and stunning visuals to the depth of its character development and combat system, there’s a lot to love.

I noticed elements of Dark Souls, Devil May Cry, NieR: Automata, and ’90s’ sci-fi anime blended uniquely, creating something fresh rather than a patchwork That’s a rare achievement, and Shift Up deserves to be praised for it.

Now excuse me, because I want to go back to playing Stellar Blade.

A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for this review. Stellar Blade releases on April 26.


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Author
Davi Braid
Davi Braid is a Staff Writer for The Escapist with a passion for storytelling. He has been a full-time writer for the past 5 years. His work spans RPGs, Fighting Games, and many other genres, showcasing his versatility and broad interests. With a degree in International Relations, his writing has been published across various outlets and niches. Leaving a traditional office job, he built a career as a writer, embracing new genres and discovering hidden gems in gaming. You can follow him on Twitter @DaviBraid