Personally, Stellar Blade always stood out to me as one of the least appealing exclusives coming to the PlayStation 5, but after spending roughly twenty-hours beating it over the weekend, it has quickly established itself as one of my favourite games on the platform.

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Stellar Blade starts in dramatic fashion, with protagonist Eve part of a squadron that is sent down to Earth to deal with an alien threat known as the Naytiba. With humanity being driven off the planet due to the ever-growing threat, they have to pick their battles carefully as a means to gain the upper hand, but this mission ends in failure. Eve’s comrades all die during the encounter, whilst she would have suffered the same fate too if it wasn’t for a scavenger named Adam who manages to rescue her. After Adam brings her to the safety of Xion, the last city that has a glimmer of hope for humanity, Eve looks for a way to complete her mission.

If I’m being completely honest, I never found myself fully engrossed in the tale of Stellar Blade. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t do anything bad and it does embrace a variety of sci-fi themes in some interesting ways, but I never felt invested in the characters or their plight against the Naytiba. It might be because the tale did get a little bit predictable, or maybe it’s because of the lore overload you can find across the world – either way, it never blew me away, and whilst it does deliver a competent narrative, I never felt that invested.

Fortunately, Stellar Blade manages to deliver in just about every other aspect of its design, so it’s hard to complain too much. This is evident in the game’s brilliant combat mechanics, which offer a blend of the tactile action of Dark Souls with the over-the-top style of Bayonetta. It’s a comparison I saw a lot when reading the impressions of players who tried out the demo, but after going through Stellar Blade myself, I couldn’t agree more.

Much like Dark Souls, there’s an emphasis placed on timing and patience, with players having to carefully monitor the actions of enemies to not only know when to strike out with their own attacks but also when to utilise their defensive manoeuvres to parry incoming hits. A good defence with well-timed parries is rewarded by allowing players to stagger enemies, which will then allow them to unleash a Retribution attack for massive damage. Alternatively, enemies often perform Fatal Attacks that’ll do a lot of harm to Eve, but players can counter these by performing a dodge towards the enemy just before the attack lands – this is known as a Blink, which can only be done against enemies performing a Fatal Attack but will put Eve in an advantageous position behind them. It should be noted that these skills need to be unlocked in-game to be used, but their use is so effective that I’d HIGHLY recommend getting them as soon as possible.

“It’s just stylish in motion, attacks are sublime to perform, and each showdown is packed with excitement, with Stellar Blade’s combat some of the best I’ve seen in an action game for some time.”

Whilst playing defensively can be imperative to your survival, Eve is equally efficient when taking the fight to her foes. She can unleash a string of light and heavy combos to deal damage, with each covering varied distances that make them better suited for the varying enemy types you face off against. See an enemy at a distance? Holding the triangle button will perform a Rush attack, which surges Eve towards them at pace to get an immediate upper hand in the showdown. Players unlock further abilities as they progress through the game, with an expansive skill tree on offer that spans across both your offensive and defensive capabilities. The best part of all? There’s no stamina meter in place, meaning you can go all-out and not worry about having to take a breather mid-attack. Whilst playing defensively is more methodical, going on the attack ups the pace and even allows for a little bit of button-mashing if you’re feeling lucky. It can be frantic, sure, but in the best possible way.

Going on the offensive ALWAYS feels sublime, whilst the Beta Skills you can unlock add a stylish yet strategic effect to your attacking options. These are special attacks that don’t only look really cool but add an effective twist to your actions, whether that’s by stunning enemies, breaking their shield, or simply attacking from different angles. These can also be upgraded on the skill tree, meaning their use becomes more effective as you power Eve up further. However, it should be noted that these abilities require your Beta Energy to use, and whilst it does recharge naturally through combat, you’ll have to manage it carefully to make the most of your attacks.

There’s a lot going on in Stellar Blade’s combat with it offering plenty of depth and room for strategizing, but it never feels overwhelming. As a fan of both souls-likes and hack-and-slashers, everything gelled quite quickly for me, but it also helped that I found the combat so damn fun. I loved playing the patient game to keep on top of enemy strikes, whilst finding that perfect moment to unleash Eve’s stylish array of attacks felt equally rewarding. The aforementioned lack of a stamina bar adds an arcade-like twist to it all, which is where the Bayonetta comparison feels most apt. It’s just stylish in motion, attacks are sublime to perform, and each showdown is packed with excitement, with Stellar Blade’s combat some of the best I’ve seen in an action game for some time.

Oh, and the enemy variety and boss encounters? They’re wonderful, with a good range of monstrous foes to slaughter and some creatively designed gargantuan bosses to face off against. The bosses can be tough, but they’re so well designed that it’ll never feel unfair. And if you do find it a little tough, there are difficulty settings in place to ease the pain.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Outside of combat, there’s plenty of exploratory action to get stuck into, with the game made up of both linear and open areas that give players the freedom to go at their own pace. There are plenty of side quests to complete and collectibles to find, whilst some enjoyable platforming sections and clever puzzling sequences add some variety to the all-out action found in combat. There are some absolutely brilliant set pieces to be found too, with Stellar Blade offering some creative level design that plays into all of the strengths of the experience. It can be incredibly tense and atmospheric, whilst the blend of both slower-paced thrills and frantic all-out showdowns with enemies ensures the experience delivers on all fronts.

I haven’t even mentioned things like the various cosmetic items on offer, the array of upgrades you can equip to Eve, the handy drone that’ll help you out in a fix, or the multiple endings on offer, with a LOT going on across the game to ensure it really does feel like a box full of tricks. The world feels like its constantly evolving too, whether that’s with Xion offering more to the player as you progress or with the variety of locales you visit as you move further through the story. I just adored being a part of the world.

It looks absolutely fantastic too, with Stellar Blade showcasing some of the most impressive visuals seen on the PlayStation 5. Character models, environments, enemies… they all look absolutely brilliant, whilst some impressive visual effects and lighting adding to the atmosphere. It is worth noting that there are multiple visuals modes on offer though, with Performance Mode hitting 60fps action consistently, Resolution Mode targeting 30fps with better visuals, and Balanced Mode offering a blend of both if you have a VRR enabled TV. Honestly? The only way to play is Balanced or Performance, with Stellar Blade offering a sublime combat experience that loses some of its impact when played at 30fps. I’ve never been averse to a 30fps frame rate on consoles in the past, but in Stellar Blade, I really do feel like it impacts the overall experience.

Stellar Blade Review

Stellar Blade is another sublime PlayStation 5 exclusive that showcases the power of the console with its thrilling action and mesmerising visuals. I’ll admit, I wasn’t fully sold on the game before playing, but after spending twenty-plus hours partaking in Eve’s action-packed antics, I’ve been blown away. Sure, I wasn’t too keen on the storytelling, but when the gameplay packs such a punch, it’s hard to complain too much.

With its, uh-hum, ‘stellar’ combat mechanics that feel like a blend of Dark Souls and Bayonetta, captivating set pieces and level design that really pull you into the world, and some of the best visuals seen on the console, Stellar Blade is one PlayStation 5 release that you’d be a fool to miss.

Developer: Shift Up
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed)