Stray Blade Preview (PC) – The most common way and sometimes easiest way someone could explain a new game to a fellow gamer who’s not played it is by saying “It’s basically like (insert popular game here) with a little bit of (insert other popular game here).”
For Stray Blade, the comparison to be made is the one that is made to a lot of games coming out nowadays. Easily said, Stray Blade is like Dark Souls, while looking and sounding like a cartoon version of it.
That’s of course not the whole truth, but from what I’ve played in this preview on my PC, it doesn’t feel like there’s much more to Stray Blade than that.
Stray Blade Preview (PC) – Saturday Morning Cartoon Dark Souls
Where Have I Heard This Before?
Simply saying that one game is like another can be very reductive, and often misconstrue the point you may be trying to make. However when I first began playing Stray Blade, the similarities were so apparent, even in its storytelling, that I couldn’t get it out of my head.
You’re a lone adventurer, a “stray blade,” who enters a mysterious valley (Acrea, in this case) where you immediately die, but are brought back to serve some greater purpose, and given the power to come back and try again and again.
Yes everything is being directly explained to you, rather than you needing to figure it out yourself between some short, mostly vague cutscenes and then a whole lot of environmental storytelling.
And your character actually talks, rather than being mute, but it all still just feels like the same skeleton, right down to our protagonist entering Acrea through a previously unseen veil.
It also doesn’t help that the combat immediately feels like Dark Souls, even with more of an emphasis on parrying.
Dodging is still a part of your repertoire, and you’ll know which attacks to dodge or parry based on a visual cue that appears above enemies heads.
Enemies however have a visual poise meter, and using parry’s to more efficiently go in for finishers is far more effective than dodging, or going for a backstab.
Variety Through Necessity
What does at least keep the combat a little different from encounter to encounter as you go from one checkpoint to the next is needing to switch weapons, to earn more skill points.
Skill points that give you upgrades for your health, stamina, light or heavy attack power are dolled out each time you level up, and there are only so many you can have available to you through just earning XP.
You have to switch weapons and successfully use them enough to earn their mastery, which will let you unlock the rest of the skill points on a large tree.
It works to make combat more varied, and helps that you get to see new finishers quite consistently, because it only takes knocking over a few enemies with each weapon to earn its mastery.
Getting new weapons however isn’t as easy as finding them, you’ll need to craft them, and be on the lookout for crafting materials, though that’s not so difficult as they’re glowing brightly whenever you see them.
Even with Boji’s eventual assistance in combat, I struggled to find anything about it that actually made it feel unique, or intriguing in a new way.
Boss fights included, at least for the two I was able to experience in this preview. The ancient demigod Elessine known as Tezuth, and his general before him.
Fighting the general was a little more interesting than fighting Tezuth, even though it was likely intended to be the other way around. But again, so far the boss fights are just another aspect of Stray Blade that fails to separate it from its comparisons.
Hoping For More
I do want to be clear though that I’ve only be able to play up until the point permitted in this preview, and there’s still two more demigods to face before a third, and likely final boss battle, and three more generals to defeat before that.
There’s also plenty of exploring to do in between all that, and hopefully more enemy variety in the game’s later stages. For now though, Stray Blade comes off as a game in need of sharpening on multiple fronts, and not all of them are as easy to adjust, especially with its release date this coming April.
It’s possible that more time spent with Stray Blade and more skills unlocked will provide the combat that unique-ness I’m looking for, or that the story could surprise me.
I’m just really hoping to see more from Stray Blade, because for now it remains a shallow game, lacking enough of its own flavour to really make it distinct among the sea of Soulslikes that exist today.
A final point I didn’t want to harp on, because I think this is actually something that can be fixed, for now, the UI is absolutely terrible. Navigating menus and skill trees should not at all be as difficult as it seems now, and half the time it’s not clear as to where my cursor actually is.
Another flaw that once again reiterates my point that Stray Blade is a game that has the ability to be a fun, and inviting game for fans even curious about the Soulslike genre of games, or veteran Souls players looking for a more relaxed time.
But more than a few of its edges need sharpening. For now, the stray blade is also a very dull one.
Stray Blade is set to release on PS5 this coming April 20, 2023.
Preview code generously provided by publisher.