PS5 Review Shift Up Stellar Blade ps5 review

Stellar Blade Review (PS5) – A Stellar, Action-Packed PlayStation Debut For Korean Developer Shift Up  

stellar blade ps5 review

To be completely frank, when I saw Stellar Blade for the first time back when it was revealed as Project Eve back in late 2022, it’s reasonable to say that I didn’t completely understand what I was looking at. Sure, the game clearly had finesse for days, but I had no real grasp of what it was trying to do from a gameplay perspective outside of the fact that it was a flashy third-person actioner that *seemed* to owe a debt to Capcom’s beloved Devil May Cry series. Fast forward to getting my paws on the full game itself and a much clearer picture – thankfully – has coalesced in my cobwebbed brain about just what Stellar Blade is about.

Stellar Blade PS5 Review

A Stellar, Action-Packed PlayStation Debut For Korean Developer Shift Up

Stellar Blade puts players into the stylish outfit(s) of Eve, a member of a crack squad of high-powered combatants that are fighting a losing war against the Naytiba, an invading race of aggressive aliens that are hellbent on ending humanity. Together with Tachy, a senior squad member and Adam, a survivor with connections to one of the last remaining human enclaves, Xion, Eve must become more powerful than ever before in order to reclaim the Earth and end the Naytiba menace once and for all.

So yeah, the narrative setup doesn’t raise too many eyebrows and without venturing into the damnable badlands of spoiler territory, many of the major story beats are rather predictable to say the least. Also outside of cutscenes a chunk of the story is told via journals that are picked up from fallen soldiers, which isn’t the most enthralling way to consume Stellar Blade’s lore it must be said. On the flipside though, Eve is a likeable, if somewhat naive character who fills the role of the wide-eyed heroine well enough, while the surrounding cast tick all the boxes in their fairly cookie-cutter roles too. It’s all fine, but nothing special and certainly nothing that I was especially invested in for the most part. That said, there is an element of replayability built into Stellar Blade on the narrative front since the game boasts a multi-ending story that encourages multiple playthroughs – even if the English dub does cause an involuntary cringing of the spine from time to time.

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Though Stellar Blade has drawn comparisons to the likes of NieR:Automata and such comparisons do hold a certain amount of water, Stellar Blade isn’t quite the separated-at-birth sibling some would have you believe. Principally, Stellar Blade is a fairly open-ended linear affair. This means that each area has a fairly straight throughline of a point A to point B, but in-between there are a range of open areas for you to wander about in and explore to your heart’s content, unlocking all manner of secrets, craftables and money in the process. You’ll want to spend that extra time exploring the environment too because while the story of Stellar Blade hardly captures the imagination, the environment design very much does, echoing the destroyed beauty of the civilisation that came before with all manner of old neon lit stores, towering statues, crumbling highways and more lending the sense that this world was lived in and believable to an extent.

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Stellar Blade does a good job of incentivising you to go off the beaten path, too. If you’re not chasing down vital resources, you’ll be scooping up trophy unlocking collectibles, health and Beta skill boosts, new costumes and safe codes that can in turn be used to unlock even greater treasures. Put simply, exploring is something you’ll want to do a lot of in Stellar Blade and developer Shift Up absolutely encourages you to do it.

When it comes to exploring the world of Stellar Blade, you soon discover that there is a fair amount of verticality and platforming involved, as Eve is frequently expected to leap across chasms, shimmy across ledges, dive underwater and swing off various pipes, beams and other such conveniently placed objects that happen to be jutting out of the environment. Broadly speaking, the traversal side of things in Stellar Blade is also pretty decent, though Eve’s jumps and leaps can feel a little too floaty and imprecise for my tastes – even if (due to dumb luck perhaps) they rarely resulted in a fatal fall or some other unexpected perilous tumble.

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Once you reach the city of Xion, Stellar Blade takes a somewhat different tact with its level design by instead opening up a sizable open world space for Eve to wander around and take on side missions to top up her experience and resource stockpile accordingly. Speaking of those side missions, much like the story itself, they aren’t really much to write home about since they very often tend to be of the ‘fetch this’ or ‘kill that’ variety and don’t really do much to surprise the player. Still, for the most part Stellar Blade is a much more linear affair as I stated earlier and that really is a boon, not least because Shift Up’s debut effort is both a fair sized, yet breezy affair that never outstayed its welcome. At least with me, anyhow.

Stellar Blade also deserves recognition for how respectful it is of the player’s time. This comes in the form of well-placed checkpoints and a simple fast travel system that allows you to dip and dip out in ten minute intervals at a time and still manage to put a surprising amount of progress in the books. It might not seem like a special sliver of design in the grand scheme of things, but it doesn’t half drain the potential frustrations out of the proceedings and for that I am eternally thankful. Oh and it’s also worth noting that Stellar Blade’s camps which allow you to regain health, replenish your health stims and upgrade your skill paths (more on that in a bit), also have the side-effect of respawning all non-boss enemies too – a little quirk that will no doubt prove familiar to the fans of Soulslike efforts.

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What *is* special however, is Stellar Blade’s combat. Though it can be tempting to immediately equate Stellar Blade’s fairly punishing, third-person combat to a Soulslike effort like Dark Souls or Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, the truth is that developer Shift Up has crafted an effort that feels much closer to quicker, more earlier fare such as Ninja Gaiden. As such, if you have found yourself fed on a steady diet of Soulslikes before playing Stellar Blade, one of the first things you’ll notice – other than the generally more swift pace – is that there are no perceptible invincibility frames embedded into Eve’s dodge manoeuvre.

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Naturally, the upshot of this is that after a period of acclimation, you soon realise that dodging isn’t the get-out-jail-free card that it is in some of the Soulslike games, but rather can be combined into special attacks that can be chained and allow you strike at your enemy from their flank. Though the dodge is executed differently in Stellar Blade when compared to its genre stablemates, the emphasis on split-second timing remains the same, since many fights often tend to be predicated on pulling off split-second perfect parries and dodges which serve to recharge your Beta attacks.

As it turns out Beta attacks are Stellar Blade’s take on special attacks and are spectacular, one-off powerful strikes that can be used to debilitate or destroy an enemy completely. When taken together with the satisfying complex combo system and the aforementioned precision evasion and parry systems, laying the smackdown on the various foes in Stellar Blade feels every bit as moresome, sophisticated and blissful as you might expect.

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Speaking of which, something else which makes Stellar Blade’s combat feel so resolutely fresh and satisfying are the various enemies that Eve will tangle with during her adventure. A truly multi-faceted collection of villains that span the grotesque spectrum of the Naytiba species, Stellar Blade’s cast of enemies provide Eve with all manner of challenges in the form of varying attack types, ranges, patterns and all kinds of defensive and protective stances too. A mention must be made of the enemy placement in Stellar Blade too, as developer Shift Up routinely plants Eve’s enemies around corners and out of the line of sight to provide some often unexpected surprises which not only had me cursing at the screen, but helped to keep me on my toes whilst I was exploring Stellar Blade’s generously detailed world.

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Sticking with its classical influences from the likes of Ninja Gaiden and more recently, Soulslike affairs such as Elden Ring and Lies of P, Stellar Blade’s most enjoyable conflicts are its screen-filling bosses. Often towering, disproportionate monstrosities, the Alpha Naytiba bosses in Stellar Blade aren’t just wincingly grim to look at, but also tax the player accordingly, with a mixture of rotating attack patterns, unblockable attacks and much more besides. All told, Stellar Blade has some of the most resolutely enjoyable combat I have experienced in a good long time and is arguably the ace in the hole which allows it to comfortably rub shoulders with the likes of Sekiro, Devil May Cry and other such genre stars.

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All of the exploration and combat that you’ll get into during your time with Stellar Blade sits atop its progression system which pretty much echoes what you might have seen in similar titles already. In addition to base upgrades which can be unlocked with various crafting materials and items that provide boosts to your damage output, number of health stims and upgrades of that ilk, you can also learn skills in up to five different skill trees – two of which are unlocked as you progress through the game. Encompassing everything from upgrading your Beta strikes to providing extra combo damage, new combo chains, better offensive item use and more besides, there’s a whole heap of progression available to players in Stellar Blade to keep them incentivised to explore every nook and cranny of the world while vanquishing as many Naytiba as possible. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but the upgrades in these skill trees feel meaningful and genuinely enable players to truly customise Eve’s combat capabilities to match their playstyle.

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In addition to its rapturous combat, Stellar Blade also absolutely excels from a visual standpoint and is quite possibly the best looking Unreal Engine 4 game I have ever seen in my life. From the stylishly rendered and extremely detailed character models that are animated with the sort of exaggerated swagger and physics that underline its over-the-top nature, to the supremely detailed character faces, great environment lighting and superb shadows, it’s clear that Stellar Blade wouldn’t have fared well at all as a last generation PS4 title. From a performance standpoint also, Stellar Blade also soars, with the balanced visual preset giving players the best of both worlds – action that screams along at a largely consistent 60 frames per second, coupled with a decent amount of image quality that doesn’t sacrifice too much in the way of on-screen detail.

In a year when Sony’s marquee first-party offerings seem to be almost distressingly thin, Stellar Blade’s dogged pursuit of an engaging and polished single-player action adventure experience is more welcome than ever – even if much of it feels like a loving greatest hits interpretation of past genre luminaries. Nonetheless fans of gorgeously rendered, high-octane action adventures with style to spare will find much to enjoy in Shift Up’s stellar PlayStation debut.

Stellar Blade releases exclusively for PlayStation 5 on April 26, 2024.

Review code kindly provided by PR.



The Final Word

In a year when Sony's marquee first-party offerings seem to be almost distressingly thin, Stellar Blade's dogged pursuit of an engaging and polished single-player action adventure experience is more welcome than ever - even if much of it feels like a loving greatest hits interpretation of past genre luminaries. Nonetheless fans of gorgeously rendered, high-octane action adventures with style to spare will find much to enjoy in Shift Up's stellar PlayStation debut.