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Rhys Wood

Stellar Blade review - Near Automata

Stellar Blade; EVE and Adam face each other.
Review info

Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5
Release date: April 26, 2024 

Stellar Blade is an immensely impressive game that presents slick, sublimely animated combat, jaw-dropping environmental design, and one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years. Despite some irksome omissions, occasionally abstract quest design and wonky platforming sections, it’ll undoubtedly be a game-of-the-year contender for many. If you have a PlayStation 5, then Stellar Blade is an essential play.

This PS5-exclusive action game comes courtesy of Shift Up, a relatively new Korean developer. The team was previously responsible for the hugely popular mobile game Goddess of Victory: Nikke and consists of staff that worked on MMO Blade & Soul. There’s some serious talent at the studio, then, and that really shows with its first AAA console endeavor. 

Parasite EVE

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

In Stellar Blade, you play as EVE, an ‘angel’ (read: elite combat specialist) fighting for an entity named Mother Sphere to reclaim a post-apocalyptic Earth from a hellish force known as the Naytiba. After a particularly strong ‘Alpha’ Naytiba kills EVE’s closest comrade, she’s rescued by Adam (yes, the religious overtones are quite apparent in Stellar Blade), a freedom fighter who guides her to the city of Xion.

The restoration of Xion - the last bastion of humanity - and the eradication of the monstrous Naytibas form the backbone of Stellar Blade’s narrative. There’s a good amount of lore and backstory throughout, but none of it really amounts to much until the final third of the game. Until then, EVE, alongside Adam and cheery engineer Lily, is largely tasked with gathering important resources for Xion in exchange for information on where they can find the especially threatening Alpha Naytiba variants.

It’s not quite accurate to say that nothing happens in the game’s earlier hours - some segments do hint at grim truths as to the nature of Stellar Blade’s near-hopeless world - but even after rolling credits, I felt I still had several questions unanswered when it came to the story.

While EVE is the star of the show, there are plenty of side characters that resonate with their own stories and sidequests. Kaya, for example, runs a junk shop in the hopes that it’ll help her track down her missing sister. There’s also an android-like singer that lacks a body whom EVE will help to rebuild over the course of a few sidequests.

To address the elephant in the room, much has been made of EVE and her provocative design. For those curious, she’s rarely - if ever - outright objectified by cutscenes, narrative beats, or camera angles. The game is more than comfortable in giving the character room to breathe, and typically avoids outright flaunting her. Yes, there’s a handful of revealing costumes you can unlock for her, but plenty are more conservative, ultimately offering a good variety of cosmetics.

She’s also incredibly cool both in and out of combat; always maintaining a level head and remaining deeply empathetic to those she’s charged to protect. I found that the game’s pre-launch marketing did something of a disservice to the kind of character EVE actually is, and you may be surprised by how well-rounded she becomes throughout the course of the narrative.

Style and substance

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

Stellar Blade is an action game first and foremost, so it’s unsurprising that EVE is kitted out with a wealth of attacks and abilities to make her fight against the Naytiba as effective - not to mention as stylish - as possible. For starters, light and strong attacks are bound to Square and Triangle respectively. 

One look at EVE’s moveset menu shows that she has access to a broad list of combos that employ a mix of both. And while it’s tempting to pick a couple of favorite combos, true mastery of Stellar Blade’s combat comes in learning which combos are best for any given situation. For example, light attack combos are good for dispatching smaller grunts, while more advanced strings are better for destroying shields or handling crowds effectively.

EVE also has access to Beta skills - and later Burst skills - which both have their own gauges. These are especially powerful attacks, but you’ll only gain access to them by routinely charging up each gauge, which is done by attacking as well as successfully parrying or Perfect Dodging enemy skills. 

That’s much easier said than done on the standard normal difficulty. The window of time you have to parry or dodge perfectly is fairly slim. Some stronger attacks also require perfect timing to counter, so you’re strongly encouraged to learn enemy move sets to in turn gain access to EVE’s best skills on the regular.

This comes to a head in the game’s many boss fights. While I’ve not found them as soul-crushingly difficult as those in Lies of P, Stellar Blade’s bosses - for the most part - are far from a cakewalk. Smart skill usage and expertly-timed evasive maneuvers are always required in these fights. Thankfully, dying in Stellar Blade is a minor inconvenience; you won’t lose any form of currency and, at worst, you’ll just have to deal with some respawned enemies to get back to where you left off.

Best Bit
(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

I was consistently blown away by Stellar Blade’s incredible soundtrack. From mellow, vocal-driven overworld themes to punchy rock tracks for the bosses, there’s a ton of variety and it all goes immensely hard, complementing the slick combat and epic fights perfectly.

Where Stellar Blade differs is in a handful of areas that break from a typical soulslike structure. There are a couple of open-exploration zones where EVE can tick off side quests and collect powerful upgrade materials (not to mention collectible cans that gradually allow her to carry more items). There’s also a handful of areas where EVE’s combat abilities are largely disabled, and she needs to rely on the projectiles offered by her companion drone.

There’s much variety in combat, level design, and exploration, then. And you’ll be able to add even more to EVE’s repertoire through skill points, which can unlock entirely new combat moves, dodging abilities, and Beta and Burst skills to make her even more formidable.

On top of all that, you're also getting a New Game Plus mode upon completion. In addition to one unlockable outfit, your entire progress (including skills, items, cosmetics and more) carries over into your second playthrough. That’s awesome news, as you'll get to keep EVE’s powerful arsenal for the earlier game, which in turn makes obtaining Stellar Blade’s multiple endings all the easier. 

May your memories live on… forever

(Image credit: Sony / Shift Up)

An area where Stellar Blade rarely puts a foot wrong is in its presentation. It’s an utterly gorgeous game filled with brilliantly realized environments. Nier Automata’s inspiration rings very clearly here, especially with levels set in ruined, overgrown cities and sprawling deserts.

The game runs excellently across all three graphics modes too. The highest fidelity option, Resolution, locks the game to 30fps while offering supreme-quality visuals at 4K resolution. Performance, meanwhile, offers 60fps at 1440p resolution. The Balanced graphics option, then, targets 4K 60fps, but makes use of dynamic resolution to keep gameplay smooth and stable.

One of Stellar Blade’s more surprising aspects has to be its show-stopper of a soundtrack. Simply one of the best of this console generation, it’s an eclectic mix that leans heavily on vocal performances. Once again, the Nier vibes are strong, but Stellar Blade’s soundtrack manages to carve its own memorable identity. Boss fights are a particular highlight here, too, opting for fast-paced electronic scores or full-on heavy metal. Meanwhile, levels and larger zones dial things back and bring the vocals to the forefront, giving you an entrancing audio companion with which to explore Stellar Blade’s world.

Overall, Stellar Blade is essential if you're looking for a highly polished character action game with some light soulslike elements sprinkled throughout. Its gorgeous visuals, soundtrack, and unique atmosphere elevate the game to being perhaps the most unique PS5 exclusive since Returnal. 


(Image credit: Future)
(Image credit: Future)
(Image credit: Future)
(Image credit: Future)

Stellar Blade’s accessibility options, as we’ve come to expect of PlayStation-exclusive titles, are plentiful. If you’re not overly familiar with action games and feel you’ll struggle with the pace of combat, the Story difficulty offers an assist that slows time, allowing you to more easily react to incoming attacks with parries or dodges.

Beyond difficulty settings, you’re able to resize HUD elements, access three colorblind settings (protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia), and reduce motion blur and camera shake. Lastly, you can apply different levels of auto-aim to EVE’s ranged abilities and set it so that QTEs (quick time events) complete without the need for inputs.

Should I play Stellar Blade?

Play it if...

Don't play it if...

How we tested Stellar Blade

I played Stellar Blade for just over 30 hours on PlayStation 5 for this review, using a DualSense Edge controller. This playtime included completing the main story and ticking off the vast majority of side quests and collectibles. 

I tested each of Stellar Blade’s graphical options (Resolution, Balanced, and Performance) during this time, eventually settling on the Balanced setting which provided a stable halfway house between visual fidelity and rock-solid performance. In fact, rarely did I notice any significant frame drops even during more hectic encounters while playing on my LG CX 4K OLED TV. Throughout my playtime, I paired Stellar Blade with the excellent JBL Quantum 910P gaming headset, which allowed the game’s exceptional soundtrack and audio design to really stand out. 

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