Stellar Blade Hands-on Preview – Stylish slice ‘n’ dice

Posted on March 28, 2024

So much of the discourse around Stellar Blade online has been in reference to its “too sexy” main protagonist, but you need to ignore those silly online distractions, log off of X and get yourself prepared for this slick and stylish action-adventure game… because it’s pretty bloody epic, even in its opening section.

A playable demo will be available from March 30, allowing you to check out Stellar Blade ahead of launch. We managed to get our hands on the demo a little early, and if this slice is any indication, we’re in for a dramatic, violent, intense and action-packed ride of the best kind.

With progress carrying over to the full release, the demo kicks off from the very start of the game when Eve, a member of the 7th Airborne Squad is sent to Earth on a mission to reclaim the planet from Naytiba, begins her journey. In the early stages, Stellar Blade brings its combat into firm focus; Naytiba, the gross-looking alien creatures with body parts and limbs growing out of places they really shouldn’t, are a constant threat, and it’s immediately satisfying slicing and dicing them with Eve.

“The opening lays the foundation for some wild storytelling ahead…”

It doesn’t take long for the intensity to ramp up the introduction shows forces that are well out of your control, and some very melodramatic scenes leave Eve alone on her journey to save the world. Naturally. There’s a level of over-the-top seriousness that makes the world of Stellar Blade feel dangerous. A war is taking place, and as you glide across the battlefield taking out enemies, there’s a sense of urgency to defend your fellow soldiers. The opening lays the foundation for some wild storytelling ahead, and I was drawn in straight away.

In a game that is set to be very combat-heavy, the various systems at play are more than up to the task. Stellar Blade uses familiar systems, with light and heavy attacks, and a parry that is key to your success. Not only will this key defensive tool give you a moment to lay into your enemies, but it also helps to quickly reduce the cooldown on your more powerful abilities, which are super effective in turning the tide of a battle.

Grunts are fairly easy to dispatch, but some tougher enemies will require you to parry, block and think more tactically; fighting is fast-paced, but foes have relatively readable attacks that make for a fast and flowing combat system that is endlessly gratifying. Enemies with shields (that are somehow growing out of their body, yuk) and a couple of larger boss battles are on show in the demo, giving you a taste of the various challenges you can expect. Stellar Blade walks a fine line when it comes to being challenging; I did fall to the boss once, but the other enemies on the map didn’t give me too much grief, and there’s potential for real chaos in the future. The variety of baddies mixed with satisfying strikes had me eager to explore every nook and cranny looking for opportunities to slay.

Before long, I found myself in a comfortable rhythm of taking down monsters, finding loot, solving mini-puzzles and platforming challenges, before moving on to the next section of the map. A quick press of the scan button shows opportunities for secrets around you; there was one chest I couldn’t find the code for to unlock, which I’m already eager to go back and figure out. Moments like finding a password on a fallen soldier feel pretty simple so far, so I’m hoping for some more complex brain teasers as the adventure rolls on.

Vending machines with a nearby seat serve as a checkpoint and offer a chance of reprieve, for you to regain your health and respawn enemies in the area, along with upgrades and buying from the shop. While you’ll only have the chance to focus on a couple of upgrades during the demo time, there are many options to tailor your fighting style. One early ability called Blink lets you dodge an enemy by gliding through them, allowing for them to be super vulnerable as you lay into them from behind. There’s a simulation combat arena easily accessible here to jump in and test out your new additions, an inclusion that feels vital for a game like Stellar Blade where learning on the fly could mean being overwhelmed.

Stellar Blade makes an incredibly strong first impression. Visually, Eve and the disgusting monsters stand out against the post-apocalyptic Earth, streets full of debris and falling-apart buildings to search through. Framerate was smooth as butter throughout, boasting 60fps which will ensure combat always feels slick.

While Stellar Blade didn’t necessarily blow me away with innovation, it feels like a tight and polished experience, with a familiar yet satisfying gameplay loop that is dialed up to 100 when it comes to combat and style. I can’t wait to play more.

Stellar Blade releases for PlayStation 5 on Friday, 26 April, with the playable demo available on March 30.