Stellar Blade Review – Not just a pretty face

Reviewed April 25, 2024 on PS5




April 26, 2024


SHIFT UP Corporation


SHIFT UP Corporation

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A malevolent force has devastated planet Earth, and you’re the only one who can save it, by slicing and dicing your way through vicious creatures and saving humankind. This is the well-worn premise of Stellar Blade, a focused and thrilling action game that takes a lot of tried-and-true concepts from the genre and implements them excellently.

The developers at SHIFT UP in South Korea may have cut their teeth in mobile games, but their AAA console-focused subsidiary SHIFT UP Second EVE Studio has knocked this first big attempt out of the park, creating a captivating world with exciting combat and stunning visuals that make it feel fresh, even if its ideas aren’t particularly innovative.

You play as EVE, 7th Airborne Squad member who arrives from the Colony to save the world from a bunch of nasty creatures called Naytiba, aggressive, alien-like monstrosities with limbs growing out of places they shouldn’t. As you piece together the mysteries of the past in the ruins of human civilization, a deeper story unravels about what the Naytiba are all about, with a lot of violence along the way, of course.

EVE, the main protagonist in Stellar Blade, is gorgeous. Let’s just get that out of the way early. This has caused “controversy” online as gamers everywhere banter about how she might be unrealistically attractive, despite her being based on a real actor. The thing is, EVE is certainly not the only part of Stellar Blade that looks good. In fact, the entire visual DNA of the game can be broken down and pulled apart in terms of its unsubtle contrast between beauty and horror. Her main companion, Adam, is a gorgeous man. Other characters EVE meets along the way? Gorgeous. The environments? Well, they’re desolate, beaten-down and dilapidated, crawling with horrifying monsters… but they’re gorgeous as well. Cut scenes are flashy, gory, superbly animated and perfectly choreographed. The entire experience has a polished shine to it that gives it an otherworldly, satisfying edge, and I loved exploring every abandoned, run-down inch of it.

“Cut scenes are flashy, gory, superbly animated and perfectly choreographed.”

It’s impossible not to call it a bit of a sexy experience, the kind of action previously reserved for titles like Bayonetta and Lollipop Chainsaw. While certainly not as irreverent and wild as those titles, Stellar Blade manages to find its own rhythm, dancing between slickly animated finishers that rip foes to literal pieces and heartfelt conversations between its pretty-as-a-picture perfectly proportioned main cast. EVE, in particular, comes off as incredibly likable. Her lack of understanding of the old world starts innocently enough, as she ruminates over old books in a library, referring to them as a ‘waste of resources’ as the chunky things only hold 1MB of data. But through her mission, as she learns more about the past, present and future, she’s easy to root for. She has a need to help others, no matter what, and that white-hat naivety goes a long way in making her an empathetic hero.

In real terms, EVE spends her time exploring various biomes, ripping apart Naytiba’s with fast-paced flowing combat and inching towards completing her mission to save humankind, with some twists along the way. The story darts between silly irreverence in some of its side stories to deep, thoughtful prose about what it means to be human, with some melancholic vibes and sad endings aplenty. Unsurprisingly, some dark things have happened that led the world to where it is today, and it’s treated with the appropriate reflective appreciation.

It’s in side stories that Stellar Blade begins to feel like it’s iterating on a solid template of open-world game design. These diversions appear all over the map in the main hub town, or on a bulletin board, with various citizens needing help. This ranges from looking for somebody’s missing sibling, to aiding a trapped drone, to catching and collecting fish. When you add fishing as a side activity, you know you’re walking in familiar territory. At least they don’t always go to the expected script; an early side mission has an owner looking for their lost cat, and unfortunately, doesn’t have the happy ending you’d anticipate from regular fetch quests in the genre.

Despite some of their simplicity in nature – many of the game’s side quests simply result in “go here, find the thing, come back” – there are others that are a little more interesting, and their silliness in tone shows that the game is willing to have cute moments, despite the heavy and dark subject matter. Finding hairdressing supplies so that EVE can have a less drab hairstyle, or collecting the various drink cans around the world (relics of a different era) is full of tongue-in-cheek nods, complete with EVE posing with them as if she’s just been cast in a new Coca Cola commercial. It’s some nice levity between finding corpses and giving bad news about soldiers fallen in combat.

Some of the larger open biomes can feel a little bit sparse in terms of things to do; if you’ve grabbed enough side quests from town, there are points of interest on the map, but otherwise, the large areas feel like a bit of filler between major story beats. You can also find fallen warriors, indicated by a hum from your DualSense, which once found gives boosts to your max HP and discover new Gear pieces to enhance your stats. Supply camps are also found in the world, along with being regular checkpoints during main missions. They’re a lovely reprieve from the intensity of combat as activating them triggers a shade sail and a cute dream-catcher to pop up and appear, along with a record player playing some chill tunes for you to sit and take it all in. Many games offer rest points, but Stellar Blade brings enough of a vibe that my mind felt truly rested there, rather than just being a campfire to trigger as a save point.

Functionally, their use is very familiar; these camps regenerate your HP, respawn enemies, and serve as locations to buy supplies and upgrade your skills. They also allow you to upgrade your Weapon Core, improve your attack damage, increase your Tumbler (health flask) amount, or add Gear sockets. Gear varies in rarity to offer decent playstyle options, including an increase to your shield, HP recovery for killing enemies, or adding attack speed, critical hit rate, and skill power. Lastly, you can upgrade your Exospines (which give bigger, bolder perks), and of course, make stylish new Nanosuits for EVE to wear. These are completely cosmetic, and won’t help anyone arguing that the game is not sexy, but I enjoyed fitting her out in some iconic lewks, complete with fancy earrings and librarian glasses. Trust me, she pulls them off. All of this makes for an overly familiar yet pleasing group of numbers to increase, stats to boost and visual flourishes to give your EVE her own identity.

The bombastic opening to Stellar Blade gives a strong first impression, and the action-packed set pieces continue to roll from there. As you move through the main story, it’s full of over-the-top moments that, put simply, are bloody fun to watch. Buildings crumble and fall, EVE sprints and dives through falling debris that misses her by an inch every time, and boss monsters are slashed through, limbs lopped off and blood spurting with reckless abandon. It’s a feast for the eyes, and I never got tired of the strong production values offering epic moment after epic moment, cementing EVE as a badass action hero worth cheering for.

“…strong production values offering epic moment after epic moment, cementing EVE as a badass action hero worth cheering for.”

All of this is meaningless if combat itself doesn’t hold up, but thankfully this is where Stellar Blade shines the most. It begins simply, with light and heavy attacks, along with a block, parry and dodge. The block and parry button is the same, so you can continuously hold it down to ensure you won’t take damage, but you’ll need to risk the timing to be able to parry effectively. This is important, as the more successful parries you do – noted by a satisfying swords-clanging metallic sound effect – the faster your Beta skills will charge, allowing you to really maximise your damage output. As you progress, more abilities will charge and build up which is even more devastating, and the delightful rhythm of loading them up and unleashing them on enemies is an incredible feeling.

There’s no shortage of skill points to continue leveling up these skills, and even resetting skill trees is an easily available resource so you can experiment with different moves and combos. Some are more useful for crowd control, while others chip away at an enemy’s shield, leaving them open to more brutal attacks. Stellar Blade boasts 60FPS throughout the experience, and that makes fights feel buttery-smooth, which anecdotally feels true, even with monsters flooding the screen and particle effects at their most flashy and egregious. If you time a series of parries perfectly, that leaves them open to a Retribution attack, which is enough to wipe out most creatures and takes a massive chunk off a boss’s health bar. They also look stupendous. The animation and choreography of these gory finisher-style moves are always gratifying, stunning and violent, and I never felt tired of them. An Ambush attack on an unaware Naytiba usually results in an instant kill too, so that can be helpful when trying to make it to another campsite in one piece, saving on battles.

Combat can absolutely be difficult, but I wouldn’t compare it to a Souls-like necessarily. It’s very fast-paced and fluid, and even smaller baddies can catch you by surprise and take you out if you’re not careful, with many waiting around corners or just inside doorways ready to pounce. While camps are very frequent, I never felt the need to go and grind to earn skill points or upgrades. I found the generous supply from doing several side missions to be plenty. Weapon damage is essentially tied to boss battles, so you’ll only be able to upgrade that key stat when completing a major story section. I felt like the challenge of the experience grew with me at the right pace. It doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility in stats for those who like to tinker, but I liked its simplicity, meaning I could focus fully on the adventure ahead without being bogged down in menus and inventory.

The Naytiba themselves vary from grotesque creatures with gnashing teeth and giant claws to robot variants that shoot missiles. Some of their designs are incredibly memorable in the best, most disgusting way. One boss has a spinning track on its head, made out of statues and limbs as it hulks and spins towards you, eager to tear you to shreds. Another is a gigantic pulsating organ with glowing weak points that spit at you. They look straight out of a Silent Hill nightmare for the most part, and I mean that as a compliment.

Another layer of combat is your droid, which eventually converts into a gun for some third-person shooting action. While having a ranged option can be useful, most enemies run at you on sight, so I found myself much more comfortable using EVE’s melee attacks. There are a couple of sections where those melee options are taken away, however, forcing you to use the gun instead. This temporarily changes Stellar Blade into a linear horror third-person shooter, which is a fun change of pace, considering these chapters don’t overstay their welcome. I just wish there was more of a reason to use the ranged ammunition outside of these moments.

There is a mix of combat, platforming and puzzle-solving throughout the adventure, but the intense battles are absolutely the strongest out of the three. Early puzzles mostly revolve around finding a power supply and don’t offer much variety, while hacking futuristic treasure chests for loot delivers satisfying but short-lived mini-games as you crack them open, sometimes finding passwords on nearby corpses. Some side missions involve activating switches in certain orders and figuring out how to access hidden areas in the environment, but it’s never taxing enough to be called a true brainteaser. EVE could also take some advice from Mario on her jumping skills; she’s a bit floaty and imprecise, making some platforming sections more frustrating than they should be. It’s never ‘throw the controller at the wall’ levels of pain, but it’s irritating nonetheless, especially when some sections don’t offer much room for error.

If any of that bothers you though, you can be easily soothed by the K-Pop that is featured throughout Stellar Blade, which is chock full of earworms that make for one of the more memorable gaming soundtracks in years. From the charming soothing vocal vibes as you explore the world in front of you, to the fast-paced intense rhythmic beats during boss fights full of drama, to the chill AF sounds of resting at your camp. It’s delightful, and crafted just for this experience, adding some aural relief to a world that is otherwise harsh, scary, and somewhat lonely. Beauty amongst the chaos, to be sure.




  • Incredibly polished and satisying combat experience
  • Truly stunning visuals with buttery-smooth framerate
  • Familiar systems that are executed extremely well
  • K-Pop soundtrack is an absolute triumph


  • Platforming and puzzling not as strong as combat
  • Ranged weapon feels underused
  • Doesn't bring much in the way of innovation

Stellar Blade bursts out of the gate looking stunning, full of jaw-dropping set pieces, intense action and gory violence, and maintains that pace throughout. Underneath this flashy action game are a lot of systems that we’ve seen before, but despite what can feel like a lack of innovation at times, it never feels stale or unenticing due to its overwhelming sense of style and polished, gratifying combat. For every familiar puzzle or annoying platforming section, there’s a brutal boss battle or incredible over-the-top sequence that pulled me back in. Stellar Blade is a joy, a deliciously crafted adventure jam-packed with dramatic thrills.