Stellar Blade PS5 demo is as OTT as we hoped | Hands-on impressions

by on March 30, 2024

Given how much of the marketing for Stellar Blade has focused on jiggle physics and “skin suits”, I should be forgiven for going into the demo not expecting all that much in terms of quality. Usually when a game dev puts the T&A front and centre it means they’re trying to distract you from something. But unless there’s a sudden dive in quality after the first major story boss, I think Stellar Blade might be an exception to the “all ass, no class” rule.

Long story short (or shortish), I played through the PS5 demo for SHIFT UP’s upcoming action game, and was pleasantly surprised. I’m no prude when it comes to skintight battlesuits (why, I have four in the wardrobe), but I wasn’t expecting the game to feel so smooth and well-crafted. The story is beyond me, for now, but suffice to say that you are Eve, an augmented super soldier battling against alien mutants that have decimated Earth.

Stellar Blade

It plays like a cross between Devil May Cry 5 and Nier Automata, with high-spectacle combat, combos, perfect dodges, parries, and special moves. It’s also incredibly responsive, with a generous parry and dodge window even on Normal difficulty (though you can switch to Story mode if you’re struggling). There’s a few too many effects going on for me, and I had to remove motion blur and reduce the screenshake to get comfortable.

Eve has a primary and heavy attack, as well as several special moves that can only be unleashed when you’ve built up enough energy, gained by parrying and dealing damage. It takes a while to build this energy up, so you can’t spam these attacks. Linking combos and nailing the timing can lead to some truly dazzling combat moves, which you’ll need, given some of the monsters we see just in the demo.

In between combat you can scan the environment with your drone, piloted by a guy called Adam who acts as your guide and support. Climbable ledges allow you to reach high points to find hidden chests and collectibles, or currency and items for upgrading and boosting Eve’s skills.

Stellar Blade

There are five skill trees, although only three are unlocked in the demo. You spend XP to unlock nodes to increase damage and defence, but also to add skills to your repertoire such as a Blink move that lets you avoid an enemy’s lethal attack, which will do devastating damage if you don’t move quickly enough.

Most of Eve’s gear and equipment isn’t available at the moment, but you can equip or unequip her Exosuit, and you may be able to find a few other upgrades if you explore thoroughly. There are shortcuts similar to a Soulslike, with paths opening up that allow you to loop back around to Rest Camps where you can heal, restock your curatives and buy consumables. Special Rest Camps allow you to upgrade further, or craft new gear items such as entire new Exosuits.

Enemies respawn when you rest, but death doesn’t necessarily send you back to one, as you respawn before the last encounter – and there are no corpse runs either. If anything, Stellar Blade is Souls-lite, sharing more in common with DMC than anything. The world has hints of Nier: Automata, however, evident in some of the aesthetics and themes.

Stellar Blade

The demo doesn’t run for long, and culminates in a rooftop bossfight against a huge, grotesque creature called Abaddon. It’s a tough fight that calls on everything you’ve learned so far, but it’s not insurmountable. I beat it first try by the skin of my teeth, but I expect much tougher challenges to await. When you do beat the demo, you can go into the Boss Challenge mode and test your mettle against Abaddon with more skills unlocked.

At this point, it’s likely the biggest hurdle for Stellar Blade will be story. This is Ninja Blade levels of cyborgs versus mutants madness, but if it manages to tell a coherent story amongst all the over-the-top spectacle and Waifu costumes, Stellar Blade’s high-quality action and exploration will sell the rest. From the explosive intro to the final boss battle, the demo is an excellent showcase for what’s in store, and has me super excited to play more.