Stellar Blade Demo Impressions – Pretty Yet Clunky

    Our first impressions are unfortunately less than stellar.

    With some free time this weekend, I managed to download and play through the Stellar Blade demo. Besides Sand Land from Bandai Namco, Stellar Blade is the biggest release set to drop in April. The game has quickly gained popularity among many PlayStation fans for a number of reasons, with many simply interested in the protagonist, EVE. 

    Naturally, Stellar Blade has drawn many comparisons to NieR: Automata. The NieR series has some of my favorite action RPGs ever, so I’ve been interested in Stellar Blade since it was only known as Project Eve. Marketed as a title with “blisteringly fast combat”, I expected a fun and responsive action RPG going into this demo. Unfortunately, I walked away unable to shake the feeling that Stellar Blade has major struggles with its combat system.

    The trailers presented me with the impression that the combat would be fast, similar to titles from Platinum Games or games like Devil May Cry. The game even opens prompting you to hack and slash your way through enemies. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Stellar Blade is heavy and almost feels sluggish at times in the demo. The best comparison I can draw is the souls-like genre, where attacks must be precisely placed alongside dodges, abilities, and movement. That’s not to say I wanted or expected a mindless hack and slash experience, but a fast, fluid, and tight combat system that put emphasis on timing and input. 

    The combat in Stellar Blade consists of light and heavy attacks, dodging, parrying, and special abilities. While this may sound suitable for a game of this caliber, the real problem lies with the speed and input of the game. The combat we got is held back by considerable input delay, which is noticeable from the very first encounter. Single enemy fights feel sluggish, with a dodge or parry simply not registering due to delay or the seriously slow maneuver speed. Things only get worse in multi-enemy encounters, where locking on almost seems to make things worse.

    Ultimately, this leads to combos feeling clunky and borderline unachievable in some instances. For reference, I experienced the same issues regardless of difficulty as I played through the entire demo in Normal mode and tested segments in Story mode. I do not believe this is a control issue or anything of the sort — this is a core issue with the combat of Stellar Blade

    Combat certainly opens up later on once you’ve acquired more abilities, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a considerable delay in my actions. Numerous times, I felt as if my dodge or parry was not being registered, and that was if I was able to pull one off in between the long-frame attacks. Even if I was confident in my timing, the game displayed otherwise. I’m perplexed about what the developers at Shift Up are going for here with the input delay, as it just does not feel good to play at all. Surprisingly, I’ve not seen very many players discuss this, but it feels like a glaring issue that interrupts everything the game is trying to accomplish.

    Stellar Blade Rated by the ESRB

    Interacting with the environment also felt very clunky at times. The demo offered various segments of platforming and exploration, and some interactive elements felt off. In particular, the swing mechanics and the jump button feel very slow. These controls for navigating the world feel like an afterthought with the clunkiness and limited maneuverability mechanics. 

    As for the narrative, I’m not hooked on it yet. The demo serves as what I believe is the opening segment of the game, with EVE being the only surviving member of her team after a brutal attack. She’s tasked with reclaiming Earth from the Naytiba, creatures wreaking havoc across the world. There’s an interesting premise here, but it’s not enough to make me want to buy the game just yet.

    What did captivate me throughout the demo was the world, however. Level design is exceptional, with real-time physics implemented with buildings crumbling as you traverse the environment. There’s real beauty here, with a desolate, lifeless Earth begging to be explored. Even with the Naytiba threat, nature is still going strong with beautiful scenery, overrun buildings, and even little ponds tucked away in corners of the world.

    I’m very interested in seeing how other areas of Stellar Blade might look, as what we got was fascinating to explore. The possibilities seem endless, as EVE could end up going to very distinctly different regions of Earth to fight back against the Naytiba. This is largely propelled by the game’s art style, as it makes the world a treat to look at. I am looking forward to seeing more.

    Alongside the world, the other major high point of the demo was its music. I was very impressed with the vocal tracks used throughout, as they helped sell me on this world and assisted with immersion. This atmosphere it creates only makes me want to spend time in the full release. With Monaca Studio & Keiichi Okabe responsible for 40% of the soundtrack, this is shaping up to be an OST I’ll absolutely be listening to regardless of whether I play Stellar Blade at launch. 

    Stellar Blade

    Overall, I’m not sold at all after playing the demo. The combat feels incredibly clunky, with what almost feels like a delay when selecting basic actions like dodging, parrying, or a heavy attack. This could be a natural design decision from the developers at Shift Up, yet I can’t help but feel the game would feel so much better with a sped-up response time and mechanics. There are plenty of high points here, with the world and music offering an immersive environment to explore. However, combat is such an integral part of a title like this, and I worry that the game will only get more frustrating in the full release.

    I wanted to love this demo, but the highs of the music and world weren’t enough to shake the combat barriers I encountered. While I’m sure many will end up buying the game for EVE alone, Stellar Blade is a title I’m personally going to wait on. A lot of my issues with the demo could be resolved through ability upgrades and other such things, but at this point, I’m not willing to pre-order the title and find out for myself.

    Stellar Blade launches on April 26 exclusively for PlayStation 5. Check out the available editions of the game here.

    Noah Hunter
    Noah Hunter
    Noah is Final Weapon’s Editor-in-Chief. He co-founded the website in June 2019 and has been writing for it ever since. In total, he has over five years of writing experience across many publications, including IGN Entertainment. His favorite series include Xeno and Final Fantasy.

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