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Stellar Blade’s combat is an eclectic homage to the greats on PS5

Stellar Blade’s combat may take some getting used to at first, but when it gets going Eve becomes an unstoppable force in the PS5 RPG.

Stellar Blade combat: Eve wearing glasses and a gold outfit next to the silver-haired Dante

Stellar Blade’s combat is a bit of a mixed bag. Developer Shift Up recently confirmed my suspicions that the new sci-fi RPG is a smorgasbord of systems pulled from the likes of Sekiro, God of War, and Devil May Cry – the influence of each I’ve felt strongly throughout my 30-hour playthrough of the PS5 exclusive. At first, I found it a nebulous mess, but with each new skill unlocked and a layer of depth added I eventually grew to love it, and appreciate its complexity.

The opening hours of Stellar Blade are challenging, not necessarily because the Naytiba of Eidos 7 are particularly cumbersome to defeat, but because everything in the RPG game feels so slow. Confined to basic melee combos and the odd Beta skill, Eve has very little agency in battle. Every fiber in my body wants to chain combos and nuke encounters like Dante, but instead I’m relegated to getting hits in when I can like Wolf. I found myself thinking ‘what’s the point of having these incredible battle abilities and animations if I can’t make use of them?’ – it all felt at odds with itself.

This is, really, me just being impatient and petulant as always, because the layering of progression in Stellar Blade’s combat is transformative in the best possible way. As Eve grows in power, so too does your ability to control the flow of battle. By the time I had unlocked all of its systems, Stellar Blade had evolved from a measured Soulslike game into a sort of hack ‘n’ slash. I say ‘sort of’ because, somehow, Shift Up manages to retain the fundamental rhythm of its combat despite Eve’s ascension, ensuring I can’t just slap on Vergil’s Theme and go sicko mode on anything and everything that gets in my way.

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Much of this, I feel, is down to the way Stellar Blade grounds itself in its defensive abilities – Perfect Dodge and Perfect Parry. There is no better feeling in Stellar Blade than repelling or evading a huge attack, before launching into a flurry of blows. Taking the initiative in this deathly dance is fun from a power fantasy standpoint, but the real joy lies in mercilessly punishing your opponents – it’s the feeling I imagine football players get when they put in a soul-destroying tackle. Thinking about it, Stellar Blade is a game that doesn’t just gradually offer more ways to defeat your opponent, it gradually offers you more ways to humiliate them too.

This balance between the disparate forces that have so heavily impacted Stellar Blade’s combat is best felt during boss encounters – the designs of which are excellent. Though you can get plenty of practice in by using weaker Naytiba as glorified training dummies, the major leagues are where you’ll get to flex combo, ability, and utility all at once.

Stellar Blade combat: Eve staring down two Naytiba

I fondly recall one encounter where the boss didn’t get a hit on me for pretty much the entire fight. Between parrying its onslaught of blows, timing my Blinks to dodge lethal attacks before striking from its blind spot, and straight up canceling out undodgeable moves with Beta skills proved once and for all that the best offense is an impenetrable defense – in Stellar Blade’s case, anyway.

Unfortunately, there were elements of Stellar Blade’s combat that I just couldn’t get on with. While the use of AoE skills is necessary when dealing with multiple enemies at once, isolating Naytiba when you’re out of juice is, at times, impossible. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to pull a single enemy, only for the Avengers to assemble and stagger-lock me to death – aggro ranges are incredibly long, too. Consumables like grenades that can knock enemies down don’t last long enough for me to thin the herd, either, so everything falls apart pretty quickly. The game wants me to isolate each foe as a separate duel à la FromSoft’s hits, but you don’t attain the means to effectively deal with multiple foes in successive bouts until much later on.

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The scaling on ranged weapons also feels off the later the game goes, unless you build specifically for it (I wouldn’t recommend it). You can easily expel a whole magazine of slugs, only for even mid-range Naytiba to come out pretty much unscathed. Some ranged options seem to work better on certain enemies than others, but by the end of the game I was only really using them to pull foes from afar, or quickly remove the lowest level Naytiba from the fray.

When Stellar Blade’s combat works, it’s a triumph. Shift Up has managed the herculean task of synthesizing some of the most diametrically opposed combat systems from some of the best games out there – for the most part, anyway. If you don’t vibe with Stellar Blade’s system straight away, hang in there. Because if you do, you’ll be treated to some of the most engaging battles you’ll get to enjoy this year.

For more of the latest from Shift Up’s maiden PS5 voyage, check out what the critics had to say in our roundup of Stellar Blade reviews, as well as how to access the Deluxe Edition content. While you’re here, don’t forget to follow us on Google News so you’ll never miss a beat again.