Despite not being billed as one of the biggest and best upcoming PS5 games or upcoming Xbox games, Stray Blade really caught my eye late last year as I came across the game by happenstance. My love for soulslike games, even with a flurry of them releasing in 2022, had me looking out for even more frustrating games that would cause me to break my controller. Finally getting my hands on Stray Blade, I had that frustrating feeling, but not because of difficulty.
Stray Blade puts you in the shoes of Farren, an adventurer looking for the ancient Valley of Acrea. After an incident, you find yourselves adrift in these lands, looking for your lost equipment and chasing a mysterious creature that seems to be leading you somewhere.
For what it’s worth, Stray Blade is undoubtedly a soulslike game, but one that is more approachable than others I’ve experienced. So long as you defeat the set enemies in an area, they won’t return if you die. Combat encounters can be sped up by finishers, which I’ll talk about soon.
However, combat is still challenging for two reasons. The first, intentional reason is the difficulty set by the developers, which sees enemies do brutal damage to Farren if you’re not careful. The second, unintentional reason is that combat is extremely janky. Dodging and parrying, Farren’s two main forms of defending themselves, feel like they have issues with timing. While weapons do have great weight to them, they feel as if they don’t connect. This isn’t including some of the other bugs I experienced either, like long-dead enemies resurrecting and simply standing there, or enemies that don’t even retaliate to your sword slices.
That being said, combat leads into the best part of Stray Blade. Upon damaging an enemy’s poise enough, you can initiate a deadly finisher, making the time spent in between resting much easier. Despite the game’s bright visuals and a colourful world, the brutality of the finishers is exhilarating. Whether you are delivering final blows as Farren or getting demolished yourself after losing all of your health, they’re consistently exciting. Enemies with spears will impale you onto the floor and finish you off, or wolf-like creatures will gnaw at your corpse.
The epic finishers, however, completely juxtapose the rest of my time with Stray Blade’s preview build. Everything else, if not sluggish or janky, is broken and buggy. The inventory screen is bland and made my character’s sword appear in two different places, enemies will spin on the spot as you approach them, and despite having a decent PC build, I came into problems with stuttering, as well as the fact the fans on my PC went into overdrive to help run the game.
This preview build certainly doesn’t fill me with hope that Stray Blade is ready for launch, despite the release date not being too far away, and is a stark contrast from the smooth look that we saw in the reveal trailer for the game.
That doesn’t mean that Stray Blade can’t be something good. While there are a lot of issues that need to be patched up and smoothed out, and I need to see more of the story and worldbuilding before making a judgement call on the narrative, many of Stray Blade’s problems could be fixed before or after launch. However, players excited for this indie soulslike may want to prepare themselves for an initially buggy experience.