Debuts don’t get much stronger than Stellar Blade. Korean developer Shift Up – already financially flush from the success of its saucy smartphone gacha NIKKE: Goddess of Victory – has chosen the path of most resistance, turning its hand to AAA territory with this rambunctious action-adventure outing. Despite the inherent risks involved, it’s stuck the landing like an acrobatic anime heroine, backflipping her way between deadly laser beams. That is to say, this is a PS5 console exclusive well worth playing.

You are Eve, a buxom super soldier with an unshakeable resolve. Earth has been inhabited by an extraterrestrial race of Cthulhu-esque aberrations named Naytibas, and it’s up to you and a skeleton crew of allies to bring the fight to the otherworldly invaders. A largely trite story involving artificial intelligence ensues, as the studio navel gazes familiar themes, like what it means to be human. While the narrative never really hits the emotional beats it’s gunning for, largely due to a dreadful English dub, the script does at least commit, and there’s plenty of lore to pore over if you have the patience to read through the hundreds upon hundreds of text logs you’ll uncover over the course of the 20-ish hour campaign.

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Combat straddles a middle-ground between Dark Souls and Devil May Cry, and perhaps can be best compared to the likes of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and God of War Ragnarok, where rhythmic parrying plays a pivotal role in the loop. Enemies can be staggered by successfully defending against their assaults, leading to a counter-attacking style that’s much more fulfilling than it may seem at first. While the action is undoubtedly at its best in one-on-one scenarios, an enormous skill tree which slowly fleshes out your combat capabilities keeps things fresh from start to finish, and gives you plenty of tools to see off your antagonists.

Said aggressors adopt sublime monster designs, both artistically and mechanically. Foes take various grotesque forms, and while the gameplay largely sticks to its combat blueprint throughout, you’re constantly being asked to refine your fighting style in order to progress. This is accentuated during the many boss encounters, where you’re forced to think on your feet through multiple phases of battle. While the action can be demanding on its default difficulty, a smartly implemented Story Mode includes assists which aid with timing up defensive counters, providing a helping hand without entirely automating the immensely gratifying act of executing a perfect dodge or parry.

There’s more to the game than cut-throat combat, of course, and the developer has a good grasp of pacing as it slows down the flow of the action when it senses you need a breather. Some light platforming aspects can frustrate due to a lack of precision, but the puzzles are largely enjoyable, and the developer even incorporates a handful of different hacking minigames to keep things feeling fresh. Furthermore, while the vast majority of the campaign subscribes to a wide-linear format – whereby you’re funnelled in one predominant direction but given the opportunity to explore off the beaten path – a couple of larger-scale levels give you the freedom of a small sandbox. There are even some Resident Evil-style shooter segments.

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These open world areas are generally small enough to accommodate the limited traversal options in your arsenal, and while they have few meaningful landmarks, they do give the adventure a little space to breathe. Side-quests largely boil down to following waypoints and interacting with quest markers, but the developer always adds context to what you’re doing, even if the vast majority of the sub-plots tend to take dark and depressing turns. Exactly how much you engage with the optional content is up to you, but completing everything can effectively double the overall length of the adventure, and there’s a payoff in terms of alternative endings.

Shift Up does show a lack of experience with the way it handles its post-game, however. While titles like God of War Ragnarok allow you to continue your adventure beyond the credits, regardless of what world-changing events have occurred, there’s a hard point of no return here – and when the title tells you in no uncertain terms to wrap up your business, it really means it, because there’s no going back.

That’s a shame because, despite the bleak state of the Earth, it’s a fun place to run around. An absolutely sublime soundtrack – which effortlessly transitions from k-pop to electronic ambience to all-out hair metal – is one of the defining features of the foray, and it never really loses its lustre even after hours of hearing the same audio on loop. The visual identity is also strong: this isn’t quite a technical tour-de-force, but the art direction is excellent, and its targeted 60fps performance remains relatively robust even in the most intense of moments using Balanced mode.

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There’s a fair amount of meat on the game’s bones, too. Eve can unlock all sorts of cosmetic options, from entire outfits through to earrings, and she’s a character you’ll grow an attachment to – even if she is a bit of a beige people pleaser throughout. An obligatory fishing minigame adds some variety to the title’s activities, while collectibles have their own unique reward loops. Some quests conclude with mementos which you can display at your home base, which is a nice touch that adds personality.

Furthermore, as previously alluded to, the gameplay always feels like it’s evolving. It never strays from its counter-attacking underpinning, but as you unlock copious skills, you’ll tap into a more offensive mindset which will make punishing staggered opponents that little bit more exciting. It does mean that starting a new game, with your abilities stripped, can sadly feel like a step backward – but Shift Up has promised that New Game + is coming in a future free update.


Stellar Blade is a slick console debut from a developer clearly on the rise. With an ever-evolving counter-attacking combat system, some superb art direction, and a sensational soundtrack, this is the kind of back-to-basics PS5 outing that fans have been pleading for. A dire English dub and some trite story beats mean the studio still has plenty of room to refine its craft, but Eve’s inaugural outing is largely excellent across the board, and destined to become a firm favourite among PS5 enthusiasts.