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The desire to ‘Git Gud’ isn’t something every gamer will inherently feel when playing Souls Games. There is a special sub-section of the gaming populous that love the pain and anguish that comes part and parcel with every Souls title, and I very much align with those sadistic weirdos. You see, all that torture and the endless pursuit of mechanical mastery leads to the rush of serotonin after beating a seemingly insurmountable boss. As a feeling, it’s something I think that no other genre has ever truly matched.
However, there are gamers out there that simply can’t handle the Souls experience, and I get it. It’s not exactly accessible. So in recent years, we have seen some developers try to create Souls-likes that mimic the typical mechanics found in these games, but lower the difficulty significantly. Most notably, we have seen games like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, Ashen, Blasphemous, Remnant From The Ashes, and Code Vein offer this sort of experience. Well, in the quest to end your Souls-Like FOMO, we have a new challenger in the form of Stray Blade.
Stray Blade aims to offer a streamlined, bite-sized Souls-like adventure, however, much like the Souls-likes that have come before. Stray Blade has a litany of issues that lead to poor balancing, inconsistent combat, and a generally uninteresting world. However, you may get a kick out of this game’s cartoonish take on the genre. So join me for RPG Informer’s review of Stray Blade. Conducted on PS5.
Bountiful, Boring Biomes
Let’s begin by talking about the visuals on show and the world of Acrea. Beginning with the visuals, I have to say that initially, I very much liked the cartoonish approach that this game took. However, after you burn through the initial period of the game, this vibrant and shiny coat of paint begins to chip, showing the layers of beige underneath.
My main problem with the visuals revolves around the fact that each biome blends into the next. A seamless environment that cohesively creates an entire world piece by piece can be great, but there need to be points of interest to give you an inkling of where you are, and where you have been before, and sadly Stray Blade fails to do this.
The biomes the player will visit diversify themselves through weather effects, times of day, and some other features like the areas you will find each respective God-King. However, aside from that, the only thing to help you navigate each zone is a small selection of enemies that feature in every biome, the occasional checkpoint tree, or a forge if you are lucky. The compass and map help to an extent, but ultimately this non-descript environment leads to lots of inadvertent backtracking, an overreliance on the in-game map, and a world that has as much impact on the player as Soulja Boy has had on the console wars.
Fallon on Hard Times
We now move on to the narrative for Stray Blade, which is the fantasy equivalent of dry toast for breakfast. It fills a space, but you would prefer practically anything else of substance. The story sees you fill the shoes of Fallon, a veteran adventurer who has never really pulled up any trees in the hero department. However, after dying and inexplicably resurrecting with a magical stone in his chest, Acrea’s own Tony Stark sets off to solve the mysteries of this world, and find out why the hell he didn’t die.
It’s a fine premise, but the game fails to do anything special with everything that follows. The world is non-distinct, aside from a few lengthy text-based lore dumps that players can uncover; the antagonists are nothing more than placeholders to keep you soldiering on, and most offensively, the game arrests the player to deliver every flimsy plot point.
Need to drop some exposition? Here’s a static cutscene of a conversation. Need to build the relationship between the two main characters? Well, we can’t do it on the go, so stop right where you are. Hell, you can’t even die and restart without sitting through a fifteen-second cutscene, which mainly exists to cram in a quip from Boji every time. It’s charming once, acceptable twice, but by the fortieth time, you’ll yearn for a skip button. How did Jak and Daxter make the same thing so enjoyable and quirky?
That is a microcosm of the game’s other core issue. The writers think they are both expert storytellers, and hilarious. It’s something I have seen in games like Forspoken, where the writers will make their heroes these happy-go-lucky archetypes that seemingly stumble their way to victory, and do so with a catchphrase after each punch. That works for Peter Parker, but in this case, it makes the main characters seem like obnoxious assholes.
It’s not quite as bad as Frey and her bangle, but what it does do, is dilute the story. This game aims to tell an otherworldly fantasy epic where the fate of the world is at stake. Yet at almost every opportunity, the main character makes a snide comment about the world, his companion, occasionally breaks the fourth wall to have a jab at the player too, and generally oozes incompetence. You can practically count all the super-successful and likable asshole characters in existence on one hand, so I don’t understand why developers keep making this mistake.
No Heart, No Soul
Here’s the thing about Souls games. They tend to have subtle, often incomprehensible stories unless you are paying close attention. So it would be logical to think that, if you skipped the cutscenes, which I urge you to do, you might have a good time playing Stray Blade. After all, combat is king in a souls game. This is why it is so unbelievably disappointing that Stray Blade offers some of the most inconsistent and mind-numbing combat within the genre.
In an ideal world, I believe that this game could have been successful if they pivoted and offered a hack-and-slash title with Souls elements. That’s essentially what it is if you turn the difficulty settings right down to their minimum. But alas, we have a game that mirrors practically all the Souls staples, and really badly too. The parrying mechanic, which the game all but forces you to use, is so hard to master because almost all enemies have delays in their attacks. This is fine for Bosses where you expect a certain layer of choreography to win, but this persists in basic skirmishes, leading to cheap deaths that slow progression in what is otherwise a very straightforward game.
To that point, the melee combat feels very basic, where players will exhaust their pitiful energy bar and then back away promptly to avoid getting hit. Heavy attacks are way too slow, so get used to rapid attacks before distancing yourself from enemies. Then, if you run out of energy, which is very easy to do as attacks eat huge chunks of the bar, you’ll then get stun-locked, leading to three, maybe four hits before you can retreat or retort.
I could get all technical about it, but it’s not worth either your or my time. The game makes no effort to make their combat systems blend together, so why should you or I try to make excuses for them? All you need to know is that you can block, but it’s not worth it from a stamina perspective; you can attack freely, but it will often lead to you getting decimated unless you exercise a ridiculous amount of caution, and your saving grace, the parry function, is about as easy to control as a toddler loaded up on Skittles.
Ratchet and W**k
We then come to the obligatory skill tree section, because it can’t be a modern RPG without a skill tree, now can it? Ah, but Stray Blade sets itself out from the pack when it comes to skill trees. It’s just a shame that it’s an outlandish design choice that doesn’t seem to be made for any clear reason other than, presumably, someone who designed the weapons in this game getting mad that players weren’t using all the models they created.
The only time I have seen this done somewhat successfully was within the Ratchet and Clank series, but even then, I wasn’t a fan. If I find a weapon I really like, I would rather have the option to make it the best it can be, adding perks, mods, and incantations to ensure it grows in damage as I progress.
Sadly though, Stray Blade really wants to see players change their load out every time they visit a forge, and ties arbitrary buffs like health increases to random polearms and swords. This would be fine if they were all balanced and fun options, but some are clearly much better than others. Take the Fire Mace, for example; it’s so slow that even with impeccable timing. You’ll struggle to land a blow without getting stun-locked.
What this game hasn’t quite grasped is that when Ratchet and Clank did this, they did it with a range of genuinely interesting guns, like Sheepinators, Buzz Blades, Mr. Zurkon Gloves, and more. So using this model for slightly altered Rapiers, Cutlasses, and Greatswords just doesn’t cut the mustard.
If you liked this game’s attempt at cartoonish Souls gameplay, or just want to dive into the more challenging From Software epics, then these are the titles for you:
- Remnant: From The Ashes
- Code Vein
- Scarlet Nexus
- Elden Ring
The end result of this review is a real shame, because I truly wanted to get behind Stray Blade. It has a reasonably good premise, the promise of a dynamic duo in effect a la Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank, and Souls combat that aired on the side of hack and slash rather than relentless, hyper-precise melee action. However, this game may have all the composite parts of a Souls game, but it manages to take each one and royally mess it up.
The combat, which these games live and die by, is clunky, frustrating, inconsistent, and gets repetitive about a third into the game. Then you have the story, which is pretty lackluster, and the game will hold you prisoner for each conversation and lore dump, so chances are that you will skip it all anyway. Also, the main characters shoot for comedic and end up being a blend of obnoxiously sarcastic and overly laid back, which plays into the latest tired trend of sardonic, quippy Marvel-esque heroes.
The problems don’t stop there, as the setting is so cookie-cutter that it’s hard to gauge where you have already explored, the animations are often buggy and cannot be skipped, the RPG skill tree is tied to individual weapons for no real reason other than forcing players to use lesser tools, and overall, the game lacks any sort of standout feature that makes you want to come back for more.
In the end, Stray Blade somewhat lives up to its name, in the sense that it is an attempt at cracking the Souls genre that swings wide of its target, and leaves itself open to slaughter. Do yourself a favor; just play Elden Ring.
- Cartoon visuals that are vibrant and inviting
- Vocal performances are great, even if the characters aren’t
- Boss fights showcase the best aspects of the combat system
- Plenty of collectibles to keep you busy, if that’s your thing.
- Biomes and locations are so similar; you’ll likely get lost
- The main duo and the story offer nothing worth engaging with
- The combat system is far too clunky to brand itself as a Souls-like
- The RPG skill tree tied to weapon progression was a weird choice
Callum Played this game for a total of eighteen hours, burning through the main story and beating all three god-kings on the lowest difficulty, but did try out the harder difficulties to get a full feel of the title from all angles. Due to the piss poor navigation and the generally uninteresting gameplay, it’s doubtful that he will return for more.
Question: Is Stray Blade A Souls Game?
Answer: In the most literal sense, no, as it is not a title developed by From Software, who make Soulsborne titles. However, it is a Souls-like, taking the tried and tested FromSoft formula and tweaking it slightly to offer an altered experience. In this case, a more lighthearted, and less difficult one.
Question: How Long is Stray Blade?
Answer: If you aren’t burning through the story for review purposes like myself, and play on a reasonably challenging difficulty, I would wager that players will complete the game in around 20-25 hours. Then if you want to 100% the game, you’ll be looking at closer to 30-35 hours.
Question: Who Made Stray Blade?
Answer: Stray Blade was made by Point Blank Games and published by 505 Games. Point Blank Games is an independent studio based in Berlin, and this is their debut title.
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