Stray Blade Review – Should Have Been Sheathed a Little Longer
Title: Stray Blade
Developer: Point Blank Games
Release Date: April 20, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Action Adventure
By now, Soulsborne experiences need no introduction as the genre becomes more and more saturated. Berlin-based indie developer Point Blank Games attempts to enter this market with their newest project Stray Blade, an action-adventure game that has you take on the role of Farren West, an explorer trapped in Acrea the Lost Valley. Along the way, you meet a wolf-like creature named Boji, who serves as your companion with his own passive skills that can be used in combat. Stray Blade initially captivated me with its interesting premise and impressive visuals but sadly failed on all other fronts as I dived further in.
I’m not sure what’s going on nowadays, but annoying main protagonists that talk a lot seem to be a theme. Farron talks a lot, and not in a good way, and there’s no way to turn it off. On the other hand, your buddy Boji also loves to talk a lot, but not with you as you traverse the world. The game forces you to engage in conversation with him in a cutscene that happens way too often. You can thankfully skip through these scenes, but I don’t understand why the developers didn’t just bake in the dialogue naturally.
The graphical artists at Point Blank Games definitely did a great job creating a visually appealing world here with Acrea. The artwork is stunning, with a colorized storybook appeal that amazes me with each new locale entered. The game also allows you to change and customize the look of your armor with different colored dyes that you find throughout the world. It’s not much, but I did appreciate the option to experiment with different color combinations.
Stray Blade has all the components of a Soulsborne game but doesn’t necessarily execute well on any of those mechanics. For example, you have the bonfire-styled checkpoints that you respawn at, but resting at one neither heals you nor respawns enemies. In fact, after you clear a group of enemies, which the game will tell you if you do, they will never respawn again.
Enemy variety is decent, with soldiers wielding different weapons, elite versions of them, mutated dogs, and spiders, among other creatures. You also can’t fast-travel between these checkpoints, so if you miss activating one, then prepare for tons of backtracking. As you progress through the campaign, you start to gain Metroidvania-style abilities that help you go to previously inaccessible areas, such as zipping through electrical nodes across the map. Exploration is highly encouraged, as there’s always a chest to be found that rewards you with a new weapon or armor blueprint. The game even has a jump, but sadly doesn’t capitalize on the verticality that it introduces.
Combat consists of light and heavy attacks that use up stamina, in addition to a dodge and a parry. You can even backstab too! However, there’s no better way to describe it other than the whole system feels janky and sluggish. Hit boxes tend to be inaccurate, and pretty much every single enemy attack staggers you, whereas nothing you do staggers them. The targeting system is pretty much broken because the game will actively prevent you from switching between enemies. Battle encounters are entirely binary because enemy attacks will always glow either red to indicate you should dodge or blue to indicate you should parry. This essentially makes combat QTE based, which really isn’t what a Soulsborne game should be about. There’s absolutely no freedom of movement as animations are extremely slow, and the input delay is insane.
The progression system here doesn’t make a lot of sense either. There are no raw stats to level up, such as strength, vitality, or dexterity. You do gain experience points from defeating enemies, which in turn levels your overall player up and grants you a skill point. These points can then be spent on unlocking passive abilities such as increased health points or an extra healing flask, but 95% of them are locked behind weapon masteries.
You must first discover a weapon blueprint, craft it at a forge, then achieve mastery in it by using it in combat. Only then can you spend a skill point to unlock the passive ability. Now I like how this game encourages you to try out different weapons to change things up, but I found myself leveling up way faster than I discovered new weapons. At times I had more than 5 unspent skill points because I didn’t find the next weapon blueprint yet.
There’s much to be desired regarding the performance of this title on the PlayStation 5. Mind you, this is a next-gen-only game, so you won’t be finding it on the PS4 or Xbox One. Load times aren’t anything to write home about, but most certainly aren’t fast. The frame rates are terribly unstable, sometimes dropping as low as 20 frames per second and never reaching 60.
The most jarring issue is the screen tears that occur whenever the game autosave or a combat encounter is completed. There are some weird glitches as well, with enemy AI randomly teleporting back to their spawn points. Accessibility options are missing, with the text on the in-game map being so minuscule I have to squint my eyes in front of the screen just to see it.
Now I’m not sure if this was a bug or this was just a design flaw, but particular boss fights are a joke because the AI would just spam the same moves over and over again that can be easily dodged. An example of this is during the Golden Stag fight, where it would continuously slam its head into the ground, rendering the battle to be an extreme disappointment.
By no means is Stray Blade a terrible game, especially considering it’s the second project created by a small group of indie developers, but it’s certainly not a good one, either. There’s a lot of heart here, with a beautifully-crafted world filled with tons of secrets and lore. But it’s extremely hard to see past the clunky two-toned combat and jarring technical issues, even if you are a hardcore Soulsborne fan.
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