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Stellar Blade

Stellar Blade demo preview: Soul of Nier, heart of Souls

We got a sneak preview of the free demo of Shift-Up's upcoming title and were very surprised.

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With Palworld's permission, we can all admit that one of the biggest surprises for all gamers has been Helldivers 2, a title that passed by with little fanfare during its preview, but when it reached the hands of gamers it became an almost instant hit. In such a fast-changing industry climate, it seemed that PlayStation was lagging behind on its 2024 bets, and perhaps it's just the other way around - that games like Arrowhead's squad-based shooter and the upcoming action-adventure from Korea's Shift-Up are just what gamers needed.

Because Stellar Blade has the potential to be one of the biggest names on Sony's current generation. Ahead of the demo's release on Friday, March 29, I've had the chance to play the game's early stages and get a glimpse of its systems and how we'll experience EVE's story on April 26. And most of it has surprised me for the better.

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Welcome to Helldivers II...I mean, to Stellar Blade.
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In this demo we had access to two different sections of the game. The first is the arrival of our protagonist on Earth as part of the 7th Air Squadron, landing on a beach and then getting into a big battle with her fellow battle sisters, who have a very similar body and aesthetic to her. Quickly, we jump into practicing the basics of combat, where basically EVE can switch between a normal attack by pressing square and a strong attack by pressing triangle. With L1 we block and a block at the right moment makes a parry, which charges the Beta skill bar. With these skills we can perform special charged attacks that do a lot of damage.

In addition, there is a character called Tachi, EVE's squadmate in the first part of the demo, who guides us through the demo and not only teaches us the basics of combat but also provides support. There is also a unique enemy called the Naytiba Alpha, which seems to be one of the centrepieces of the plot. These Naytiba are peculiar and amorphous enemies, and while there wasn't too much variety in this demo, each type had different animations, strengths and disadvantages, forcing you to approach each confrontation differently.

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The second part of the demo takes us through a different full session in Eidos 7's abandoned city with another character called Adam. Something that I'm sure some of you will find quite amusing is that here again the elements that you can interact with on the stage are marked with a visible and noticeable yellow paint, although considering the level of detail and the amount of debris in the ruins, it's a visual aid that isn't too much. This second mission leaves us a little more free play to explore the stage, as well as getting to know the character menu where we can see equipment, missions, inventory, skills, manual databank and options. From the demo menu it looks like there will be five skill trees, although in this demo there are only three available at a glance, one for the base attack, one for survival and exploration skills and one for Beta skill boosts, which are the special attacks. Perhaps most relevant is obviously the equipment, as EVE can implant different items into her spine that are independent of her outward appearance. During exploration, I found a Beta core, which serves to increase maximum energy, and at the same time seems to kind of preserve the memories of people who died in the face of the Naytiba invasion.

To unlock different pieces of equipment, we will have to look for a specific secondary character or find some kind of object in the stage and also for example to equip new equipment slots, we will have to use Omniverse in the repair consoles. We will also find (quite far apart) phone boxes that act as fast travel points.

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Of course, rivers of ink will be written about the modelling of the character and the detail with which she is recreated later on, but for now we can say that, despite having a somewhat, I don't know how else to describe the costume, laughable design, she looks like a competent warrior and some of her parts, however strange as they may be, serve a function on a narrative level as well.

This more open-ended section of the game where he wander down buildings in the streets is indeed very reminiscent of Yoko Taro's Nier: Automata. Traversing the ruins we will enter into various fights, both individually and against groups of Naytibas until we reach the safe zones. The camps are save points, where you can rest and save your progress after activating them with Vitcoin or Victory Points. You can sit in the saddle and recover your health bar and replenish your inventory, you can also store items if you run out of space. Another legacy of souls is that enemies revive once you rest. In addition to the normal camps there is another type of camp, called supply camps, where unlike the other one that only has a simple shop where you can buy consumables here you can upgrade EVE's equipment and stats and from the companion drone that Adam drives (again, in clear reference to Nier: Automata).

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The animation of the protagonist is excellent. We'll have to alternate between counter-attacks and dodges depending on the colour of the enemy's action, and outside of combat our movements change depending on where we want to go, passing, climbing or jumping through objects. Even changing direction on the street is accompanied by movements with natural animations such as putting your hands on the wall to change direction.

Overall, the feel of the combat is quite good, the control responds perfectly to the movements and precision you would expect from a top-tier action game. It has been talked about in the past that one of the main references for the team was Nier: Automata, and that hack and slash feel is indeed present, but not as crazy and frantic as the Devil May Cry or Bayonetta series might be. What's more, the final feeling after completing this demo is that we're looking at a hybrid between a Nier and a FromSoftware title, where Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice might be the closest relative. Even having made it through the demo, I admit that I still haven't found the right opening to perform the parry in a way that feels natural to me, but given that each enemy has its own patterns, it'll take practice to get the hang of it.

The final enemy in the demo, which looks like some kind of demon with electric swords, requires pinpoint accuracy to dodge at just the right moment and nail the parry, making it a Souls experience. It seems there will be different levels of difficulty, so Stellar Blade aims to be accessible to everyone, although it will reward the most dedicated players. If you complete the demo you get access to a special segment called Boss Challenge, which allows you to test yourself against a boss with an assortment of more advanced abilities. This is only if you complete the mode on normal difficulty.

Stellar Blade looks like a very promising title for this spring, and it's possible that many players may have their eyes on the Elden Ring expansion rather than this one. But let me tell you, Stellar Blade can shine in its own light and earn its place among Soulslike fans. This demo is the perfect example.

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