Stray Blade had promise. It looked like a fun Action-Adventure, with a large and colorful world and a mix of adorable and terrifying creatures. It turns out the experience was far more terrifying than expected…
Stray Blade opens with the Player Character approaching a valley shrouded in mystery and legend known as Acrea the Lost Valley. Attracted here by the draw of power it's that same power that quickly kills the protagonist, after being revived by a mysterious power it's discovered that you're now bound to this land. In Stray Blade, you'll explore the open world, fight monsters, and hone your craft as you work towards freedom as you escape the valley.
The basic premise of Stray Blade holds great promise of an epic adventure filled with combat and discovery but there are a few issues that as a player you'll run into very early into the game. Those issues are that fighting monsters becomes infinitely harder with frequently dropped inputs, skill upgrades are locked behind crafting and mastering weapons, and that in my case it was impossible to get past the first boss of the game as it would respawn infinitely with no way to progress in the story.
Stray Blade advertises itself as an action-adventure title and gives off the look of a Legend of Zelda or Fable title, in practice though players will quickly find that it walks the tightrope line between Action-Adventure and a Soulslike game. The combat is generally slower with enemies hitting just as hard as you do to them, in the early areas especially it's important to not get surrounded or outnumbered as you're likely going to die quickly.
Where it does take the more casual Action-Adventure approach with death is that there are no resources lost on death, and also strangely no enemies respawn when you die. This allows you to just keep pressing forward with no real punishment other than time loss for dying. It feels like Stray Blade is trying to achieve a level of combat polish, that technically it isn't able to pull off making the entire process suffer in the end.
Just when you'd expect combat to be hard enough there's the added pain of consistent dropped input. Each attack already needs to be deliberately timed to deal damage and allow for you to escape an oncoming attack, but if the attack happens late then you're taking damage you shouldn't be. This resulted in me suffering a large number of deaths due to factors that were completely out of my control. For a game built around challenging combat, the challenge was the patience to endure.
What did come from repeated deaths and repeating parts of the game was the amount of experience that I would accumulate resulting in more skill points. These can be used to increase your damage dealt, increase your health, or reduce the drain on your stamina bar to name a few. When you start you can get access to a small collection of upgrades but every upgrade past that requires you to craft a new weapon, whose blueprints can be found in various chests around the world, use the weapon until you master it, and then you'll unlock a new upgrade to spend a skill point on.
By the time I'd reached the first major boss of the game, I'd unlocked and mastered all of my available weapons and had 5 skill points to spare. The pacing seemed incredibly mismatched leading to a feeling of getting held back by game mechanics. Stray Blade once again felt like it was trying to create a unique system, that any player after 2 hours would be able to point out the clear flaw in. I felt like I was being punished for killing more enemies as opposed to being rewarded.
The final major flaw with Stray Blade and the one that has ultimately led me to be writing a Preview today and not a Review is that the game was impossible to complete. After exploring the world, leveling up my character, and navigating the oversized world to reach the first of the major bosses, a god-like Stag, I was able to defeat the beast after a few attempts only for the game to not progress. By leaving the center of the arena and returning the boss would respawn with a health bar for me to fight again, or would simply respawn and start running in circles around the arena. With no way out of the arena that was unfortunately where my journey ended…
There are some good ideas that have been put into Stray Blade, the world itself is dense and varied with something new always around the next corner but with an experience system that punishes gameplay and a combat system that is just punishing Stray Blade needs to work on making sure its foundations are stable and balanced. This Stray Blade has plenty of rust on it…
Stray Blade was previewed on Steam over the course of 6 hours with a copy provided by the publisher - all screenshots in the preview were taken during these play sessions