Stray Blade Review – Stray Away

Stray Blade Review

I don’t envy developers, especially those making a soulslike action game. The competition is enormous, and any game hoping to claim even a small fraction of fan love needs to bring some new ideas and deliver on them. In the case of Stray Blade, developer Point Blank Games is banking on a welcoming art style and unique take on action combat to make its game stand out. But does it?

Farren Enough

You play as Farren, an archaeologist and world traveler who finds themselves awakened in the Lost Valley of Acrea. Acrea is more the stuff of legend than history. In any case, you are bound to the semi-magical realm and your task is to explore, fight and hopefully, escape. Along the way Farren meets Boji, an elementally enhanced being that is half wolf, half Xhinnon. Boji joins Farren as an ally and companion and has a separate crafting-based upgrade tree.

Players used to elaborate character creation tools will be disappointed. A choice of two body types and voices is as deep as it goes. Farren’s face is conveniently hidden behind a mask. Like in many action games, customization comes more from fashion and the many different types of armor Farren finds or crafts.

Unlike so many grimdark soulslikes, Stray Blade leans into a stylized, colorful storybook aesthetic. Since Farren is an archaeologist by trade, snooping around ruins is their go-to activity. The game has a pretty wide range of environments, and lots of secret areas to discover. While jumping and climbing feel floaty and disconnected from gravity, they work well enough to keep our hero moving forward.

Shake, Rattle and Roll

In addition to lovely environments, Stray Blade focuses on combat to help it stand out. Specifically, it emphasizes rolls, parries and dodges. Moves come color-coded. Red attacks must be avoided by a dodge and can’t be parried. Blue attacks can’t be dodged but can be parried. The relative success of both rolls and dodges is important Perfect rolls or dodges regain stamina/energy. Perfect parries do poise damage and briefly stun lock enemies, leaving them open to a critical attack.

Even early on, Farren finds plenty of blueprints for various weapons. There are all the fantasy-RPG staples, like swords, spears, axes and hammers. Farren upgrades weapons at forges. Weapons have slots for various enchantments or enhancements. None of this is even remotely new or different, but it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes familiarity is welcome shorthand. We know what to do.

There’s a danger in putting so much weight on combat, especially when it emphases precision movement. Stray Blade’s color-coded dodge and parry system is great in concept. In practice, not so much. Thanks to the game’s sluggish controls and lack of fine tuning, what could be a fun challenge is most often just frustrating. For one thing, the game ignores traditional action game button mapping. The main culprits, though, are a serious amount of input lag, a terrible lock-on system and animations that make combat feel unresponsive and unrefined. The lag isn’t framerate related, either. It’s just as frustrating at 60fps as at 30.

Unrealized Potential

The clunky combat is a shame, because the bones of a decent, if not especially original, RPG are there. There’s plenty of loot to find, crafting makes sense and while death means respawning at the last save point/shrine, enemies don’t respawn. The character upgrade and skill tree isn’t overly complex but allows the player to nudge a hero into a relatively wide range of specialties.

Whether you select a male or female voiced Farren, they talk. A lot. In addition to narrating their experience, they joke and quip to no one in particular. I’m guessing the tone is supposed to suggest a Fable-like sense of humor. There’s no way to silence them, unfortunately. Aside from the voice acting, the game’s music and sound design are functional but uninspired. The battle and spell audio effects, like the combat itself, don’t have much weight.

Stray Blade still has a number of technical issues and bugs to iron out. There are a decent number of options for crafting the graphics, but the game needs serious optimization. Running the game on a machine with above the recommended specs, framerates slowed to a crawl at any resolution about 1920×1080.

Straying from the Path is Risky

It’s a shame when a game is built around a mechanic, only to have that element not live up to its potential. Stray Blade is all about dodges, parries and rolls, but they’re sluggish and imprecise and just don’t work very well. Aside from that frustration, Stray Blade has attractive art and level design, familiar action RPG mechanics, and maybe even some potential, if the combat can be patched into better shape.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Attractive art
  • Good level design
  • Colorful and not grimdark gothic

The Bad

  • Sluggish combat
  • Awkward controls
  • Not great writing
  • Bugs and optimization