Soulstice Review (PS5)

Soulstice Review: I’m Souled On This

 

Soulstice 

There was a time when it felt like character-driven action games were a dime a dozen, with previous generations kickstarting flagship series’ such as Devil May Cry and the earlier God of War titles. Along with the heavy hitters, action fans were also frequently blessed with a steady stream of other gems such as Dante’s Inferno and Metal Gear Rising: Revengance.

In recent years, however, the genre doesn’t seem as prevalent as it once was, with Platinum Games and Capcom largely being responsible for the most notable entries in this space across the past few years. And, as much as I’ve enjoyed the likes of Platinum Games’ transformation of the Nier series, and the excellent Devil May Cry 6, I can’t deny that I miss the weird and quirky efforts that the genre’s heyday used to provide us with.

Hoping, then, to bring fans of the genre such as myself a slice of welcome nostalgia is Reply Games Studios, with their latest effort, Soulstice. Having spent some considerable time with Soulstice in the run-up to its launch, I’m happy to confirm that despite not having the same production values as its bigger budget competition, Soulstice is everything you could want from a throwback action game and well worth your time if you’re craving a slice of high octane hack and slash action which manages to put its own interesting spin on a tried and tested formula.

 

 

Pierce The Veil

 

Soulstice

Stepping into Ilden, a city at the heart of the Holy Kingdome of Keidas, main protagonists and playable characters Briar and Lute find themselves on the frontlines of a conflict with horrid abominations not from their world. Ilden is at the heart of a tear in the Veil, a protective barrier between Keidas and the horrors that lurk beyond. Seeping through the Veil is corruptive energy, infecting the citizens of Ilden, turning them into possessed, mutated shells of themselves, turning them against one another, and sending them on murderous rampages across the region.

This is where Briar and Lute come in. Soldiers of the Order of the Ashen Blade referred to as Chimera, Briar and Lute, are effectively two souls wrapped up in one body, fused together by the Order to take the fight against the evil seeping into their world.

It’s an intriguing backdrop and one that’s filled with a real sense of mystery, and, whilst the narrative and acting can be slightly hammy at times, I found myself compelled by the narrative as the chapters whizzed by.

 

 

Familiar Yet Satisfying

 

Soulstice

In a neat touch, the Chimaera effectively being two souls bound together has gameplay implications as well as narrative, and it’s this that helps elevate Soulstice’s combat whilst giving it its own identity.

At its core, Soulstice feels very familiar if you have spent any time with the genre at all. Heavy and light attacks are mapped to the face buttons and can be strung together to create all manner of flashy combos right from you’re given full control of Briar and Lute, even without having dumped any points into the substantial upgrade trees. Additional weapons open things up even further, as does the currency you accumulate from defeated enemies that can be spent on additional combos for your weapons.

It all feels incredibly intuitive as well. Inputs are responsive, and the windows for keeping combo strings together are generous enough that even this old fart was able to string together impossible-looking chains like it was 2001 all over again. In a helpful touch, the DualSense also vibrates when it’s time to hit your next input in a combo string. Whilst some purists might scoff at attempts to simplify high-level play, fear not – getting the Diamond ratings for each combat encounter becomes nigh on impossible on higher difficulties without expert reflexes. The challenge is absolutely still there for those that want it, the developers have just made some neat design choices to allow everyone to feel like a total badass while playing.

 

Beyond Two Souls

 

Soulstice

By far, the most interesting and distinguishing element of Soulstice’s combat is, as I mentioned earlier, the impact that playing as a Chimaera has during battle. See, when traversing, you’re really only controlling Briar, but in combat, Lute, taking the form of a ghostly apparition attached to Briar, really shakes up the way things play.

At the outset, Lute acts as a parry mechanic, able to deflect attacks with a well-timed press of the parry button. Progress far enough, though, and you get access to her Invocation and Banishment fields. These function as large energy spheres, that must be opened over certain enemies to make them susceptible to damage. Adding another wrinkle to proceedings is that various enemies are only weak to one type of field, meaning you have to constantly juggle once the game turns up the enemy density, and floods the battlefield with enemies that don’t all share the same weakness.

It’s a lot to deal with initially, especially when you factor in the multitude of enemy types that already require careful prioritization. Adding in the Banishment and Invocation fields can feel a step too far, requiring another layer of micromanagement, but, bear with it as it soon becomes second nature once you get the hang of weaving trigger pulls (the fields being mapped to the triggers) into your combos, and it gives Soulstice a distinct flavor all its own.

 

 Uneven Presentation

 

Soulstice

Visually, Soulstice can be a bit of a mixed bag. Leaning heavily into an art style that pulls in themes of dark fantasy and gothic horror, it frequently looks striking. However, the overall look is held back at times by some extremely basic texture work and the often-generic enemy design that fails to stand out outside of the bosses which can be downright terrifying to look at.

The color palette is also problematic in places, especially early on. The dark and dreary grey backdrops frequently clash with the dark and dreary grey enemies, making it difficult to manage the hectic battlefields effectively. Thankfully, it becomes less of an issue as the environmental and enemy design become more creative, and of course, your own combat skills improve.

Adding further to the visual woes is the lacking animations. Whilst the general moves look fine, there’s a stiffness and awkwardness to how Briar transitions between abilities. Put Bayonetta or Devil May Cry 6 into the hands of a skillful player, and it can be difficult to tell where one move ends and another begins, so smooth are the transitional animations. Soulstice never quite reaches those heights, with Briar frequently snapping from move to move with little fluidity to her motions. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it does leave combat looking and feeling a little less slick when compared to the competition.

 

Conclusion

 

 

Soulstice is a fantastic time and successfully emulates the glory days of the character-driven action genre, whilst also implementing some neat ideas of its own that make it stand out from the competition. Visually, it may not stack up to the best the genre has to offer, but when you are in the thick of the action, looking like a total badass thanks to the easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master combat system, you’ll be having so much fun that it becomes very easy to overlook Soulstice’s flaws.


Final Verdict: 4/5

Available On: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series S/X, PC; Publisher: Modus Games; Developer: Reply Game Studios; Released: 20 September, 2022;  Players: 1; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $49.99

 

Full Disclosure: A review copy was provided to Hey Poor Player.

Shane Boyle
Shane's passion for gaming began many moons ago upon receiving his first console, Sega's Master System. These days, he games across a variety of systems, though he primarily sticks to his PlayStation 5 and Series X. Despite enjoying a wide variety of genres, he has a huge soft spot for RPGs, both Western and Japanese, whilst also being a self-professed Destiny 2 addict. Outside of gaming, Shane enjoys live music (as long as it's rock or metal!) and going to stand-up comedy shows, and is also Father to a little boy who he hopes will one day be raiding alongside him in Destiny!

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