Review – Soulstice
The action hack ‘n’ slash genre has provided some great experiences over the years, thanks to games like Devil May Cry 5. Currently, however, it feels like it’s been overshadowed by an endless stream of soulslikes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, with games like SteelRising providing a great AA experience. Soulstice calls back the olden days of the action genre, whilst bringing in some interesting mechanics. Unfortunately, it also brings forward some of that baggage that should have been left behind.
A tear has opened in the city of Ilden, causing wraiths to invade the city. To stop this, the Order of the Ashen Blades sends out powerful warriors, known as Chimeras, who are soulbound with a spirit to give them incredible strength. Sisters, Briar and Lute, who are shunned by many other Chimeras, must journey into the centre of Ilden to stop the tear from consuming the entire world and discover the truth of the Chimeras.
Much of the story in Soulstice is very slow. It thrusts you into a dark fantasy world without much in the way of context. It’s not the best story in the genre with a rather lacklustre set of characters and weak motivations. However, by the end, I was a bit more invested in wanting to know what happens next. Briar and Lute turn from dull protagonists into something a little bit more likeable by the end of the game, as they struggle with the truth and their bond becomes greater. Side characters don’t fair much better. You will meet other Chimeras throughout your journey, but not enough time is given to properly develop them.
Soulstice is a third-person hack ‘n’ slash action game. If you’ve played Devil May Cry 3, Ninja Gaiden, or NieR you pretty much know what to expect. Attacks are assigned to Y and X which are your light and heavy attacks (heavy being unique weapons). Combos are using the pause system so having a brief wait before continuing will trigger an alternative combo. Soulstice‘s trick is with Lute who acts like Briar’s companion throughout the game. You don’t take much control over her actions like you would in Astral Chain, Lute acts fairly independently. Attacking nearby enemies within range. It’s a perfectly fine combat system that is easy to pick up but relatively difficult to master. Some of this is due to initially awkward controls. For example, the thrust attack is performed by double tapping movement. It can be awkward and inconsistent at times.
As you fight enemies, and chain combos and counters, you will build up your unity making the pair more effective. Once you hit a certain threshold, you will be able to perform Synergy attacks that combine both of their powers with any of the game’s eight weapons. Keep building up your unity from here and you can unleash the transformative ability that gives you an incredibly brief but powerful way to dispatch enemies. This is modified based on your weapons, skills and even health bar. Lute is a neat spin on the action genre that feels gimmicky initially, but becomes a part of this game’s core identity.
On top of this, Lute has two aura fields that can be triggered. It’s similar to that of Ninja Theory’s Devil May Cry reboot, but whilst the Red and Blue mechanic can be used to chain different weapons together, here it just feels a little too basic. Wraiths and Possessed will require you to switch between the Blue and Red aura, respectively, to deal damage to them. For the most part, this feature is overly used, with encounters often spamming dozens of these enemies at you. However, it’s not always too bad and some clever encounter designs makes it a little more interesting.
Rather interestingly, Soulstice has that zoomed-out fixed camera you would often see in the genre’s past when exploring the game world. It’s an interesting design decision that won’t be to everyone’s preference, as it will often lead to some confusing moments, especially when you need to do some platforming and the camera just won’t play ball. Despite this, I’m actually a big fan of going back to this style, and for the most part it is really well done and can lead to some stunning views. However, it does give you much more control over the camera during combat and it’s not great. This is especially prevalent in tighter spaces where it often gets stuck in the environment, making it hard to see. Soulstice also plays with perspectives from time to time, with side-scrolling and isometric moments.
The game’s opening two acts leave quite a lot to be desired with the repetition in the environments and designs. You’re often forced you into cramped interior sections where every room looks just about the same. However, as the game progresses past the halfway point, there is some much-needed variety. With a lot more locations for you to explore that are a bit more visually interesting, even if it still doesn’t hit their potential. Thankfully, there are some epic boss fights that really highlight Soulstice‘s mechanics at their very best. You will also gain access to a multitude of weapons, each with their own special purposes and upgrades. However, I would have liked just a little bit more combo variety to encourage quick weapon switching.
At the end of every combat encounter and chapter you will be scored depending on your damage taken, score, and time. You’ll be rewarded with upgrade points for Briar and Lute. It does a good job of making you feel more powerful as the game goes on. I am by no means an expert in this genre, and on the default difficulty it felt mostly well balanced. I would often score a Platinum medal in most combat encounters. So for the more adept, I would actually recommend bringing this difficulty up to the next level.
There’s plenty to do here with a rather beefy fifteen hour story, with tons of secrets to encourage you to explore the environment, including upgrades and difficult challenges. Though some of the fat could have certainly been trimmed for a tighter and more consistent experience. Some sections in Soulstice feel like they are dragging on much longer than they should, and the environmental puzzles are too basic.
Soulstice has a dark cel-shaded look to it. Whilst it looks great in a lot of the higher energy cutscenes where it embraces its heavy anime influences, unfortunately, a lot of the environments in the game are lacking. Much of the first two acts for example take part inside the city ramparts with every room looking pretty much identical to the last. Even then this stretches on throughout the entire game and it can feel a bit too repetitive. However, those cinematic moments and endgame locations really show that Soulstice‘s world design has a lot of potential even if animations can be a bit rough.
Playing on PC with an RTX 2060, the PC version of Soulstice is pretty solid. There are all sorts of graphic options including DLSS, and ultrawide users rejoice, as the game does fully support different aspect ratios. However, I would have liked to bring the HUD in closer to the traditional 16:9 to make it easier to quickly check the different HUD elements during combat. It runs really well with even a mid-range card able to hit over 60FPS at 3440×1440 even during chaotic effect-heavy moments.
As of writing, Soulstice has not been patched or verified on Steam Deck (this didn’t impact my score). But I wanted to try it out myself anyway to see what the performance is like. Running on Proton with the in-game settings set to mid-low the game still looks decent enough. However, there are some frame pacing and stuttering issues that make it a challenge to play. Hopefully, future patches will provide an official fix to make it playable on Steam Deck. But at launch, I would not recommend it for Steam Deck users.
The sound design is a little bit more inconsistent, and the same can be said for the visuals as well. Voice acting is mostly mixed bag for the majority of the campaign. It’s not necessarily bad, but it doesn’t have the impact you would expect. As for the soundtrack, it’ is mostly pretty good, working well with the fast-paced action.
Soulstice is a love letter to the PlayStation 2 era of the action genre, with frantic fast-paced combat and its own spin on things. However, it does bring some of that baggage with it and there are some glaring issues with pacing and repetition, especially in the opening hours. Thankfully, Soulstice does recover in the end and for fans of the genre it is absolutely worth checking out.
Soulstice never lets its interesting art design out. Forcing you into constantly dull interiors with almost identical-looking rooms.
Soulstice is an interesting call back to the old days of the action genre. However, it does bring a lot of that same baggage forward with it.
Voice acting isn’t the best and music is forgettable, but none of it is outright bad.
Despite some bad pacing issues I had a lot of fun with Soulstice.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Soulstice is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PS5.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Game installed on SSD. Tested on Steam Deck.
A copy of Soulstice was provided by the publisher.