The main character in Stray Blade may look like your bog standard knight, covered in chainmail and armour with chunky melee weapon in-hand, but he’s a lot more than that. He’s an anthropologist searching for the ancient ruins of a lost civilisation. OK, so he has some fighting to do in this action RPG, as well.
Legends of Acrea, the Lost Valley, have drawn Ferran to this mysterious part of the world, but tragedy strikes when he accidentally breaks a thousand year old spell and gets caught in the ensuing explosion of magical energy. Game over, you might feel confident in assuming, but this is just the start of Stray Blade, as Ferran returns in undeath to find himself caught in a battle between good and evil.
The cost of coming back to life is to be eternally bound to this land, but that’s no so bad when Ferran soon makes a new friend, the magical wolf Boji. Together you’ll venture forth and look to discover more about this realm, exploring huge throne rooms and long lost cities, while also battling enemies along the way.
The Xhinnon wolf Boji is an integral part of the adventure. He’s been trapped in Acrea for centuries, from before it fell into ruin, and so he provides a link back to the setting and the overarching story. As Ferran seeks to find out more about the world and what happened here, Boji can help to decipher the ancient clues that you find along the way, gradually piecing together the full picture. Exploration has to be done with your eyes, with Stray Blade eschewing the common crutches of providing players with a world map, much less marking hidden chests or featuring waypoints.
Boji also has a big part to play in combat. Point Blank Games describe it as ‘full combat control’ with a responsive system intending to allow for quick reactions and precise attacks – Boji will chip in with his own evolving abilities where he sees an opportunity. There’s plenty of different weapons within the game that you can craft and then learn to get the best out of through weapon mastery, but they’re keen not to end up with players pigeon-holed into using a single weapon that’s been fully upgraded.
The way that they’re achieving this is to have weapon mastery and skill upgrades be relevant for all of your weapons. The act of mastering a weapon will incrementally improve you abilities with using all weapons, so if you just want to try out a new axe, you won’t be at a sudden power disadvantage in a fight. It’s an interesting system that will be good to see in action.
As you continue to explore, learn and fight through the valley, the world will keep on growing and evolving as you play. On the one hand you might have new abilities that let you return to an area and find new nooks and crannies or new paths to follow, similar to a Metroidvania, but it will also be represented through the passage of time. If you’ve cleared an enemy camp, in an example given by Point Blank, returning to it later might see it occupied by another faction or hostile creatures.
This could be after death, which will see you resurrected sometime later as Boji (if he can’t reanimate you on the spot) will have had to drag your corpse to a shrine in order to re-reanimate you. It seems like a clever way to keep the world filled with challenge, but without lifting the bonfire mechanics from a Souls-like. It’s probably closer to the enemy evolution of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, though without the Nemesis system.
Expected for release in 2023, Stray Blade is turning up with some clever ideas for how to construct its game world and put a refreshing twist on the action RPG genre. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on for next year.