Soulstice - A Very Competent Hack and Slash Game - PreviewPaul Broussard , posted on 14 June 2022 / 21,767 Views
There really aren’t enough high profile “hack and slash” games for my liking. It seems like we only get about one every year or so at most, and most of the time they wind up having a very split focus, like this year’s Babylon Fall forcing the combat to share a spotlight with live service elements, or 2018’s God of War scaling back the pace and depth of its combat to accommodate a more cinematic focus. So it’s heartening to see lower profile studios get in on the fun as well, and that’s just what we have with Soulstice. A good segment of gameplay was shown off for it at the recent PC gaming show and I was also supplied with a hands-on demo for PC.
Soulstice comes to us from Reply Game Studios, which is probably best known for Theseus on PlayStation VR. Moreover, Soulstice appears to be the studio's first major “hack and slash” game, which I’ll admit initially made a little skeptical. These types of combat systems often take a lot of trial and error to get down properly, which usually means that the first release winds up being a prototype of sorts for future titles in the same genre. So I was a little dubious that Soulstice would wind up being much more than an experiment for future games to improve upon.
But I was pleasantly surprised; Soulstice is, so far at least, a very competent hack and slash title that doesn’t take too many big risks but has most of the various necessities in place. It knows what it wants to do and executes well, and even if it doesn’t have too many original ideas, getting as many things right as Soulstice does on its first go around is commendable.
The general thrust of Soulstice is that you play as a Chimera hunting demons. Here, a Chimera isn't a giant monster with various bits from a lion, goat, and snake stapled together. Rather, Chimeras are two individual souls combined into a single warrior, although to tell the truth I can still very much see two separate beings during gameplay, so these Chimera makers might want to rethink their branding. Our protagonists forming this Chimera are Briar (a permanently scowling warrior who looks like she dressed herself by running full speed through a generic World of Warcraft orc’s closet), and Lute (a floating ghost girl whose primary purpose in the demo seems to be to tutorialize the hell out of everything). Incidentally, see if you can figure out from those descriptions which one is the melee character and which one shoots projectiles.
After some exposition, the hands-on demo began in earnest. First I was treated to Briar’s combat, which is quite reminiscent of the Devil May Cry games, including on-the-fly weapon switching, a manual lock-on, directional inputs, stinger, launchers, and even using a series of red orbs to upgrade skills. At the end of each level you're rewarded with a particular letter grade, with higher letters resulting in more red orbs.
Some might be tempted to glance at this and just accuse Soulstice of being a carbon copy of one of Dante’s outings, just with four times the X chromosomes. However, Soulstice does a good bit to try and set itself apart from the series it clearly takes influence from, and that’s largely where the other half of our dynamic duo comes in. Lute functions in-between a sort of projectile user and an attack nullifier. This comes in particularly handy with boss fights, where certain hard-to-dodge attacks can be blocked by Lute with button presses.
Lute also possesses the ability to generate certain fields which can nullify enemy invincibility types. Throughout the demo, I encountered various color-coded enemies that remained invincible to all of Briar’s attacks unless I first used Lute to activate a limited time field that could make those enemies vulnerable. This is a pretty simple mechanic at first, but it winds up getting a lot more hectic in the middle of the demo’s lone boss fight, where a number of both blue & red enemies are summoned and you have to quickly switch back & forth to take them out and avoid being overwhelmed.
Speaking of that boss, though, it’s one of the areas where I do feel Soulstice could use some work. Pacing is one of the most important elements for any combat-focused title to nail; fast-paced action requires a game that moves at an equally quick pace to keep the player from feeling like they’re being held down. The boss for this demo was a giant bow-wielding monster in a massive arena who would fire arrows from a distance until I got close, but almost as soon as I managed to get in he would jump to the opposite side of the arena, necessitating that I slowly traverse back to continue fighting. I probably spent the majority of my time in the fight just trying to get close enough to hit him, and when I wasn’t doing that, it was sitting through one of the five or so mid-battle cut scenes that also interrupt the flow of combat.
This is one area where Soulstice could probably stand to learn from some of the releases it takes inspiration from. Titles like Metal Gear Rising, Bayonetta, and Devil May Cry 5 give the player abilities to quickly close the gap on just about anything, and place a notable emphasis on not holding back once the fight starts. You might have a decently long cut scene before and after a fight starts, but once the action begins it doesn’t stop until you or everyone around you is dead. If control is ever taken away from the player, it’s usually very quick - a second or two at most.
Despite whatever complaints I can make, though, I certainly had a good time with Soulstice's demo. It nails a lot of what makes a hack and slash game fun, with manual lock-on, fast paced and varied combos that reward the player for variety, weapon switching, and more. There’s even the promise of highly varied extra difficulties on repeat playthroughs that will switch up enemy placement and attack patterns - a welcome addition for any game, but especially a combat heavy one where replayability is a huge part of the sell. The question, then, is just how well Soulstice can deliver over the course of a full game? We’ll find out when it launches on September 20.
"There really aren’t enough high profile “hack and slash” games for my liking. " Don't worry, FF16 is coming out soon... hahaha classic.
Seriously, great write up. To be it sounds like a part Neir Automata part Ikaruga in the idea of 'switching types' to hurt enemies, plus the little 'thing' that hovers and shoots. Which isn't a bad thing. The movement thing you mention might be more from a Souls side of things where that generally involves lost of running up to the boss then strafing them before actually doing anything. Some bosses are lots of running more than button mashing.