The Sacred City of Ilden is the perfect staging grounds for an apocalyptic attack by the nefarious Spawn of Chaos, an army of demonic creatures that happens to be swarming into the city through a giant Tear in the sky, not unlike Dragon Age Inquisition’s Fade Rift or Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ massive Space-Time Rift. None better to stop the invasion than the battle-hardened warrior Briar and her ghostly companion-slash-sister Lute, both of whom are Chimera; members of the mysterious Order of the Ashen Blade and the supposed heroes of this world. Things don’t exactly work out with the other Chimera, and you, playing as the dynamic duo, are left to vanquish the Spawn of Chaos by yourself – if not for the help of a few unlikely friends. This is the premise of Soulstice, an action-adventure game centered around frenetic third-person combat with lots of unique combos that would feel right at home in any Devil May Cry game.
Soulstice Preview Gameplay Screenshots
You’ll spend quite a large chunk of time in Soulstice playing as Briar, who is followed around by Lute in her ghostly form as you hack and slash your way through hordes of foes as you move from mission to mission in a linear fashion, though at times you may also find yourself playing as Lute during key story sequences. The interplay between Briar and Lute is definitely worth calling out as a clear positive, notably the fact that Lute has the ability to pacify Soulstice’s many, many enemies mid-attack so you can leap in (as Briar) to deal serious damage. This dynamism is deepened through the design of the world as well as its demonic inhabitants. Making things more interesting, some of these monsters are incorporeal until you activate one of two different “fields” by pressing the left or right triggers.
It’s a pretty simple mechanic: your red field corresponds to red monsters and objects, making them corporeal so you can bash them to pieces, while your blue field does the same thing for blue objects and monsters. What’s especially interesting about this, though, is that multiple types of enemies will attack you at once, meaning you may need to make quick decisions to address each enemy type at the right moment. Lute will eventually run out of energy if you keep any field up for too long, making her disappear for a few seconds. This gives Soulstice a strategic element that feels especially satisfying when you’re managing your resources and firing off combos in rapid succession.
Soulstice keeps a steady pace from the beginning, gradually ramping up the difficulty and showing you the ropes through tutorials which intermittently pop up to explain a new mechanic – of which there are surprisingly quite a few, even in the first few chapters. This level design is linear, but it seems like there are just enough secrets hidden in the nooks and crannies of this sacred city to keep explorers satisfied. Starting out, Briar only uses two of seven different weapons – the hefty albeit swift Ashen Vindicator sword which is great for light attacks, and the rather painful-looking Ashen Enforcer warhammer that unleashes much heavier strikes. Granted, this ability system seems incredibly dynamic; as you progress, you gain access to a full set of diverse upgrades that include passive stat bonuses as well as entirely new abilities like Ferocious Assault or Thundering Advance, both of which happen to be activated by combos of basic quick and heavy attacks, and are all pretty bombastic in their own way.
Granted, you’ll need to carefully choose where to allot your points as you progress. It’s also convenient that once you’re finished with a mission, you can power up your abilities in the way mentioned previously or purchase items like health kits and revives, in addition to more substantial stat boost items which cost a higher sum of points. If you don’t want to wait that long, you might just run into the Observer, a mysterious NPC who shows up every so often to cheekily taunt you before explaining the background lore of a certain area and then offer you his wares. And if you don’t like a certain ability, this is where you can respec your build.
There’s the sense that each of Briar and Lute’s special abilities are easy to learn but difficult to master, in that they’re all activated by some pretty simple button combinations. Take, for example, the Piercing Lunge move which you can pop off by gently tapping your left stick forward twice and then hitting the Y button. I can imagine there’s plenty of wiggle room to customize your playstyle at the higher levels once you memorize the combos for each of Briar and Lute’s many abilities, including the very cool Synergy abilities, which are some of the most powerful attacks you can unleash – but only after you sufficiently pull off enough smaller combos to power up something called the Unity bar, which is basically a resource pool tied to Soulstice’s internal scoring system which gauges how well you’re doing.
You’re usually shown this score in numerical form after each battle, but adding even more nuance to this system, if your Unity level gets high enough, you can activate the slick-feeling and hyper-powerful Rapture mode by slamming both triggers down at the right moment, and this allows you to do tons of damage to all enemies on-screen in a satisfying flurry of attacks – but you’ll want to save this ability for the right moment to make the most out of your limited Unity resources. The challenge ceiling is high enough in Soulstice for it to be rewarding to get really good at your personalized moveset, so there’s definitely something here for fans of games like Devil May Cry, God of War, or Bayonetta.
The challenge ceiling is high enough in Soulstice for it to be rewarding to get really good at your personalized moveset, so there’s definitely something here for fans of games like Devil May Cry, God of War, or Bayonetta.
Loreheads will also have plenty to look forward to in Soulstice, since the story seems rich enough to carry its own sense of urgency. Plus, there’s a Codex in case you miss any of the important details along the way. I checked out the Codex and enjoyed reading about the city of Ilden as well as some of the very interesting and dynamic monsters that plague its dank, cobblestone-laden streets, like the Corrupted guards that brandish massive greatswords and take a focused effort on detaching all of their armor before you can pummel their sizeable health bars to zero, and the Wraiths that can zoom around untouched until you activate the proper-colored field to corporealize and defeat them.
Soulstice throws several variants of these monsters at you at once, and often does so during some of the boss fights that are also each unique and difficult in their own way. One such fight has you rushing back and forth between hordes of monsters and the boss itself, whose name I’m forgetting at the moment but is capable of quickly draining your health bar from a distance with its giant red laser arrows if you don’t properly plan your jumps – it may have been the toughest fight I’d encountered since trying to beat the Crucible Knight and Misbegotten Warrior duo in Elden Ring, which is absolutely saying something.
That said, I’ll be looking forward to Soulstice when it drops on the PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox platforms on September 20th.