Challenging Soulslike with a Steampunk setting
In an alternate version of the French revolution, King Louis XVI has taken a position of power thanks to the army of clockwork machines that he has accumulated. These mechanical monstrosities roam the streets of Paris, obliterating any citizen or soldier that gets in their way.
It’s up to you, the player, to stop the King’s steel army and save the French capital from destruction. But rather than taking on the role of a human soldier, as would normally be expected in this kind of game, you actually take on the role of a battle-ready automaton yourself. Your character, Aegis, is a robotic bodyguard to Marie Antoinette, and it’s the Queen herself who gives you the task of stopping her maniacal husband and thwarting his plans to dominate Paris.
Unlike the other clockwork robots that roam the city streets, Aegis has free will and a mind of her own. The reason for this becomes clear later in the game, although we won’t spoil the story’s main twist in this review.
Steel Rising comes from French developer Spiders, whose last game was the action-RPG Greedfall. That game was reminiscent of early Bioware games, such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, due to the fantastical setting, arcade-ish combat, and traditional character class system. It was fairly enjoyable to play through, although long loading times and the need for constant backtracking sucked away some of the enjoyment while playing.
Spiders’ latest title does away with the role-playing mechanics of their earlier games (which also include The Technomancer and Bound By Flame), in favour of a Soulslike experience. As such, this is far more difficult than the other titles they have developed thus far, so you won’t be able to hack and slash your way through this one with ease. That being said, the game isn’t as challenging as certain other titles in this genre, so you shouldn’t have to hit the restart button on a too-regular basis. But as it is a little easier than such games as Demon Souls and Bloodborne, one downside to this is that it’s not quite as satisfying to play.
At the beginning of the game, you can choose from one of 4 character classes: Bodyguard, Soldier, Alchemist and Dancer. If you only intend on playing the game through once, you should choose a build that caters to your preferred playstyle.
For my playthrough, I chose the Dancer. She doesn’t have the strongest or most powerful build at the start of the game but she is the most agile, so I could easily hit my opponents multiple times before they were able to get a hit on me. This character class uses armoured fans that I could quickly turn into a shield, so when the enemy prepared for an attack, I could easily defend myself at the touch of a button.
If you want to begin the game with a more powerful build, you could choose a heavier character class, such as the Bodyguard, who wields a massive hammer that has the highest damage-per-hit of any starting weapon. But regardless of which build you choose, each class can be upgraded, so you can change your playstyle and your weapons as you progress through the game’s story.
There are dozens of enemy types in the game, from musical machines that can quickly obliterate you with their weaponized brass instruments to robotic dogs that can easily overwhelm Aegis when they attack in a pack. Each enemy has their own attack patterns so some strategy is needed, although you don’t need to destroy every automaton that gets in the way. If you prefer not to fight, you can stealth your way through certain sections of the game or simply make a run for it when the odds are against you. Some automatons will chase you, however, so if you don’t take one or two of them down early, you could get outnumbered and meet a quick demise.
The smaller enemies are challenging to take down but if you plan your attack and dodge at just the right time, you should be able to get through most of these battles with ease. The bigger enemies – the Titans – pose a far greater challenge. These aren’t as hard to defeat as the bosses you would find in a From Software title but they will still dispose of you quickly if you haven’t levelled up Aegis’s character and powered up your weapons.
These bosses are upgraded versions of the foes you will face at street level and they are, of course, much bigger. They include The Centaur, a robot that rides around on a mechanical horse with the head of a lion, and The Iron Queen, a relentless steel monster that uses an intimidating mixture of ranged and melee attacks when trying to crush the player.
Thankfully, you can benefit from the game’s Assist Mode if you’re struggling to make it through the game in one piece. You can increase the speed at which endurance regenerates, meaning you won’t suddenly slow to a halt as often when in the middle of combat. And you can reduce the amount of damage that Aegis takes when in battle. These adjustments can make the game much easier to play through, especially if you max out the damage reduction which basically makes you invincible.
There are two major downsides to these assist options, however. For one thing, you will shorten the game’s running time (around 15 hours), so you won’t get much value for money. And the game will be much less satisfying to play as you will become more reliant on button bashing rather than skill to take down the mechanical beasts you encounter. Still, if you have ever thrown your joypad down in frustration while playing Demon Souls and the like, you might be glad of the options that make the game easier.
The game isn’t quite as good as certain other Soulslike titles but it may be Spiders’ best game so far. Visually, it’s very interesting, with detailed Paris locations and impressive robot designs, and the story offers an intriguing take on real-life historical events.
Steel Rising does have its flaws, however. The combat sometimes feels floaty and it can be hard to lock onto enemies when there are several of them on screen at once. Invisible barriers get in the way when traversing each area so movement through each location is unfairly limited. And during my playthrough, I became stuck on the scenery once too often, necessitating a restart to the last checkpoint.
But as frustrating as these issues were, I still enjoyed my time with the game. It’s far more accommodating than many Soulslikes and unlike the majority of them, it actually has a story that I wanted to see through to the end. If you like this kind of game, you should definitely give it a try. And if you’re not a fan of Soulslikes, you should give it a go anyway as the assist options will make the game far more manageable for you to complete without giving you cause to throw down your joypad in a fit of rage on a too-regular basis!
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Verdict - 6.5/10