Steelrising turned out to be a beautiful game with much more character than one would expect from a Soulslike, with the negatives being few and far between.
What you need to know
- What is it? A Soulslike with emphasis on the story and beautiful designs
- Reviewed on: PC - Ryzen 5 3600, Radeon RX 5700 XT, 16 GB RAM
- Developer: Spiders
- Publisher: Nacon
- Release date: September 8, 2022
- Available on: PC, PS5, XSX/S
French developer studio, Spiders, is dishing out games at breakneck speed for today's standards, with Greedfall having released in 2019, Steelrising is coming on September 8, 2022, and Greedfall 2 planned for 2024. The release interval of two to three years is fine for lower quality or smaller titles but popping RPGs out with that type of development time is pretty impressive, especially so when the games turn out to be well optimised and bug-free at launch.
This may not have been the case for Greedfall but it is for Steelrising, a beautifully crafted game that is almost as charming as its clockwork protagonist.
One thing that you wouldn't expect from a Soulslike is a coherent story that is told by fleshed-out characters and a protagonist that one gets to care about. Such games are rare and while Steelrising takes obvious inspiration from Souls series and related FromSoftware releases, it is more in the category of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order.
The story of Steelrising starts in France, in 1789. In our time, this was an era when the French people had enough of the monarchy and decided to break the world record for the number of headless nobles and even king Louis XVI himself didn't escape such a fate.
However, in the alternate timeline of Steelrising, Louis turned the tables on the guillotine enthusiasts by getting himself a mechanical army while he sent a unique automaton to be Marie Antoinette's bodyguard. This graceful clockwork creature is the protagonist, Aegis.
From the very beginning, the game properly introduces the players to the woes in the alternate Paris and even Marie Antoinette, who is stuck in a château, now aware that the king has lost his mind. So when she sends Aegis to do her bidding, we already have context on what's happening, which is often not the case in Soulslikes as they tend to just give us a brief exposition that consists of vague and ominous sentences.
Still, there are long periods of gameplay between the cutscenes and meeting other characters but when you do find them, there is a coherent plot unfolding and you know what is going on in the world. On top of that, the characters you meet are historical figures that we get to interact with, something games tend to avoid for some reason.
When it's all summed up, the story of Steelrising is clear and even though it's not a groundbreaking triumph of writing, it is good at getting the players invested. Meeting the bigwigs of the French Revolution doesn't hurt either.
While it might be nitpicking, one thing that rubbed me wrong with the whole thing is that French people talk in British English. You can recognise various accents, all of which originate from the big island, not France. Granted, the game needed to be in English to reach the widest demographic possible but it was just weird that the people don't have French accents instead.
Character creation and design
It's not often that a minimalistic character creation tool does the job well enough but the one in Steelrising certainly does. You only have a handful of materials, wigs and preset faces to choose for Aegis but that ends up being sufficient.
The reason why such a small amount of customisation is enough is that someone spent a whole lot of time working on a highly inspired design for Aegis. This automaton looks beautiful, regardless of the material you pick for her and the grace she walks with is unmatched. Furthermore, the beauty of Aegis is often expressed through the animations rather than the looks.
Not long into the story, it is revealed she was originally made to be a dancer, which explains the elegance of Aegis' movement while she's walking, running, sprinting, fighting, grappling and so on. Each and every one of her animations are superbly stylish and the animators certainly did an excellent job, so much so that Spiders will earn the envy of other studios.
It appears the studio was well aware of the quality of the animation work as they used it to full potential - storytelling, gameplay, eye candy, you name it. In the case of gameplay, Aegis' combat animations continue to be exquisite, regardless of what weapon you are using. Be it a massive and slow halberd or a pair of nimble swords, the protagonist just can't stop showcasing her splendour.
The delicate movements are paired well with Aegis' combat style - unlike most of her enemies, she is wonderfully agile, which is always a good thing to hear for those who favour dodging enemy attacks rather than blocking them.
Steelrising is not using the conventional weaponry you might find in fantasy games - there are no shield and sword loadouts for example. If you want something to block attacks with, you need a weapon that allows blocking with a special move, like the fans or the alchemist pistol. On the other hand, Aegis' dextrous nature simply begs for a playstyle where you dance around your opponents instead of facing the attacks head-on.
Like I mentioned before, the enemies are pretty slow, which is one of the staples in the Soulslike genre as they need to telegraph the attacks so the player has a chance of surviving since most attacks are devastating. This principle holds up in Steelrising where you are encouraged to figure out enemy attack patterns to know whether you should dodge, chip away at them or go in with a flurry of attacks.
The controls are fluid and the combat feels just right as the character is properly responsive to the commands the player inputs. While many attempts at Soulslikes bungle this crucial part of gameplay, Steelrising gets it right from the get-go.
One complaint that the hardcore fans of Soulsborne might have is that the enemies never become overwhelming - as long as you are dodging them, there is virtually no danger for the player. All the enemies adhere to a strict timing of their attacks and leave generous openings for Aegis to exploit. That said, the combat is no walk in the park. You will still be challenged and you will still need to learn each enemy's attack patterns, even more so with the bosses.
In the way of progression, it is very much the same thing you've seen in any Soulslike so far. You kill enemies, loot the currency from their corpses, find a checkpoint, spend the currency to upgrade your stats.
Steelrising doesn't have the players scouring for more powerful weapons around the world though. Instead, they will be looking for materials that will allow upgrades to the ones already in the inventory and it's quite easy to collect the entire arsenal early on. Fully upgrading it will require some exploration though.
Additionally, depending on which stats the player prioritises, some weapons will become virtually useless so finding a pair that complement each other is another mini puzzle for building Aegis into an unstoppable automaton.
The map in the game is a bit weird as it's not actually useful and only serves as flavour instead. I opened it from time to time but mostly used it only for fast travel while the Compass item was the one that helped me find my way around.
While the compass will clearly point the player to where they need to go, it is not the only mechanic Spiders introduced to ensure accessibility. Most gamers who don't get into Soulslikes cite the difficulty as the main problem, which why they keep asking for difficulty settings. Steelrising does one better - it lets players enable Assisted Mode, which will let them use sliders to adjust combat difficulty or allow them to keep the currency even after dying.
Granted, the gameplay experience can be trivialised this way but it never hurts to have the option to do it and if the player feels they are overcoming the adjusted challenge to easily, they can always alter or disable Assisted Mode on the fly. Moreover, Steelrising will award those who don't dabble with Assisted Mode by allowing them to complete achievements that don't work when one tones the difficulty down.
Graphics and performance
Steelrising's graphics are beautiful for the most part. You will find yourself going through the wondrous estates in 18th century France, the muddy terrains of Paris, various forests and charming nights in the more urban parts of the city. There are visits to the historically significant buildings and landmarks that are also gorgeously designed but I can't go into too much detail without spoiling the story.
However, whenever the camera closed in on parts of the environment, I noticed muddy textures which are always annoying. That said, these close-ups normally happen in cutscenes rather than regular gameplay and it's the latter where the players spend the most time in Steelrising.
Throughout my adventures in the world that managed to still look beautiful even after the automaton-wrought carnage, I didn't experience FPS drops nor did I encounter any bugs. I was pleasantly surprised by both since games of the modern-day usually take months after release to get rid of highly annoying and sometimes game-breaking glitches. I'm assuming there will be a day one patch but the early build I played on was uncharacteristically clean and smooth.
Coming into this game, I expected it to be just another attempt at emulating FromSoftware's work but was pleasantly surprised to see Steelrising building its own identity instead of just following a formula.
It stands out from competitors with a unique world and an impeccable character design that lets the little details on Aegis tell a story of their own, on top of the main narrative that we go through with Marie Antoinette's quests. With a narrow development cycle and a previous release suffering issues at launch, I was concerned Spiders would meet the same issues here but that was not the case.
Steelrising is smooth, wonderful fun with a lot to be liked from the moment you set your eyes on it.
The issues I found were minimal and as it currently stands, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a stylish action game that will challenge their memory and reflexes.