From developer Spiders (Greedfall, The Technomancer), Steelrising is the latest attempt at a souls-like action RPG. What really makes this new game stand out among the crowd is its unique premise: the protagonist is a highly advanced robot fighting against an army of robots that King Louis XVI used to quell the French Revolution. If that sentence alone doesn’t make you stop and take a look then this might not be the game for you.
Challenging combat with titanic machines sends the player back to checkpoint after checkpoint, recollecting dropped goods in the hallmark mechanic of souls-like games. Upgrade unique weapons like the Nemesis Claws, the Fire Chain, or the Wheel of Vengeance and improve your own strength and agility in an arms race against the steadily more challenging army of automats.
While Steelrising does have its fun moments, overall it doesn’t quite live up to the hype that its premise promises. There’s a lot to unpack in this historical science fiction game, so let’s get right into it.
Visually, Steelrising’s steam-punky late 1700’s Paris gives the game a unique style. The enemy automats are well-designed and impressively distinct from each other, meaning even from a distance the player can tell what kind of battle they are about to get into. During the cut scenes, the humans are well-done, if a little ironically robotic and emotionless.
- Unique premise;
- Distinct enemy designs;
- Creative and enjoyable weapon options.
- Imprecise, slippery controls;
- Shallow combat;
- Lack of meaningful RPG options.
The environments also have their pros and cons. Dashing through the historical streets of Paris is a great feeling, and adds a lot to the immersion of this fantastical world. But sometimes, streets can start to look the same, and wooden doors blend in with wooden walls, making progress through certain parts of the game confusing and frustrating.
Overall, however, Steelrising perhaps shines the best when it comes to its visual design and style. From the beginning, the player has a handful of appearance options to choose from and the game is rather generous in rewarding the player with more options that not only change the outward appearance but also enhance armor, thus improving combat skills as well. These outfits are era-appropriate, but the highlights are the often ridiculous (in a fun way) hats.
Battling the robots has its moments. While each individual weapon tends to only have a handful of attacks and a surprising lack of good combos, there are enough unique weapons to choose from that every player has a good chance of finding something to enjoy. During my playthrough, I became particularly fond of the Fire Chain which has a decent range and the potential to set enemies ablaze.
However, the gameplay often ends up feeling clunky and shallow. Just moving around the environment feels unnatural and slippery, with imprecise movements that make me happy there weren’t too many platforming moments. Since the main character is a robot, it would make sense for the movement not to feel human, but it doesn’t feel robotic either.
Steelrising is the latest game from developer Spiders, and while the premise of a robot army thwarting the French Revolution is certainly attention-grabbing, it doesn’t manage to consistently maintain that excitement. The character designs and environment are well done, but where Steelrising stumbles is the clunky movement and shallow RPG mechanics that fail to keep progression and combat exciting throughout. As a souls-like game, Steelrising is following in the footsteps of some highly regarded modern games, but it doesn’t quite live up to the standards that those games set.
On the other hand, the RPG elements can make the game more fun. When beginning the game, aside from appearance, you also get to choose a starting class, from Bodyguard, Soldier, Dancer, and Alchemist. Each of these options comes with different starting weaponry and various buffs to strength, agility, and other stats. As you progress you can improve your strongest abilities or shore up your weakest ones, find better armor, and different weapons to change things up.
As an interesting aside, Steelrising includes something called “Assist Mode.” While many games have distinct difficulty levels, such as Easy, Normal, and Hard modes, Steelrising gives the player the ability to customize various elements of the game. This way you can create your own unique difficulty setting. This can make certain frustrating battles a little more accessible to even the players who might not be the best at action games.
History But with Robots
Perhaps the most exciting element of this game is the premise. The French Revolution is thwarted by a royal robot army. That almost sounds like a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster on its own. Exploring the nearly apocalyptic Paris overrun with robots is probably the highlight of this experience. But, in terms of the narrative, that’s where most of the praise comes to an end.
Despite being an RPG, the player has no real control over the direction of the story. NPCs will patiently wait for the player to select each dialogue option in turn, rather than making each choice count. While interesting on the surface, once the player gets down into it, the narrative doesn’t offer much for players to really sink their teeth into.
As a small aside, there are also many strange unexplained questions in the story. For example, it’s strange that there is no explanation early on as to why Aegis is attacked on sight by the other robots despite being a robot herself. This feels like the kind of subject that would have come up in the first cut scene or just after it. Generally, it can be good to address these questions, even if the answer is unclear in-game, it helps to say that. This way the player can better understand the character they are inhabiting and/or be along for the mystery rather than just feeling like they missed something.
A bright shiny exterior hides a shallow gaming experience. The premise of a French Revolution with robots is exciting, and the great character design and environments usually deliver on that excitement. But, when the controls feel imprecise, the fun weapons only have a handful of attacks that don’t combo well, and all of this coalesces into a frustrating boss battle, the excitement quickly fades.
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These issues can also quickly compound the frustration that comes from a tough boss fight. Steelrising has tried to emulate souls-like games by having difficult boss fights and unforgiving checkpoints. But when the actual battles don’t feel great and there aren’t many different tactics to try on each attempt, it makes having to replay sections of the game all the more frustrating. In terms of comparing to the world’s top souls-like games, Steelrising doesn’t quite stack up.
It’s not hard to have fun playing Steelrising, but the game has trouble keeping that feeling consistent. In terms of gameplay, there are dozens of better titles on the market right now. If what you’re looking for is a game about the French Revolution and robots, then look no further. But if you’re more interested in an engaging narrative and enjoyable gameplay, it will be worth taking another look.
Matt Buckley | Gamepressure.com