The world of soulslike is populated every year with new entries; with the passage of time it is becoming more and more difficult to keep track of all the releases that borrow these peculiar game mechanics, and also for the developers it is becoming a not indifferent task to be able to stand out from the mass of alternatives on the market.
Platform: PC, PS5, XSX Genre: Action-Adventure, RPG Release Date: September 8, 2022 Developer: Spiders Distributor: Nacon
Today it is Spiders’ turn to try their hand at the enterprise: the team already author of GreedFall has in fact decided to dive into the fray with Steelrisinga soulslike set in King Louis XVI’s France, available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X | S And PC.
Intrigued by the narrative premise and setting, we plunged into this adventure for you, and are ready to give you our verdict. Does Steelrising have what it takes to stand out among the soulslike crowd?
The King is dead… no, wait
The Steelrising storyline is set in a alternative version of the XVIII century in France and practically proposes a ucronia. History unfolded in a similar way to reality up to the threshold of the French Revolution; things go differently when Louis XVI decides, as a last desperate move to defend himself from the rioters, to turn to a mysterious inventor, who creates fighting automatons for him.
These mindless machines not only keep the king alive, but become a real weapon at his disposal. And Louis XVI does not hesitate to use it: first against his opponents, and then against all the citizens of France. The country we are facing, therefore, is completely different, devastated by one internal struggle caused by the automata of Louis XVIhis wife, Marie Antoinette, is also concerned about his mental health.
Marie Antoinette is kept safe (or perhaps a prisoner) in her palace, where she has an automaton of her own, named Aegis, to keep an eye on her. Compared to the other automata, Aegis appears to be endowed with a human intellect. Precisely for this reason, Gabrielle de Paulignac, trapped together with Marie Antoinette, suggests that she send her on a mission to find the creator of the automatons and be explained how to stop the wave of devastation unleashed by Louis XVI.
This, broadly speaking, is Steelrising’s narrative premise. As Aegis, we will travel to Paris, and meet on our way several historical figureswhich are obviously presented here in a fictional version.
The story itself is interesting, even though it never gets to shine. We find the atmosphere that is created thanks to the narrative incipit much more successful than the developments of the plot itself, which does not present particular creative flashes. This is perhaps also due to the lack of memorable characters.
First of all, while being presented as a sentient automaton, Aegis actually seems to have very little decision-making ability; most of the time, she will just follow the orders she receives, never questioning her mission and showing no great proof that she has a personality of her own.
At the beginning of the game we will be able to customize our Aegis.
As we have said, in history we will find several historical characters, but none of these plays an important and lasting enough role to actually remain imprinted, indeed. The fact that these characters are presented almost sequentially makes it difficult to appreciate historical references unless you have a good understanding of this era.
Of course, it is true that to fully enjoy a historical reference one must always have a basic knowledge of the events we are talking about; the point is that Steelrising it does little to contextualize the characters and to make them interesting for those who don’t know them. It would have been better to focus on fewer figures but give them a more prominent role in the plot.
Moving on to the technical sector, Steelrising presents mixed results here too. Our test took place on PlayStation 5 (often still unobtainable, like Xbox Series X, on Amazon), and at first glance we were positively impressed by the creation of the settings, while instead the characters convinced us little, especially with regard to the animations of the faces (and the lip synch).
Over time, however, we have noticed other problems. In addition to the sporadic bugs, the game begins to suffer from noticeable slowdownsespecially from the middle of the adventure onwards. Furthermore, the settings, although initially beautiful to look at, are all too similar to each other; in a given level, each location ends up looking like the other, given a sometimes total lack of reference points that identify a place.
In short, we would have expected more as regards the level design and some glimpses of the artistic direction, also considering the possibilities offered by the staged setting. The sound goes better: the ambient traces are really impressive, evocative and always present, without ever being intrusive.
The settings aren’t bad, but they tend to look too much alike.
The perfect killing machine
The gameplay of Steelrising does not reserve any particular surprises. It is a third-person action-RPG, which borrows much of its mechanics from the soulslike that we all know by now. The game is structured in levels, thus adopting an approach open map. In each level we will find enemies to take down and secrets to discover, should we decide to fully explore the area.
Aegis’s controls are reminiscent of any Dark Souls; we have light attack, heavy attack, dodge and so on. Depending on the class chosen at the beginning we will also have special skills; in our case, for example, we decided to equip ourselves with a shield.
If you are used to Dark Souls, then, you will feel at home when you get involved in the first fight. The scheme to follow is practically the same: study the pattern of the enemies and then use their blind moments to our advantage. This is especially true for boss fights, which are obviously the most challenging obstacles in the game.
Vestals are the equivalent of bonfires.
Compared to Dark Souls, Steelrising is slightly more dynamic: Aegis is fast and responsive, and if we keep an eye on the stamina we will always be able to take us to safety during an attack.
Unfortunately, however, the AI does not shine for acumen. Normal enemies all behave like this: they see us, they approach, they stop, the combat animation starts, they attack. In this period of time, we can safely prepare our offensive and take the lead by exploiting their shortcomings.
By defeating the enemies we will be able to obtain souls, which we can use to enhance Aegis to the vestals, statues that basically perform the function of bonfires in Dark Souls.
In short, the game it is a soulslike in all respectsand one of the first notes that we found ourselves moving to the game is precisely this: Steelrising essentially lacks real news, something that distinguishes it from the mass of titles already on the market.
The problem, however, escalated as we realized that the revisited mechanics were not only the same, but in some cases had been made worse.
Take Aegis controls for example. In combat they are quite fluid, but the lock on enemies is not really very reliableand we will often find ourselves having blind moments, which is potentially deadly in a soulslike.
The platforming phases also make you feel like you don’t have complete control over Aegis: especially when the game requires you to make precise jumps, it feels like you don’t have complete control over her movement and landing.
Then we come to the level design: we have already mentioned before the fact that the different game levels tend to have, within them, locations that are almost completely indistinguishable from each other, due to the lack of reference points that differentiate the different points of the level.
This means that even exploration can sometimes be more frustrating than fun: it’s easy to get lost and not understand where you came from, especially if you leave the game for a few days.
Not only that: sometimes it is also easy to miss the vestals, which act as checkpoints in the game. Almost every level, in fact, is chock full of statues, and sometimes it may happen to confuse a vestal with one of the many ornamental statues, avoiding activating it and therefore having a nearby restore point.
To partially save Steelrising from getting lost in a sea of titles with much more personality, there is an apparently secondary factor: the difficulty. Like any soulslike, Steelrising aims to put our reflexes and skills to the test (when AI works, at least). However, in the menu we will also be able to find options for adjust the difficulty to our liking.
We can, for example, decide to reduce the damage suffered (even up to 0%), not to lose souls once defeated or, again, to speed up the regeneration of stamina.
For some players, this could be the equivalent of a cheat menu, but we actually appreciated this choice: the presence of a scalable and customizable difficulty can allow each player to enjoy the experience, independently deciding the level of challenge. more suited to its capabilities (if this appeals to you, you can retrieve it on Amazon).
A demonstration, in other words, that a soulslike doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult to have fun and satisfying gameplay.
Summing up, therefore, Steelrising is a competently developed, functional, soulslike one it lacks any element to shine with its own light. Not only that, but some of the typical mechanics of the genre are also poorly refined when compared to what is seen in better titles.
This is not a bad game, definitely not: it reaches enough and can also give you various satisfactions if you are passionate about the genre and if you have already stripped the best of the market today. Especially if the setting (very evocative, it must be said) attracts you or if you are interested in the presence of a scalable difficulty, which makes it probably the best soulslike for a novice.
Version reviewed: PS5