Steelrising Review: A Decent First Step for Souls Newbies

Written by Allen

October 21, 2022

 

What do you get when you cross Dark Souls and Megaman? Some may answer ‘Megaman Legends,’ and while I can agree on that, I don’t think Megaman Volnutt is getting off the moon anytime soon. Unless Capcom remembers that they left him there. But for the Game Developer ‘Spiders,’ the answer is THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

I know this is a little weird, but you have to let ideas run wild a bit for this to work. Imagine the world somewhere around the end of the 1700s, it was a time of invention and innovation. People invented the loom, the steamboat, and the guillotine which was all the rage during the French Revolution. Spiders decided that it would have been possible to create clockwork automatons that served in many parts of France. As musicians, guards, and as armed dogs. (seriously, what is it with armed dogs these days)

Suddenly conflict breaks out within France, and the crown decides to turn all of these robots against its people. All of these mysterious machines are under the control of one crazy tyrant, Caligriosto. You the prized creation of Eugene de Vaucanson, the man that made all these robots, are to seek out a way to stop all this madness. Sound familiar yet?

Steelrising is mostly Soulslike, it has made an effort to differentiate itself from its Fromsoftware counterparts by designing quests and having a lot more conversations going on. They also have some of their own version of how the mechanics work. I believe that with all the effort they put behind this, it is good as a first step into the Soulslike genre, where it takes effort to be fair and easy to understand while trying to provide a suitable challenge. But for seasoned players, this might feel a bit dated. But I do believe that games like these are important to give a suitable entry point for anybody new to the genre, as this one in particular usually has a threatening barrier for entry. So without further ado, let’s go through the review.

Production (3 / 5)

Steelrising has a way of modeling their characters, that I’m not too into. At least on first look, they’re completely fine and maybe could just use slightly better texture. Considering that this is a PS5 game, you’d think that the models and world would look more thorough and detailed. Then when they start to move around and speak, I feel like there are more problems to this than I first thought.

Mostly, I take issue with how they animate. They always seem awkward and stiff. I mean, sure clockwork robots are pretty in character when they tend to act in a robotic way, but I’d rather have these be consistent and not an on-and-off thing. For example, Aegis can walk in a natural way, but depending on the weapon, will appear to attack in a very mechanical, direct way or in a more subtle, fluid manner. Aside from this being a slight annoyance, it can lead to confusing as to how exactly Aegis is supposed to move. It throws me off on how I should be tackling combat and the strategy involved with them. This swapping between stiff and smooth animation makes me wonder what sort of characteristics am I supposed to be assuming whenever I am in control of Aegis.

Enemies on the other hand, generally fit the parts they play, heavy guardsmen are very robotic and direct in how they attack. Then there would be this bird-looking half-body that’s very fluid and agile, along with the dogs. All of them, from bruisers to shooters, have an easily discernable design, this allows you to survey the field with ease and you immediately know what they are at a glance.

The setting and map, however, are kind of muted. The developer Spiders has indeed reproduced a convincing replica of France during this age, I just wish everything wasn’t so similar looking that navigating the areas could be confusing. Thankfully they have a compass item that pretty much directs you to where you want to go, and serves as your best guide since you can’t the map of an area. Subtle things like white-colored ledges made the platforming of the game easy to understand, without making it feel like they’re holding your hand too much. Honestly, though, I wish they had infused more of this clockwork madness into more of their areas. I don’t think it’s ugly, just, I wish the automaton technology and the design themes behind them blended more with the settings and the characters.

As for the audio experience, music is a bit hard to get into. The music on the main menu is actually pretty great, fair enough. However, that’s about it. I don’t recall much of the music aside from that, except maybe when a fight is starting. It’s useful to that end, but none of them really left an impression on me. I’m all about the BGM being non-pervasive, but to the point that I can’t even remember what it sounds like, that’s a bit much.

Finally, the voices, I think are good, it’s the script that I don’t agree with. One moment they’ll be speaking in straight English, then suddenly talk in French next. I’m not sure if I’m just not used to hearing people speak French, but the whole switching of languages mid-sentence, really makes it feel inconsistent.

In general, I don’t think Steelrising looks bad, it’s at the very least, decent. The problem here is that since I find most of the art direction unremarkable, I only end up focusing on the flaws. Perhaps they were trying to play it safe or stick to certain rules, but I think letting them go a bit wilder here would have helped the games’ aesthetics a lot more. You already have weird robots terrorizing the populace anyway, grounding the game in realism seems like a moot point.

 

Mechanics (4 / 5)

Steelrising by no means tries to reinvent the wheel, rather, they try to make slight modifications to it to form their own identity in the Soulslike genre.

So yes, you will collect souls to level up and buy things. You will also lose all of them when you die, which you can retrieve. It even goes with the 6 stat types you can increase as you level up and customize your character. And yes, you will attack and dodge while managing a stamina bar. You can even equip up to 4 attachments that can modify how Aegis works. Something quite similar to Elden Ring’s Talismans.

So how is it different? For starters, dodging is very strict, I daresay it’s virtually not there. Rather than using a small window of invincibility frames to get through attacks, you simply make it a point to get into a safe position in time. You can’t cancel into a dodge from an attack either, demanding that you really keep your play clean and calculated rather than wild and visceral. Stamina works a little differently too, in terms of recovery, but aside from having a button prompt to instantly regain most of your stamina, it’s pretty much the same.

As for how it’s like a Megaman game, well, that was just a joke about fighting robot masters. It’s actually a lot closer to Metroid, where defeating bosses will give you new powers that will allow you to traverse to new areas or get rid of certain obstacles that get in the way. Small plus that all of them have use in battle, which I find quite neat. Not only gives you a tool that lets you view maps and obstacles differently the moment you get them, but also a new move that makes you stronger regardless of what build you’ve gone with.

Content (4 / 5)

One thing you’ll notice about the enemies is that they kind of don’t have a huge variety of enemies. Heck, even the first mini-boss you encounter is basically a grunt with higher stats. To make up for this, they make incremental variants of the same enemies. Sometimes they have stronger stats, sometimes they make use of new elements, and later down the line, they have different parts or weapons that make them do new moves. By the time you’re getting too used to fighting certain enemies, they spice them up a little by adding some incremental upgrade, and you have to relearn what they can do against you.

While I would normally think of this as a cheap approach to expanding the bestiary, I think this is good enough given how they’re implemented in level design. Consistently within the genre, fighting multiple enemies is immediately a difficult situation. By making use of the terrain, they are able to sneakily hide enemies around corners or even in hard-to-reach places. Giving you much more to deal with than what you bargained for. While for the most part, 1 on 1 encounter is very manageable, the enemy placement does make for a decent enough challenge to fight through every so often.

Each map takes lessons from popular Soulslikes, and creates what initially looks like a linear stage into something you can open up to have intertwining paths, making the need for fast travel almost unnecessary. Though, I still would have liked to have some sort of fast travel. There is a level of variance in terms of how each area is designed, some will have more elevated areas, and others will be like a maze composed of narrow corridors or tunnels. There is something to find at almost every part of the map of interest, be it a key item for a quest, a small consumable, a new piece of equipment, or upgrade materials, it’s usually worth having a look around that other path away from your current objective. It doesn’t really have anything like traps or hazards you’d want to avoid, generally, all the threats you’ll be dealing with are enemies hiding behind cover, or out of sight.

Aside from them being well-placed though, the enemy AI is rather easy to fool and cheese out. They move predictably and can be escaped from after a rather short leash range. If I saw what looked like a difficult encounter in the next area, I would exploit the terrain to take care of what I was up against until I found the encounter easy enough, and proceed on.

You’re actually given a lot of tools to handle each encounter properly. And weapons to match how you want to play, but given that they all scale on specific stats, I was discouraged to explore and experiment with the other weapons I got. I was more or less stuck with the Bayonet because of its strong damage and ranged options, and dagger types for encounters I want to be nimbler in. However, there are items in this game that are much stronger than any of the weapons you’ll ever find.

Presenting the optional healing vial and the unlimited stamina potion. BOSSES HATE THESE. In nearly all Soulslike games, your healing is limited, but in Steelrising, you can buy these items that heal a huge amount of your HP over twenty seconds, which sounds slow, but makes it so that you’re already healing the moment you’re hit. It also makes it easy to proceed through stages without exhausting your primary healing item, this made me blast through every stage on my first try. I rarely ever died. Now, what if I also was able to remove the limitation on how much I can move and attack at a time? Given that most enemies, even bosses have downtime after attacks, how much attacking can I get away with just by drinking the green juice and just tapping away the R1 button? When I finally started using items, I was borderline making even story boss encounters trivial. If I can get rid of the limitations that the game would set on the player by default, the game stops being a challenge and more of a chore. It didn’t help that the story bosses didn’t feel that well-designed either. They were unique and had their own moves and gimmicks, yes. But they hardly made me sit down and try to think about how to get around how they would attack or fight. There is maybe one exception, but other than that, most encounters didn’t make for a challenge that suited their status. Playing through the level was fun enough, but the bosses weren’t a good enough coup de ’grace to conclude it, I’m afraid.

Oh, and then there’s the whole deal with finding memories to rescue trapped people. During your playthrough, you’ll be able to encounter some people, and save others. If you explore each level enough before fighting the boss, you’ll find the key items necessary to save them from their sleep. What they unlock for you are sub-quests you can unlock and choose how to proceed with the story with. While I like the idea on paper, I was not a fan of cut scenes that tended to drag the same events of people arguing and running from machinery again and again. It was in fact, hard for me to remember almost all of the personalities I ran into during my time with the game because of how generic all of them looked. It didn’t help that many of them had roundabout ways of speaking when finding out about the sub-quests. It would have been helpful if I wasn’t just looking at talking heads during the entire conversation. I ended up wanting to skip through a lot of it since the journal was handy enough to keep me on point for every sub-quest I wanted to go through. I did appreciate there is a reason to go revisit previous levels and even have new encounters and enemies designed into them, but I wish I wasn’t trying to uncover a conspiracy plot just by talking to people. It would have been nice to have some extra scenes to them, or at least rely more on world-driven storytelling instead of making me go through pages of conversation.

Features (3.5 / 5)

Steelrising has a New Game+ mode that is a bit different from what you’d expect. Yes, you get to carry over your character along with the inventory and level that you had when you finished the game. Enemies appear to have improved stats to at least keep up with your character’s carried-over status. Though they’re still mostly pushovers. You also gain a boosted number of souls or XP from everything you slay. This is so that you can start putting in new stat points for whatever direction you want to go, and to keep up with the new demand set forth by the new weapons, attachments, and upgrade levels now available to you.

As it turns out, they have more ideas in store for you even after you finish the game, so while the challenge might not be quite there, there’s still a certain amount of experimentation you can experience through some of the game’s now unlocked content.

There are some bugs with the game as well, though very seldom, and some of them may have been patched out by the time you are hearing or reading this. One would be having the controls get stuck when you’re browsing your in-game menu and an enemy suddenly starts attacking you. The controls for battle and the menu get mixed up, and makes you unable to close the menu.

There was also this one point where I ended up being stuck on geometry and had no choice but to force a respawn, and I unfortunately couldn’t get the souls I lost back. These bugs are actually very rare, and while they did break the game, they didn’t happen consistently enough for me to call it a problem. Through my playthrough, I maybe experienced them at three separate points.

 

Conclusion

Honestly speaking, I never came across a point where I felt significantly threatened by whatever Steelrising threw at me. Perhaps we can attribute this to all the Fromsoft experience I have considering I’ve played nearly all of Soulsborne games. In fact, I found the bosses the most disappointing part of this game, which really hurt considering these bosses should be the crescendo of each level. However, I did enjoy pushing through their levels to see how far I can go and to see just what they have in store. They were able to design encounters that made me think for a bit about how to take advantage of the tools they had handed me and mitigate enemy formations before they put me at risk.

Most of the pitfalls that the Game Developer Spiders falls into actually feel very familiar, like, Dark Souls 1 familiar. While it looks like they went out of their way to try to stand out from the games that inspired them, it seems they have failed to avoid similar mistakes they made in development. But maybe that’s not so bad? Let’s say, you haven’t been trying any sort of Soulslike games because you get intimidated by their difficulty, how brutal they are in punishing you and how strict they are in demand in your level of play. Sure, there’s the remake of the original Dark Souls, but the design and sensibilities of an old game can only go so far. There will be a need for new games that can serve as an entry point for new audiences that are made more towards current gaming trends and capabilities. I think this is where Steelrising stands, despite my reservations about its aesthetics and technical level for the graphics it presents.

You might notice that despite my criticisms about the game I seem to hold Steelrising in a positive light. True, I tend to be more charitable towards smaller and indie developers because I try to take into account how difficult it could be to make a title that would say, make it to the PS5 and try to stand toe to toe with other offerings from triple-A developers. I also think it’s important to support people that are genuinely trying to make something new in this era riddled with reboots, remakes, reimaginings, and more. To at least give them a fair shake and view them at the terms that they are able to deliver on. And it’s this attempt to create something new that revitalizes my curiosity and keeps me going to see where the game takes me. To create something new and original are two very hard things to get right in one swing, and maybe they played a little too safe here and there, but I do commend that they were able to put something together that feels different enough to stand on its own. What I do hope, is that they come out with a far more polished title for next time. I can see that it has potential but still feels like it’s under the class it’s trying to punch at.

I don’t think Steelrising is able to bring something really new to the table, so seasoned players within the genre might find this game easier than they expect it to be. However, I think this would be a good point to step into the world of challenging fights to get their feet wet with the genre. And decide if they want to delve deeper into it if it suits their tastes.

Steelrising may be a well-oiled machine but simply operates within specifications, scoring a 3.5 / 5.

Available on the PS5, Xbox X, and PC.

 

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