SteelrisingSeptember 8th, 2022
PlatformPC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S
Thinking back, the hardcore action role-playing formula introduced in Demon's Souls and further refined in the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne and Elden Ring was truly one of a kind. The combination of challenging and deep combat, environmental storytelling, and amazing atmosphere has always been very difficult to replicate, and only a handful of developers have managed to create games that could rival From Software's excellent games, such as Team Ninja with the Nioh series. Getting all these elements right while providing an experience that is fun to play is a real feat, as the many failed attempts of creating a proper Soulslike have shown us in the past few months.
On paper, Steelrising, developed by French studio Spiders, felt like it could be a decent to good Soulslike with its unique XVII century setting and alternate telling of the French Revolution, but even in the beta from a few months back, some issues were evident. Being a few months away from release, however, I hoped that the developer would fix some of them. And though Spiders did fix some of the most glaring issues, the game still doesn't go beyond being just passable.
As mentioned above, Steelrising is set in France during the days when the French Revolution was supposed to take place. In the game's world, however, the revolution is quelled before it even began, as king Louis XVI used the automatons built by Eugène de Vaucanson, his favorite engineer, to terrorize the city of Paris. The engineer soon realizes how his creations were being used, and attempts to stop the king, only to end up getting imprisoned and his finest creation, the Aegis, taken away, tasked with protecting queen Marie-Antoinette.
The queen, confined in a palace in Saint Cloud for her own protection with the Aegis, knows that something wrong is going on and tasks the Aegis with heading to Paris in search of people that can put an end to the reign of terror of Luis XVI, such as its creator Eugène de Vaucanson. Needless to say, cutting a bloody path through the automaton legions won't be easy even for an extraordinary automaton like the Aegis, and it will have to fight not only against regular automatons but also against the mysterious Titans, whose discovery highlights the true madness that has gripped Paris.
If there is one thing that Steelrising does well, it's the setting and story. Far from being particularly original, they still manage to be somewhat interesting and provide players with a decent incentive to power on and explore some iconic locations of XVII century Paris. Those invested in the story can also complete a few optional sidequests that provide more details and paint a clearer picture. Even without completing optional content, however, the story provides enough entertainment to keep the player going.
Unfortunately, the story and the setting are the only things that will keep most players going in Steelrising, as the game's clunky gameplay doesn't make it all that enjoyable. At first glance, the role-playing game developed by Spiders features all of the gameplay elements that make a Soulslike what it is: character creation, different starting classes, stamina-based combat, multiple combat options, a vast variety of melee and ranged weapons, intricately designed locations with plenty of unlockable shortcuts that lead back to save points, ample customization options, and a multitude of challenging enemies to defeat. However, as soon as the game begins, the issues hit the player as hard as the Aegis. Or rather, should've.
The main issue with Steelrising is that it is simply not too fun to play. The Aegis is supposed to be one of the strongest automatons, but its attacks barely make all enemies react. While this is one of the quirks that define Soulslikes, the best ones make it clear which enemies do stagger under the player's blows and which do not. In Steelrising, enemies react to the player's attacks depending on the Aegis' Impact stat and the enemy's Balance, the game's version of the Souls series' Poise stat. The problem is that even with powerful heavy weapons, it is difficult to break the enemy's Balance with a single hit, which often results in the enemy being able to attack the Aegis while it is recovering from an attack. Making matters worse is how clunky everything feels: controls are not very responsive, jumps and jumping attacks are floaty, and combat lacks weight, making using the over twenty different melee weapons very unsatisfying. Despite many of them coming with unique special abilities, some not even requiring additional resources to be unleashed, there are only a handful of viable options that are truly effective, such as the Shield and Counterattack abilities and any weapon that can deal Ice elemental damage. The latter, in particular, is extremely broken, as once enough Ice elemental damage has been inflicted, the enemy will be frozen in place, open to a fully charged heavy attack that can deal a lot of damage. This works against most major bosses as well, essentially trivializing any challenge even if not using Assist Mode, a special mode with some difficulty modifiers meant to make the game more accessible.
Sure, all elemental special moves require additional resources, but these can be purchased from the Boutique accessible from all save points, so any challenge can be won by grinding, purchasing the required resources, and unleashing an icy hell on any enemy. Only a few enemies have decent Ice elemental resistance, so this strategy can carry players extremely far. Other baffling design decisions exacerbate balance issues, such as enemies, which are not particularly varied or well designed, having some attacks with extended and lingering hitboxes that unexpectedly hit the player even after the enemy attack is complete and should be in recovery. Enemies with ranged attacks have an unfair advantage with no interface indicator and no sound playing for their attacks if not up close. All this result in a game that sometimes gets very frustrating to play.
It's a shame that Steelrising is so frustrating and unbalanced, as some of the game's mechanics had a lot of potential on paper, such as lighter weapons, for example, being able to fill some sort of fatigue gauge, which, once full, leaves enemies exposed to guaranteed critical hits. To fully explore Paris, players will need to get hold of three different tools by defeating main story bosses that allow the Aegis to grapple on certain points, perform a dash acceleration that can be used to cover bigger distances with a jump and a ramming maneuver to destroy certain walls, giving the whole experience a Metroidvania lite feel. Sadly, exploration is not all that rewarding, as the items obtained by checking every nook and cranny of this haunting version of Paris are nothing worthwhile in most cases. It even gets a little frustrating at times due to some forced platforming that doesn't work particularly well with the Aegis' floaty jump and a variety of other issues, such as not being to grab ledges that look grabbable, some walking on air, and so on. The locations also look a little samey throughout the game, so it's not like players will miss some amazing vistas by not exploring Paris fully. The quick Stamina recovery mechanics, which are clearly inspired by Nioh, are also among the things that could have made Steelrising more fun, but they are not implemented very well, as they can only be used when Stamina is depleted after using certain actions, but not all, such as after using the extremely important Shield ability.
If Steelrising doesn't exactly shine in gameplay, but it can still be enjoyable for those willing to look past its many issues, it definitely does not fare much better when it comes to visuals and performance. The game's visuals are far from being the absolute best we have seen in the past few years, they do get the job done. Character models and locations do scream low budget, though, and the limited facial expressions and low details do hurt immersion a bit. On the other hand, the locations fare a little better, also thanks to the ray tracing features that enhance its haunting atmosphere quite a bit.
With visuals not being particularly cutting edge, it is baffling to see how Steelrising runs on a system that is more than capable of running all the latest AAA games at 4K resolution, 60 FPS, and above with some tweaking (i7-10700 CPU, RTX 3070, 16 GB RAM). What completely tanks performance are the extremely unoptimized textures - even at the lowest quality, 4K resolution, they require close to 8GB VRAM, which is my GPU's capacity. This forced me to use NVIDIA DLSS at the performance preset. Even with DLSS enabled, however, performance is far from solid, as the game's framerate remained uneven in many situations, going from somewhat steady 90, 100 FPS during exploration with no enemies to below 60 FPS in combat. A day one update is scheduled to go live when the game releases to address various issues, but it was not available during the review period, so we will update this segment if there's anything significant visual or performance change.
In a year where some excellent games like Elden Ring and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin have been released, a Soulslike needs to be of extremely high quality to stand out. Steelrising definitely had the potential to be a very good game, but some design issues relegate it to little more than a passable game that only hardcore fans of the genre will enjoy. With more time in the oven, the game developed by Spiders may have done much better, but as things stand, it ends up being just another Soulslike with no remarkable feature outside of its setting.
PC version tested. Review code provided by the publisher.
With its setting and story, Steelrising could have been the Bloodborne-inspired Soulslike that many have been waiting for since the release of From Software's masterpiece. Unfortunately, the game developed by Spiders doesn't manage to be anything more than a middling game, with its gameplay issues making it hard to recommend to those who are not die-hard fans of the genre.
- Great atmosphere
- Interesting history-based story
- Decent amount of combat options...
- ... that are not effective for the most part due to weird balancing and combat design
- Sluggish and floaty movement
- Mediocre enemy and level design
- Optimization issues
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