emphasized textOriginally published at: Review | Steelrising - XboxEra
Steelrising is unashamedly developer Spider’s take on the Dark Souls style of Action RPG. It’s a bit ugly, fun as hell to play, unbalanced, and full of heart. Over 15 hours, which could have gone far longer with all the side quests, I fell deeply in like with a game that is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a Series X|S-only title as well, so let’s get into it.
Automats of Destruction
It is the end of the 18th century in France and King Louis the XVI is a real jerk. You are Aegis, automaton, and bodyguard to the Queen, Marie Antoinette. She tasks you with finding your creator and trying to put an end to her husband’s desperate ploy to keep his power. As Aegis, you will slowly uncover the truth of your creation across a miserable, war-torn France. Bodies line every street as the King’s metal army kills anyone that gets in their way to feast on their souls. This is the bleak, weird, and frankly awesome setup for Steelrising’s main story. It’s such an absurd version of our world and it works because it always takes itself just seriously enough to never become silly.
This is thanks in large part to a solid voice cast who commit fully to their roles. Being an American the English language version, I played featured British accents with a mix of perfectly (I think?) enunciated French words mixed. It was a bit odd hearing everyone sound like they were from various parts of England until the name of somewhere in France came up, but it worked because of how well-read and written the lines were. All of this works in service of a game that is proud of being a Soulslike. While not as egregious as Lies of P there is definitely some Bloodborne inspiration here as well.
It is an action role-playing title where you lock on to enemies, use the right bumper, and trigger for your main attack, left trigger is your per-weapon special move. X uses the item you have equipped, B is your dodge, A is a jump and LB is eventually a series of four different maneuvers that add greatly to the traversal and combat. When Aegis is overworked, she begins to overheat, if you push her too far, she’ll enter a fatigued state.
All that sounds familiar, the nice change here is that you can choose to press Y and refresh her stamina meter via the active cooling mechanic. This comes at a cost though as you’ll take a large amount of frost debuff. Do this too quickly and you can freeze yourself in place, requiring you to spend stamina to break free from your self-made icy prison. You can use the module system to counteract how much frost buildup you receive along with various other build choices. They range from the basic “have more hp” to situational buffs such as dealing more damage when low health or having a larger parry window with counterattack weapons.
One key area the game differs is in the quality of life changes it makes. The pause menu actually pauses the game, and there are a bevy of difficulty options that I’ll get into later. From your weapons to your armor any fan of the Dark Souls series and more recently Elden Ring will feel right at home. Instead of bonfires, you have vestals. Using one resets all enemies in the area and heals you back to full while refilling your main heal item. Gather enough “anima” and you can upgrade one of six different stats. Every time you upgrade, you’ll need a little bit more anima than the last time. The love of From Software’s template is clear and I feel like they’ve pulled much of the best from it. It’s not all well done though.
Balance or a Lack Thereof
Level design is one of the areas From shines and the various cities of Paris have a familiar setup. As you progress through each area you will constantly unlock shortcuts. This is helpful with the game’s many and quite necessary if you want things to go well, side quests. One main difference from the Souls games though is that you cannot fast travel to and from each Vestal. Instead, you’ll have a horseless carriage in each city that is your only means of traveling between them. This led to a lot of backtracking, and the level design can make it confusing when trying to find the proper path to your objective. That is another major change from a Souls title as well. You can purchase an equippable compass and whenever you activate it, you’ll get waypoints that lead you to your main and side objectives. Even with these waypoints, it can still be far too difficult at times to figure out your way through the city with obtuse pathways being the only way you can reach certain goals.
One thing both in and not really in the game’s favor is how easy it is to run by everything. While it helps keep down the frustration by the time, I had reached the game’s final level I skipped every single non-boss combat encounter because I wasn’t worried about leveling any more. You can run by everything, especially if you invest into your stamina equivalent stat. That lack of balance seeps into almost every part of the game outside of its actual weapons-based combat system. I was able to defeat the last three main bosses by using a handful of the 100 Improved Explosive Grenades from the Vestal vendor. I took out the final boss in 30 seconds simply by pressing the X button repeatedly and lofting bomb after bomb into the enemy’s feet.
If you choose to play things correctly the combat is damned fun. I ended up going with an agility and counter-based setup. My claw weapons gave a satisfying combo and could quickly fill the stun meter on foes. Once that meter was full enemies are left in a daze and able to be knocked down with a huge attack. There are a lot of weapons in the game with many tied to three elements, Fire, Ice, and Electricity. I’m unsure if a day one patch is going to tighten things up difficulty-wise, but I hope it does because when you engage with the game’s combat system it feels great. The dodge and ability to jump make things feel more Elden Ring or Sekiro-like, though with copious amounts of old-school jank mixed in. From games have never been “pixel perfect” but it’s clear that the dodge here is generous with its i-frames. Many times, it looked like I should have been hit yet I came away unscathed, though there were plenty of attacks I was sure I had dodged yet the game decided I didn’t. A lot of this is due to the animations.
Not the Prettiest but It’ll Do
The game has two graphical options available, a high-resolution 30fps mode and a lower setting 60fps one. Thirty fps feels horrible, and I couldn’t play in it for over a minute before getting a headache. The 60-fps mode felt rather stable though some big boss fight intros gave me noticeable dips. Steelrising is not a pretty game, but it has a fantastic art style that I grew to love. At the start of the game, you get to customize your character and the choices are nicely varied. Sadly, there is no co-op, but you’ll see your character a ton in the many cutscenes during the game. Aegis’ model in general looks good though the humans you encounter would be more at home in the Xbox one generation despite this being a Series-only title. While they look better in quality mode I can’t recommend playing in that mode as the gameplay itself is too hardly effected.
The performance mode leads to a lot of environmental pop-in too, though I stopped noticing it after a while. The game’s environments don’t vary a ton but the city areas and their art style are gorgeous despite the technical shortcomings. I love the look even if the actual layout can be boxy and stifling at times. Attack animations can look great though enemy attacks aren’t always the easiest to read and the camera got stuck a fair bit on the environment in tight quarters.
One area that is stellar though is the soundtrack. It’s bloody gorgeous and I’ve found myself sitting at the main menu theme listening as it rotates through different songs while I work on other things. It feels appropriate to a weird alt-history English accented Revolutionary France…. Somehow.
Finally, we have the accessibility options which are great to see. They will disable a few difficulty-related achievements and I believe the new plus mode (which appears to be upcoming DLC) is disabled as well. You get various options that range from lowering damage taken by twenty-five to one hundred percent or having the various combat mechanics automated for you. It is great to see though be warned that once you activate assist mode it will disable those achievements/new game plus for that particular run.
Steelrising is a mix of decent to damned good parts that takes the Soulslike Action RPG and puts it into one of the most ridiculous and awesome settings I’ve seen in a while. Mediocre graphics are countered by a fantastic art style, fun combat, incredible music, and a story that I found myself deeply invested in. If you’ve got an itch for the genre and don’t want to wait for Lies of P, then Steelrising is an excellent alternative to hold you over.