SteelRising is the latest project from Spiders, a studio that has been steadily improving with each game since my first foray with of Orcs and Men until the recent Greedfall. Their latest here sees the developer having a stab at the popular soulsborne style of game, so does it keep the studio on an upwards trajectory? Lets take a look.
It’s 1789 and revolution is in the air on the streets of Paris. Before it manages to gain enough momentum, the tyrannical madness of King Louis XVI sees him unleash a violent legion of automatons on the people of France. The revolution looks crushed before it began, but not all hope is lost as a mechanical masterpiece created by the engineer Vaucanson has yet to enter the fray and change the course of history.
You play as Aegis, the aforementioned mechanical masterpiece, an automaton unlike the others as this one can speak and seems to have free will. As the personal bodyguard of Marie-Antoinette, you are later tasked by her to break out of the estate and head to Paris to stop the King. This is obviously easier said than done as not only do you have the automatons to deal with, but some unscrupulous humans too. While the story itself is alright, its the alternate history premise that stands out for me. The world crafted here is excellent and you can find plenty of additional lore if you look around for letters etc with each new area demanding you risk searching every corner.
There’s an assist mode the game will ask you about when starting that allows the player to customise some aspects of the games difficulty to ease their playthrough at the cost of achievements. The inclusion of this mode has caused a stir online and I don’t get why myself. It is optional at the end of the day and some folk raging at a developer for having the audacity to include it isn’t a good look.
Steelrising can look surprisingly good at times, as well as not so good to be fair, can be quite dark with the ruined streets of Paris in the midst of a revolution looking quite atmospheric. Fires cause shadows to dance, mist and fog floats slowly, and death can be found around every corner. This attention to detail carries over to the character designs and boss characters, Aegis herself has all manner of little details to appreciate, as the clockpunk (as I’ve heard it called) styling looks suitable old for the 18th century and packs a lot of little detail. The special effects are also nice, with the aforementioned smoke and fog floating around helping to create an eerie atmosphere if the piles of bodies and lynched folk don’t.
Lets talk performance, as it seems to be a major bugbear for some so far. On my system (R7 3800X/16GB/RTX 2080ti) I’m able to get 70-90fps most of the time using DLSS Quality at 4K with high settings and raytracing off (its subtle enough to not be worth the frame cost) Issues seem to stem from Ultra settings mainly and the games high use of VRAM effecting cards with less than 8GB, so some tweaking is likely needed until further optimisation is done by the developers down the line as promised.
Yes this a souls-like, so follows all the same conventions you’ll find in others of its kind, such as some difficulty until you’ve learned things like the attack patterns of foes. You will generally be slowly making your way through an area, which will interconnect and have shortcuts to open back to a central upgrade point so you aren’t too far away from resupply etc. These are key for upgrading and resupplying Aegis, with all manner of ways to customise her using farmed XP as you upgrade and find new equipment too. Your build can dictate your play, I started as the dancer so focused on agility mainly and stuck to my trusty fans to block enemy damage when unable to doge, with a little alchemy sprinkled in to boost magic damage & resistance. You have to always keep an eye on the stamina or seek modules to boost it too, running out causes Aegis’ core to overheat – you can attempt to cool it faster but that runs the risk of leaving you susceptible to Frost for a while.
If there’s any slight on how it fares that stands out, that would mainly be in balance – primarily with the elemental/ alchemy side of the game. In particular frost, with others like fire, petrification etc not really seeming OP, as frost can not only freeze regular foes but boss characters too. A few shots from a frost powered musket is all it takes even on a boss, leaving you able to get a quick combo in before scurrying away and preparing another volley. Sure you need the alchemy veils to keep the attack up, but these aren’t necessarily too scarce. Juxtapose that with Fire grenades that seem to tickle even the lowest of enemies. Heaven forbid fire hits you though as it can have Aegis overheating or even succumbing to a not so tickly death.
The latest from Spiders heads down a souls-like path and succeeds for the most part. The 18th century alternate history creates not only a fascinating premise, but also some great world design and eerie atmosphere that can match the best of them in the sub-genre. The optimisation and some quirks with the game, primarily some balance woes, do tug away at the coat-tails unfortunately. Personally I’ve really enjoyed my time with the game, and I’m not even a fan of souls-like stuff to be honest, but folk should still err on the side of caution. There’s certainly potential here for the best western homage to the gauntlet laid down by From Software, but at the moment I’d recommend a wait & see approach until patches iron things out.
A fascinating game that isn’t quite a well oiled machine.