There are many ways for a revolution to happen. Be it broad cultural change or the violent overturning of a perceived oligarchy. This being said, a lot of nuance lies between these realities. Steelrising tells the tale of one of the most violent periods in french history, whilst touching on automation, authoritarianism and systems that are upheld by cold, uncaring machines.
It also represents another chain in a trend, one of a handful of major Soulslike-games we've seen this year alone. It is both brought forward and held back by its need to follow this formula. Though competent, one can't help but wonder what would have happened if they felt unshackled from the constraints of a genre it could have done without.
That revolution background is more than a simple setup, it's a way of telling a story we really haven't seen much of in gaming - alongside a fresh twist.
More than a backdrop
The game opens from the perspective of Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France. She cowers in a palace whilst a violent uprising takes place outside. The King has opted to control the populace from an automaton army and she sits - torn on whether or not this is the right thing for France. You play the one automat not controlled by the King - Marie's bodyguard.
You must figure out what is going on in Paris, whilst delivering messages from diplomats, revolutionaries and political figures. The game is not nearly as talk-heavy as this may suggest. Within minutes, you are out into the gardens of a palace, fighting robots and making your way to Paris.
Steelrising obviously takes quite a lot from the Soulslike genre, in combat, feel, and level design. As one might expect, it is a game all about stamina management. You have to weave in between enemies, taking swings and moving out before they can counterattack. You do a lot of damage but take a lot more.
A quicker fight
This being said, it's a much quicker game than you might expect, relying heavily on combat synergy. Once your stamina is drained, you can activate cooling on your robot, ticking up a frost status effect in return for a filled stamina bar. If you do this too much, you can freeze for a few seconds, vulnerable to hits.
If you keep up your attack on an enemy, an immobilization meter fills up, allowing you to do a critical attack. In this sense, combat is a constant juggle between doing enough damage to get critical hits and saving your stamina enough to avoid being frozen. This genuinely works really well, keeping you constantly pushing.
Steelrising has a very aggressive combat system. In pursuit of this, you can use Anima, Steelrising's version of XP, farmed from enemies and items to level up your character. You lose this when you die and must return to your body to collect it again. Once you decide to level up, you have six major attributes, all of which affect your combat in some way. Unfortunately, there's less of a reason to pick a specific build as levelling up all stats will benefit your class.
With the soft cap for each stat being around ten, you don't see any benefit in continuing to focus on a single set of attributes after this point. The game is filled with tonnes of weapons to try out, but they start to merge together by the end of the game.
Enemies with ease
Steelrising is a significantly easier game than I anticipated. With immobilization and a couple of nasty status effects, you can keep the majority of enemies locked down, unable to move. The game lets you carry as much ammo as you want, meaning you can fire frost bullets from a distance, freeze enemies, hit them a bunch, and then retreat. You can also hold an almost infinite amount of restorative items, making exploration less rewarding.
By the halfway point, I rarely found myself testing out new gear as everything was going down in just a few hits anyway. Though the difficulty balancing felt a little off, the level design is consistently strong. The game is filled with doors, paths and hallways, that hint at one part of a level, only for a new passage to open up later on. It does a lot with small levels, making them feel winding and big whilst rarely feeling confusing.
This is complemented by a travel and side quest system that lets you discover more of the world. Your quests are taken in a log, tell you what you've done so far and what general area you will find the solution. This being said, you have to do a lot of legwork yourself. You can travel between a handful of major areas but the game is great at reintroducing you to areas you have already seen but in a totally different light.
A new inspiration
One of the ways it makes exploration feel organic is through new skills. Taking as much from Metroidvanias as it does Dark Souls, you are given a grappling hook and a way of busting down walls, allowing you to explore previous levels in new ways. Seeing everything from the ground, you are given great verticality near the end that lets you explore a whole new domain.
Steelrising is a game that builds upon foundations I'm very familiar with and infuses it with something I'm not. Its Rococo steampunk aesthetic is just another way it does this. Blending history and alternate history, things feel brought to life from intricate clockwork designs. They feel fantastical yet they ground themself in interesting ways. It's a universe that is wild but consistent.
Unfortunately, the game itself isn't always that consistent. There's a floatiness to combat that took me a little while to get used to and it's certainly not without its glitches. This being said, once I became invested in it, I really started to enjoy the ride. Steelrising is a game that asks you to follow it where it goes and, if you can do that, you can have a pretty good time. If you're willing to overlook some mechanical issues, you get one of the more unique takes on the Soulslike formula.
As Soulslikes become more and more popular, it becomes harder to justify sinking time into every new idea that comes out. Like The Surge before it, Steelrising has just enough fresh ideas to stay entertaining and just enough problems not to hit the heights of the genre.
This being said, it is one of the most competent and complete titles Spiders have worked on and a sign of what they're capable of achieving. It doesn't have the ambition of Greedfall but makes up for it in execution alone.
A copy of Steelrising was provided by the publisher.