I'll be honest, my expectations for Steelrising were quite low. We've seen many Souls-style games hit the market over the last decade and not many have left much of an impression.
While this perception definitely altered my perception heading into the game but that shouldn't take away from what Spiders has achieved with Steelrising. Here is our full review of the game!
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In a post Elden Ring world, the expectations and demands for any game that dare emulate the Souls series are far higher. My first time going hands-on with Steelrising was at Gamescom 2022 and having the developers talk me through the prologue was incredibly helpful. I couldn't help but bask in their passion for this project and the way they explained certain decisions with the game didn't ever feel like 'making excuses' but instead their interpretation of the Souls and RPG genre that makes Steelrising unique.
That's the keyword, unique. Steelrising tries incredibly hard to stand out from the crowd but fails to do so on any grand scale. Its setting and story are probably the biggest things it has going for it with an alternative historical setting within the French Revolution.
It's a fairly simple concept and ends up feeling a little, shallow once you progress beyond the tutorial and prologue. What ended up catching my attention more than anything was the combat. As someone who will happily admit they struggle with Souls games, Steelrising actually feels more balanced to my personal ability.
That could mean that a veteran Souls player may find it too easy but I can't speak for them. All I can say is that the moment-to-moment combat and the various systems in place all made for a very pleasant experience.
Shallow But Sweet
I've already mentioned the lack of depth in Steelrising's story and I'm not going to go into too much detail for the sake of spoilers. What I will say is that the early premise is promising but it feels like the story became secondary to gameplay at some point during development and for what is essentially an action RPG, I would have liked a bit more focus on it to really help me invest in the world.
That being said, the gameplay was satisfying enough to keep me coming back and I was able to put together multiple-hour sessions without feeling like the game was becoming tedious or generally unfun to play.
Combat, as I've already mentioned, is fun and controls very well. For familiar Souls players, it will feel very intuitive and you'll probably have all of the controls and mechanics down long before the prologue is over.
You have a primary and secondary weapon system allowing for strategic combinations such as ranged elemental damage which can be followed up by brutal melee strikes. The only limit to this is the weapon change speed which just felt a little too slow and took the edge off certain encounters when you feel like your character, Aegis, should be capable of moving a little quicker.
There are, naturally, multiple ways to improve Aegis throughout your journey. You can find weapons and armour to improve your stats, level up in a very typical Souls-style method where the price to upgrade increases the stronger you get and finally, there is the module slot where you can place modules you pick up from various boss fights. These slots can be unlocked and upgraded as the game goes on and you can tailor your modules to suit your playstyle.
One of the things I wanted to address with Steelrising was the problems that I encountered that almost entirely stem from the fact that this is supposed to be an RPG but there were certain issues that prevented me from ever truly investing myself in the world and characters.
Aegis just isn't a protagonist you can get behind. The way our task is laid out in front of us, the motivation and drive to work through the game's story just feels forced and little consideration is given to how this lack of empathy would negatively impact the game.
There are also so issues with mobility in the game outside of combat. Aegis can move at a decent speed and traverse certain aspects of the environment. The issues that arose are just how janky Aegis can be when sprinting, which often leads to missteps, falls and the camera sometimes freaking out.
Tied in with this is the fact that it isn't always obvious where Aegis should be heading. During my demo at Gamescom, the developers were actually quite happy that I found my way through to the end with little incident but during my time with the full game, there have been a ton of instances where I'm left thinking 'where am I supposed to go from here'. There is an in-game compass item that can help, but that, again, can be unreliable at times.
Finally, boss fights are a touch disappointing. While they can be fun to conquer, at times it feels like there is no build up and you just stroll into a boss arena with no fanfare at all.
To finish on a positive I wanted to highlight what I really enjoyed about Steerising. I've mentioned it a few times already but combat is super satisfying and there's a decent challenge as well as a fair difficulty curve throughout the game.
One thing that was pointed out by the developers during Gamescom is that they also have an assist mode. This helps scale or change certain aspects of the game to help anyone enjoy the experience.
This includes reducing damage, improving stamina regeneration and turning XP loss on death off. Assist mode can be activated and edited at any time but once turned on, some difficulty-related trophies/achievements will become restricted and a new game will need to be started to unlock them.
I also love the world that Spiders has built for Steelrising. It feels authentic and some of the little bits of lore left around the world had me really pining for more games set in that timeline. While not an entirely open-world experience, Steelrising gave you plenty of freedom in its levels and there is Metroidvania-style replayability to each section as you unlock tools that open up new areas.
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Steelrising is a very good Souls-style game that verges on being great but is held back by too many little issues. That being said, if you are looking for a solid action RPG to play before some bigger AAA releases come along, you can do far worse.
We reviewed Steerising on Xbox Series X with a code provided by the developer