Steelrising Review – Woman of Steel

Spiders' latest action RPG is a dedicated tribute to Bloodborne and its like, and a solid one at that.

Posted By | On 07th, Sep. 2022

Steelrising Review – Woman of Steel

French developer Spiders’ stock has grown significantly in recent years. After having been on the fringes with a number of less-than-stellar releases that weren’t too spectacularly well-received, in 2019, the studio saw its biggest success yet with classic BioWare-style RPG GreedFall, and though its next game is an entirely different beast, it once again exhibits that Spiders is a developer on the up. Steelrising is worth your attention.

Interestingly, Steelrising makes absolutely no attempts to hide just how heavily inspired it is by a very particular subgenre of games. Bloodborne in particular is clearly a big influence, but at its core, Steelrising is a classic Soulslike. Combat is challenging and demands that you pay attention to enemy movements and attack patterns while dodging and dealing out methodical attacks, as well as managing a stamina meter. Exploration is encouraged, with levels designed as winding and mazy paths that frequently loop around and connect with each other through shortcuts. Checkpoints called Vestals can be found and activated at several spots, and here, you can upgrade your stats and weapons and buy new items and gear using resources and a currency called Anima Essence. Every time you die, you lose all the Anima Essence you have on you, unless you can return to the spot of your death and retrieve it, providing you don’t die again before that.

"If you were to give an elevator pitch for Steelrising, you’d call it Bloodborne set in an alternate history French Revolution, where the eldritch monstrosities have been replaced by mechanical beasts and automatons. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, and yes, it’s as refreshingly unique as it sounds."

It’s a formula that’s become very familiar. Popularized by FromSoftware with its Souls titles, the subgenre has been lifted and used with different tweaks and changes by a large number of games over the years, and Steelrising very much falls in that category. But while on paper it might seem like it lacks in originality, that never feels like an issue that holds the game back for some crucial reasons.

The first is that though it lacks in innovative gameplay mechanics, the game’s setting and the veneer that it wraps around its familiar framework feel wholly unique. If you were to give an elevator pitch for Steelrising, you’d call it Bloodborne set in an alternate history French Revolution, where the eldritch monstrosities have been replaced by mechanical beasts and automatons. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, and yes, it’s as refreshingly unique as it sounds.

You play as Aegis, an automaton bodyguard who seems to be the only machine left in all of Paris that isn’t doing the bidding of the despotic Clockwork King, who seems to have lost his mind lately and is ruling the city with a cruel iron grip. While I didn’t feel too strongly about the actual story in Steelrising for the most part, from the very second, I was enamoured by its clockpunk setting and its weirdly distorted take on the French Revolution. Steelrising has a much more overt and direct storytelling style than Soulslikes tend to have, and that part I wasn’t necessarily too invested in- but simply existing moment to moment in that world and seeing how well the game brings its unique vision to life was a pleasure.

Like Bloodborne’s Yharnam, Paris is completely deserted, barring the mechanical foes lying in your path, but as opposed to FromSoftware’s dreary gothic horror city, Steelrising’s world can be much brighter, much more lush, much more verdant. The game does a solid job of portraying the opulence of some parts of the city and the rural aesthetic of others, so that while it’s always clear that it’s drawing heavy inspiration from other places, it still somehow manages to create an aesthetic that’s its very own.

Another crucial factor that helps Steelrising make up for most issues one might have with its purported unoriginality is that, unlike a number of Soulslikes that have failed on this front, Spiders’ action RPG doesn’t stumble in its implementation of the ideas that it liberally borrows. On top of that, it has enough tweaks and small innovations of its own that give its gameplay some interesting flavour, especially where combat is concerned.

Steelrising_02

"The game does a solid job of portraying the opulence of some parts of the city and the rural aesthetic of others, so that while it’s always clear that it’s drawing heavy inspiration from other places, it still somehow manages to create an aesthetic that’s its very own."

Steelrising’s combat is very aggressive, in that though you will definitely be punished for going in all guns blazing without paying attention to your enemies, it encourages you to be on the front foot as much as possible nonetheless. It’s a fine balance between being methodical and being aggressive. Mechanics like staggering foes play into that- keep up a barrage of attacks on an enemy, and they’ll enter a stagger state, opening them up to a high damage critical attack. Similarly, while Steelrising’s equivalent of a stamina meter is, of course, something you always need to keep an eye on, an active reload-style mechanic lets you instantly refill your stamina meter, thus allowing you to continue your frantic flurries of attacks and dodges.

Similarly, the game uses its clockpunk setting to incredible effect where enemy designs are concerned. From snakes with swords for arms that breathe fire to bipedal foes that wield everything from swords and spears to flails and hammers, enemy design in Steelrising is as inventive as it is varied. Each enemy type comes with unique attack and movement patterns, bringing different threats and ways to be exploited, and dealing with each of them is always a blast, especially as they get increasingly elaborate and more challenging. The Aegis herself is lithe and swift, and comes with a suite of movement options that include jumping and dodging, all of which is crucial to use in combat. Animations for the Aegis and for all enemies in Steelrising are impressive and do an excellent job of adhering to the mechanical aesthetic of the game.

Meanwhile, the Aegis can also use many different kinds of weapons, including fanned blades that can turn into a shield, dual swords that dole out fast attacks, halberds that are slow but powerful, long-range guns that deal elemental damage, and much more, with each weapon type having several unique variations as well. Every weapon type comes with a different play style and a unique special move, which means combat sports a surprising level of variety. What’s even more impressive, especially given how different the weapon types feel from each other, is that nearly every weapon I tried out felt enjoyable to use.

Progression in Steelrising is equally engaging. Being an automaton, the Aegis can swap parts of her bodies and upgrade herself in a number of ways. You can increase various stats using Anima Essense, of course, but you can also unlock and upgrade module slots, which let you equip perks that give special benefits, like having faster stamina cooldowns. Weapons themselves can also be upgraded, while you also acquire different tools throughout the game that can be used to access previously inaccessible areas.

Steelrising

"From snakes with swords for arms that breathe fire to bipedal foes that wield everything from swords and spears to flails and hammers, enemy design in Steelrising is as inventive as it is varied."

Exploration and level design is another area where Steelrising impresses without necessarily surprising in any meaningful way. From shortcuts and checkpoints to fairly large levels that loop in and around themselves, the formula used here is very familiar by now, and it’s not one that Steelrising deviates from too heavily. There is something to be said about the expanded focus on verticality at times, but for the most part, where the game’s exploration and design ethos is concerned, you’ll be treading familiar yet engaging territory. Steelrising follows the rulebook pretty closely here, but it does so with steady hands.

Of course, unlike the games that have directly inspired it, this isn’t a large-scale AAA production, and Steelrising’s lower budget does rear its head at times. Movement, for instance, can feel a little clunky at times, from how animations flow into each other to how finnicky the platforming can often feel (though some might argue that the latter is something of a genre staple). The game also has a few technical issues here and there. One time I got stuck in the environment’s geometry whilst in the middle of a fight and could only get free when an enemy knocked me with a massive damage-dealing strike. Meanwhile, the font of text on the notes you find in the world makes it almost impossible to read them- though at least you can head into the menu and read them in your inventory. They aren’t major issues, of course, but the game does exhibit a bit of a lack of polish sometimes.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a good looking game though- not by any means. Steelrising might not be a technical marvel, but it still looks great. The art design in particular has to be commended, not only for how imaginative and varied the enemy designs are (which I discussed earlier), but also for how well it envisions and brings to life the game’s warped version of a Paris caught in the grips of a French Revolution fought by machines.

Another thing that Steelrising does deserve plaudits for, however, is how it handles difficulty. By default and at its core, this is a fairly challenging game, as Soulslikes tend to be. That said, the game also features an Assist Mode, which lets you tweak the experience’s difficulty in a number of ways to suit how you want to play, from letting you keep your Anima Essence after you die to reducing damage or improving stamina regeneration by varying degrees, while these options can also be access, tweaked, or altogether turned off at anytime. Long has the debate about difficulty raged around Soulslikes, and I personally think that Steelrising approaches it really well. Unlike so many others of its ilk, this is a game that those who’re normally intimidated by Soulslikes could easily get into- while genre veterans can simply ignore the options entirely and go about their business as usual.

Steelrising

"Steelrising might not be a technical marvel, but it still looks great. The art design in particular has to be commended, not only for how imaginative and varied the enemy designs are (which I discussed earlier), but also for how well it envisions and brings to life the game’s warped version of a Paris caught in the grips of a French Revolution fought by machines."

Steelrising is yet another solid effort by Spiders. The French studio has been growing in stature and building a steady reputation with its efforts, and its fair to say that with its latest release, the developer has kept that upward trajectory going. A solid Soulslike that executes upon the core tenets of its genre in impressive fashion, Steelrising is also a game that impresses and engrosses with its unique, bizarre world. Viva la revolución indeed.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.


THE GOOD

Aggressive and challenging combat; Interesting gameplay tweaks lend its combat some nuance; Impressive weapon variety; Engaging progression and exploration; Varied and inventive enemy designs; A fascinating setting brought to life in impressive fashion; Looks really good.

THE BAD

The actual story isn't that interesting; Movement can feel a little clunky at times; Some technical issues.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Steelrising is a solid Soulslike with familiar design and mechanics, but its alternate history clockpunk French Revolution setting is what makes the game shine. Spiders' latest is a game that deserves your attention.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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