War of the Roses is a hard game to describe. It’s a multiplayer only deathmatch based arena game for up to 64 players, set in a medieval garb. It has only two modes, only seven maps, and a highly eccentric combat control scheme that can take forever to get used to. In its current state, it’s unpolished, unfinished, buggy, and has a plethora of issues. And in spite of all of that, the game is somehow incredibly addictive. You’ll probably screaming at your computer screen and tearing your hair out in frustration, cursing the game, and then looking up at the wall clock to realize you’ve been at it for hours at end already. Yes, War of the Roses is that kind of a game.
It’s hard to describe why- at some level, there is probably something primeval that is satisfied when you charge at enemies in close quarters combat, wielding gigantic swords, and using your shields and armor to deflect their incoming blows. There is probably something ultra satisfying about how the game handles ranged combat, with crossbows and bows being supremely powerful, but incredibly difficult to master.
It’s also perhaps the fact that for all of its esoteric eccentricities, War of the Roses is, ultimately, structured like a modern shooter. You pick a map, you pick a class, complete with its own loadouts and perks, and then you have at it in a frenzy of chaos. Where it differs from modern shooters is, obviously, in its absence of guns, which means crowded close quarters combat is as much a thing now as long ranged camping.
Melee combat in War of the Roses can take a lot of time to get used to. It plays unlike anything else, and feels unnecessarily complicated at first. The left mouse button is used to attack, the right mouse button used to block. Holding down the left mouse button will charge your moves up, and moving your mouse in a certain direction determines the direction of your blow or parry. You therefore have to adjust the angle of your blow (or blocking) in order to ensure maximum effectiveness against the enemy’s armor, and you also have to account for his shield or his parry, and then adjust for that as well so that you are not completely deflected.
If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is. It takes hours and hours before you get used to it (pro tip: don’t play War of the Roses on a laptop, not unless you have a USB two buttoned mouse), but you will find that once you do, it feels natural and intuitive. Like Kid Icarus: Uprising, another game this year with a difficult control scheme, the controls soon begin to feel like the only right way to do things, especially given the context of the game.
Combat isn’t limited to close quarters combat though: long range ‘sniping’ using bows and crossbows. Immensely satisfying, but equally tough to use, ranged weapons are incredibly powerful to use, but they add a new wrinkle of complexity. You need to account for your target’s movement before you shoot, and you can’t hold a nocked arrow (or crossbow that is fully charged) forever, since it will automatically release the shot in a few seconds (just like the real thing; hurray for realism). If you do manage to land a shot, congratulations, it is devastating. It’s just landing a shot in the first place that can be hard.
Even when you do land a blow, or a shot, your quarry isn’t dead. They’re just in an incredibly vulnerable, immobile state, and you need to finish the job by walking up to them and deliver an ‘execution’ in a supremely cool looking animation. In the interim it takes for you to get there, a teammate might have revived them, or you might be the victim of an unfortunate long distance attack yourself, seconds away from your former target, forced to watch, helpless, as he is revived, and then delivers a killing blow to you. Yes, nothing is ever guaranteed in War of the Roses.
The combat itself is visceral, addictive, aided by the fact that it all feels so authentic. The most powerful blade with a mighty swing powering it will only leave a small dent on the breastplate of someone’s heavy armor, but a small dagger can pierce through light armor if well placed. Adjusting your blows for weak points in your enemy’s armor can take time, but it yields great rewards. Long distance players have to account for probable literal chinks in the armor in addition to their target’s movements as they ready their shots- it’s all complicated, but it’s all fun.
And it remains fun, in spite of the generally unfinished quality this game seems to have. The combat is fun; it doesn’t matter if the graphics aren’t impressive, or if the game is plagued by glitches, from minor visual bugs to unfortunate respawns in midair (although these seem to have been fixed); creating your custom classes and characters, several of them, and then tweaking them for combat can be addictive, and you can be at it for hours at end. You might find it the most frustrating game ever created, but War of the Roses is fun and incredibly addictive, and to any PC player with a spine, highly recommended.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
The combat is visceral and thrilling; everything feels authentic; generally well balanced; chaotic and frenetic; the control scheme feels super intuitive once you get used to it; creating custom classes can be fun
Multiplayer only; control scheme can take time to get used to; can get too chaotic at times; only seven maps; lots of glitches and bugs