Steelrise (XS)


by
Lee Mehr
posted 57 minutes ago / 194 Views

In a year when Ring of Elden immediately garnered so much attention, a mid-market developer releasing another Soulslike seems like a foolhardy move. I will be open and admit my own confusion with Spiders in his previous work, GreedAutumn, seemed like a great compilation of previous efforts to build on. The diversion of resources to a functionally different philosophy not only draws immediate comparisons to the work of From Software, but also to the other clones that stand alongside them. How much do you respect Steelrise as taking on such a daunting challenge will likely influence how you rate its overall execution.

In an alternate version of The French Revolution, King Louis XVI rules with an iron fist thanks to his new army of robots. Its barbaric tyranny will not even allow ordinary citizens to leave their homes without risking their lives and physical integrity. You assume the role of Aegis, a female robot bodyguard of Queen Marie Antoinette. Being the only independently thinking Automaton who can also fight back, she is tasked with finding the royal children and ultimately stopping the mad king’s despotic rule.


After deciding on its paltry cosmetic choices, you’ll quickly become familiar with the subgenre’s patented rules: every action outside of light jogging costs stamina, an empty stamina bar means you can’t swing nor dodging, checkpoints must be physically ‘ignited’, using one resets all enemies in the world (except for bosses and sub-bosses), all Anima Essence (the in-game currency) is lost to death but you have a chance to get it back from where you died, and so on and so forth.If you are somewhat familiar with this model, you understand its intent to maximize the punishment of direct hits, to practice evading attacks within a half-second window (invincibility frames) and to patiently manage stamina during openings.

The pattern is familiar, but the parameter has a “watchmakerflavor. Its lacking technical prowess (while being 9th generation only) doesn’t detract from its atmosphere either. Few places or Parisians were spared the wrath of King Louis. huge piles of rubble, and dozens of bodies lay for each automaton successfully defeated; in fact, apart from the greatest players in La Révolution (Lafayette, Robespierre, etc.), the only other survivors you will find are not are just voices sheltered in various buildings, sometimes begging you to spare them.


Although Aegis is unlike any other robot, you can forgive these civilians after seeing the variety of mechanical monstrosities devastating everyone. Whether it’s a gang of cougars or round goliaths armed with boiling pots, they all maintain a distinct clockwork aesthetic and sound design. You can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when you don’t hear metallic footsteps and firing pistons nearby. This design also complements their telegraphed attacks, as their gears need half a second to complete before making a calculated strike. Naturally, the grandest examples come from the previously mentioned bosses (nicknamed “Titans”) isolated in their lairs; for what they often lack in sheer difficulty, they make up for in visual design and creativity.

Of all the striking looks here, Aegis shines the most. Originally conceived as a dancer, her animations oscillate between robotic precision and well-oiled grace. Instead of clumsily carrying his weapons in a backpack, they shoot out and retract into his legs or forearms. The consumables are ripped out in the middle of his spine. Whatever colonial outfit she wears – be it French maid or Parisian upper class – each style reveals just enough of its intricate functions beneath. You can spot small details like its main battery glowing the longer it keeps running or its shoulder blades opening and closing slightly. It’s one of Spiders best visual delights to date and among my favorite main character designs in recent memory.


Unfortunately, this level of detail does not extend to the game itself.

To its credit, one of its most advertised features can be seen before the first cut scene: Support Mode. Any player can now change settings such as stamina regeneration speed, if you lose essence after you die, and more at the sacrifice of specific achievements/trophies. Since the standard difficulty is not very difficult, it is difficult to assess how many will need these training wheels; That said, I can understand the trade-off for accessibility.

An “accessible Soulslike” is woven into Steelrising cogs and gears. As the interconnected world continues to grow in size and complexity, remembering landmarks is not important due to an objective (compass) tracker in your inventory. Thanks to the generous Aegis and weapon upgrade systems, you could permanently settle for a few starter weapons. Aegis has a built-in system for replenishing stamina: wait for a cooldown counter when you hit zero, time it out as quickly as possible, and immediately replenish that chunk; relying on it will net you a freeze debuff or temporarily freeze you in place, but the tradeoff is worth it. Even surprise attacks – paradoxically – rely on the safest playbook.

I wouldn’t have major qualms with an equally executed Soulslike if it was incredibly well done either. Getting lost in a world, each enemy squad fighting a decent fight, unlocking shortcuts and expanding traversal options is a meditative routine. But then varnish problems arise. Core annoyances like an inconsistent targeting system or the camera spinning wildly between enemies happen too often to ignore. The areas I feared the most were confined spaces against multiple enemies; fortunately, they are quite limited.


Beyond these significant flaws, it lacks in a few other areas. For starters, abilities as simple as Block or Elemental Charges are locked behind specific weapons. The shield hit behind Aegis’ heavy hitters makes sense, but the other arbitrary limits inspired me to stick with the reliable elders instead of testing all the options. As much as I love the challenge and visual design of an early boss, the registration of wonky hits against their shield was aggravating. A successful dodge and side kick would often register as a successful block for them. That might not seem like much, but this inconsistent visual language would also get in the way of combat against other shielded minions.

While some complaints can be detailed as Eurojank it’s endemic for this studio, it goes beyond that compared to something like GreedAutumn. Sure, some clipping through the geometry and some fun AI moments are inevitable, but the third time you return to the main menu, something has to give – especially since some checkpoints are so far apart. I haven’t lost a huge amount of progress, but the overall increase in technical errors has me wishing Spiders spent a few more months in the QA phase.

There are important disputes to be made with Steelrising the design and its best elements are often quite thin. The visual/audio design is usable, exploring with a full set of moves is enjoyable, the late-night segments are certainly haunting, James Hannigan’s expansive soundtrack adds a nice layer to that atmosphere, and the foundation can still click. I can’t forget those euphoric moments of landing a final blow with a mere lash of health and stamina. But those positives become a little more shaky as the repetition sets in and you hope to squeeze past regular enemies to hit the next story beat.


Adjectives like “accessible” and “good” also fit the story. Avoiding the intentional opacity typical of Soulslikes for a succinct A-to-B storyline complements Spiders’ intentions. On your way to thwarting the king, you save a red gallery of notable French figures exploring topics relevant to 1789. Each has a unique side quest that expands the lore, and several of which affect the ending. Similar to GreedAutumnthe more complicated side quests stand out the most in level design and environmental storytelling.

It’s not Great Shakes either, mind you. Several conspiracy revelations are telegraphed month ahead of time before the story decides to come out and announce them. There are also a few gaping plot holes that are never sufficiently addressed either. Bottom line: if you can mask adequate voice acting, lackluster presentation (complete with weird bugs like translucent wigs), quirky examples of macaronic “franglish” sprinkled throughout the dialogue, and previously leveled criticisms, then this revolution will hold your attention.


Considering its more modest goals, Steelrise should be treated as a well-meaning palliative between larger meals. Yet, having carefully weighed this background and the stature of Spiders, I’m still pondering what could have been improved and expanded. There’s also been a rising tide of comparative titles – both in terms of value proposition and awful names – within the Soulslike clade that strength do more for you; however, its combined strengths of strong art direction, atmosphere, and subtle design tweaks are worth at least a specifically qualified recommendation.


An entrepreneur by trade and a hobby writer, Lee’s hateful reviews have found their way to multiple gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started playing in the mid-90s and had the privilege of playing many games on a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: every click given on his articles only inflates his Texan ego. Proceed with caution.

This review is based on a digital copy of Steelrising for the XS, provided by the publisher.

Learn more about our review methodology here

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