Steelrising’s alternate historical setting is fun, but its combat needs tightening up if it’s to be a great Soulslike.
It’d be fair to say that some of the best Souls-like titles haven’t been developed by subgenre progenitors FromSoftware. From Bluepoint’s Demon’s Souls Remake to Team Ninja’s Nioh and its sequel, the template has expanded outward from its original creators.
Steelrising, from Greedfall developer Spiders, is the next to attempt to plant its flag, but a recent hands-on demo had me feeling a little less excited than I had been after seeing it behind closed doors last month.
That’s not to say that Steelrising’s premise isn’t an exciting one. The game is set in Paris in 1789, in a reality where king Louis VXI has constructed an army of robots that roam the streets armed with blades and blunt weapons galore.
Players control Aegis, a clockwork servant who is tasked with clearing up the streets. Steelrising’s Paris is dim, grimy, and makes great use of shadow to highlight the class divides within; palace gardens are overgrown but lush, while back alleys are full of aggressive automatons.
- Read more: Mario Strikers Battle League review
Aegis is more mobile than your typical Souls protagonist, too. She’s able to jump, cross sizeable distances, and open up more paths through her verticality — her impressively designed clockwork innards whirring away as she moves.
It feels like Souls by way of Tim Burton, and the clockwork theme lends itself to plenty of small touches throughout — Aegis heals with consumable oil, for example, while upgrade spots create pop-up repair stations when activated.
While mechanical enemies perhaps don’t have quite the same creepiness of their fleshy counterparts in other titles, the way the Clockwork King’s army moves here is still a little unsettling — they shamble and list one way and then the other. It can make attacks tougher to predict, at least in the early hours.
Aegis’ mobility is used in combat, too. As with genre juggernaut Elden Ring, it’s possible to hurl yourself at an enemy, potentially sending them flying. Aegis’ properties as a mechanical being mean that, at least narratively, it makes sense that she’d be upgradeable, too.
Players can attribute mods to customize builds, while also allocating points to stats like Power (strength), Agility, and Durability. There are four archetypes to choose from at the start of the game, too, each with its own move set and weapon. Bodyguards, for example, are able to sustain harder hits and have an improved chance of finding loot.
Upgrading those stats comes at the cost of Anima Essence, which as you’d probably expect can be earned by beating the not-living snot (or should that be rust?) out of your fellow machines, and yes, it’s lost when you die unless you can reclaim it. It’s here that Steelrising starts to feel a little like it struggles under the weight of its ambition.
- Read more: The Quarry review
Combat is made up of light and heavy attacks, as well as special skills for each class. For example, an Aegis equipped with fan weapons can block incoming attacks, while others will need to dodge quickly instead. It’s all standard stuff, but it just lacks the required precision and feedback to feel as deliberate as it does in Steelrising’s contemporaries.
Dodging feels great, but some animations can be interrupted while others can’t. That means that every now and again you’ll smash an enemy with your weapon and stagger them out of their attack, while other times you won’t, making it hard to plan ahead of the next attack.
Aegis is able to charge her strong attacks, but in my time playing, I really struggled to find anywhere to do so — every time I attempted to charge it, I was set upon by an enemy a fraction of a section before unleashing it. Sure, I know, “get gud”, but the timing just needs to be tweaked a slither.
It’s also worth noting, on the subject of the game’s difficulty, that Steelrising offers an “assist mode” that lets players modify a series of options such as damage dealt by enemies to make the game more forgiving. That’s sure to please anyone intrigued by its setting, but put off by the number of times I’ve said the word “Souls” in this preview.
Steelrising is shaping up to be an enjoyable action RPG that’s in need of some refinement in the run-up to launch. If Spiders can tweak the game’s combat to feel more satisfying, it could be a hit.
For now, though, it’s still worth checking out thanks to its interesting premise and impressively realized setting.
Steelrising launches on August 8, 2022, for PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5.
For more previews of upcoming releases, be sure to check out the following: