Ever since the release of Bloodborne in 2015, FromSoft has become a household name in gaming. It was my first Soulsborne game and it made me go back and play Dark/Demon souls and appreciate the work of FromSoft. Mentioning these games is important because they became so successful and famous with each new entry that they end up giving birth to a whole new genre called Soulsborne to which Steelrising belongs to.
Steelrising wears its resemblance to Bloodborne proudly on its sleeves and not only respect what made Bloodborne (arguably) the best game in the genre but distinguishes itself from Bloodborne in a way that makes it feels new and fresh
Over the past few years, there has been a plethora of Soulsborne clones. Some are great (Nioh/Jedi Fallen Order ), some are good (Salt and Sanctuary, Code Vein, Remnant FA) but most of them are pure agony to go through.
Forcefully adding the combat of Soulsborne games in ideas where it doesn’t belong can result in a disaster of a game. This is where Steelrising comes in and adds a little twist to the genre with a mash-up of two games.
Combat in Steelrising is fast, brutal, challenging, and rewarding. Exploration is linear and doesn’t overwhelm the players. Backtracking is not infuriating as new areas unlock with massive map portions and if you are good at the game minimum grinding is required to progress through it
The story of Steelrising revolves around the French revolution in 18th century France. King Louis XVI decided to stop an uprising of rebels by creating an army of Automatons with the help of Eugene de Vaucanson. Eugene, disillusioned that his army will be used for a noble purpose, created the army of Automatons but the king had other plans for it.
The automatons were equipped with weapons to squash any uprising against the king and monarchy. This made Eugene go mad with anger and he refused to help the king any further with the experiments which led to his abduction and Louis seizing his automatons as his personal army.
Eugene de Vaucanson had also created a very special automaton for Queen Marie named Aegis. Aegis was a performer and a dancer to entertain the court.
With Eugene’s arrest, The king confiscated Aegis and equipped her with weapons to serve and protect the Queen who was in hiding at Saint Cloud. The Queen fearing for the safety of her children sent our main character, Aegis, to find Eugene and put a stop to this madness.
The game begins with character creation which is very limited as compared to other RPGs. The only things you can change are basically skin tone, hairstyle and a few facial features (all from pre-made assets). You can’t change the appearance of the character as you wish.
While the story of Steelrising is explained via cutscenes while progressing through the main quest, it is the side quests where the game really excels at the story.
A lot of story behind the motivations of the King, his aides and what is happening in France is explained in side missions. There is so much story behind those quests that I believe skipping them is like skipping most of the game.
None of the side quests are boring and let you explore areas not available during the main quest. Aegis is the only Automat that can speak and is not bound to the will of the King. As all Automats are bound to a piece of soul, finding what makes Aegis special is a very powerful and heart-touching moment of the story
Aegis will meet a lot of characters like Count Mirabeau and Maximillian Robespierre during her journey through Paris. These people have denounced the king and want him gone.
They not only aid Aegis but they have their own agendas too. In order to earn their favor and unlock their stories (that are tied to the main story in a huge way), Aegis needs to complete their quests.
Most of the story is told through echoes (that have an important role in the story) and letters. I can’t put enough emphasis on how important these quests are. A particular mission allows Aegis to abolish slavery by helping Julien Raimond.
Some missions need you to make a choice between two characters. And helping the people who put tyrant King in the place where he now feels diabolical and Aegis feels conflicted in making her decisions.
Aegis can interact with NPCs hidden in houses by eavesdropping on them and helping them. A mission requires you to find water for a woman dying of thirst but too afraid to come out. In the same fashion, a lot of side quests can be missed if you don’t talk to Aristocrats and rebels you come across through the game.
Steelrising is basically a hack n slash game disguised as an action RPG. You can equip two weapons at a time which can be switched instantly during combat. There are 7 classes of weapons including mallets, fans, chained wheels, bayonets and halberds.
Each weapon has three types of attacks. A normal attack, a special attack and a charged attack. Charged attacks are extremely powerful with beautiful animations. Special attacks can range from blocking to counter to firing ammo. The game does an excellent job of explaining the weapons in the codex and their description.
All of the weapons are upgradeable and require special materials in addition to the anima essence. Anima Essence is obtained by defeating enemies and finding the souls of fallen people. It is a part of the souls of people who are killed on the order of the King and is used to animate the mechanical army of Eugene
Aegis can equip four pieces of armor in the game. Most of the armor sets are scattered throughout Paris and not available to purchase from stores unlike weapons. They can’t be upgraded either and each armor piece has its own unique stats
There are four classes to choose from at the beginning of the game which impacts the starting stats and weapons in the tutorial area of the game but nothing else.
No matter which class you choose, upgrading Aegis stats later in the game and equipping different weapons will nullify its effect. So there is nothing much to talk about classes either.
There are six stats to upgrade in the game with a great in-game explanation. Increasing “power” will increase the physical attack and “elemental alchemy” directly impacts the resistance to various elemental attacks. It is up to the players to upgrade whatever stats they want depending on their play style.
Just like any Soulsborne game, Steelrising offers a place to rest and reset everything in the world. These places are called Vestals. They are statues made of some special alloy that lets you rest, fill up your health, refill your oil burette, and upgrade your weapons, stats and module slots.
Module slots can be equipped with various modules like additional health or attack power. Slots can be upgraded with keys that can be obtained by defeating mini-bosses or Unstable as the game calls them. They can be found in various parts of the map too.
You can use anima essence to upgrade your stats and weapons too at vestals. Some of the vestals are locked in the game and can only be unlocked by defeating Unstable enemies. There is usually one vestal in an area with various shortcuts leading to it. This makes the game much more interesting.
Defeating enemies in a particular direction not only leads you to your objective but also lets you unlock a shortcut to the vestal from where you can explore other areas too.
The maps are usually contained and the lack of fast travel makes exploration extremely important to encourage the players. Dying in the game resurrects you at the last vestal you rested at with all of your essence lost which can be retrieved by backtracking to the place of death.
In addition, vestals also provide shops to buy consumables, weapons, upgrade materials and much more. The things only appear in the shop after unlocking them in the game first.
The combat of Steelrising is fast and satisfying. It follows the same formula as Soulsborne games where you can lock on to an enemy and consume stamina while attacking, dodging or blocking. Unlike Bloodborne where you get your health back from offensive attacks, Steelrising has its own way of making the combat interesting.
When you run out of stamina, Aegis enters a cooldown mode with a small opportunity to get your stamina back with a press of a button. But this comes with a risk of building freeze status which can lock Aegis moments if this feature is exploited. This is a great way to implement the risk and reward method in a difficult game. It encourages the players to be offensive.
The game does an excellent job of crowd control. Aegis can find a lot of items that can help her during combat including various kinds of bombs. They not only inflict massive damage to the enemies but also build up elemental ailments.
One place where Steelrising differs is that you can pause the game during combat but you can’t change your equipment or use items. The game doesn’t let you use items from your inventory if you are suffering from status ailment even if you are outside battles (I hope this is a bug and will be fixed with the day one patch)
The game heavily depends on platforming sequences to complete most of the missions. There are hidden areas that can be accessed by climbing up rooftops. Steelrising feels like Nier Automata a lot in this regard. It also adds a lot of fun to the exploration of Paris.
The world of Steelrising is divided into regions inside Paris. Each area is self-contained with its own objectives and side quests. The game doesn’t allow fast travel between vestals in an area but you can move from one place to another via horseless carriage.
The carriage also provides all the functions of vestals. The game provides you with a special item called carriage tokens that takes you to a horseless carriage instantly from any place on the map without losing your essence. These items are mostly obtained by completing side quests and can be bought from vestals but they are in limited supply so use them wisely
A lot of in-game areas are locked and can only be accessed using special tools. These tools can be obtained by defeating major bosses in the games also known as Titans. These tools include a grappling hook, dash and ram. These tools are seamlessly incorporated into the gameplay and can be used in fighting too.
The game offers a very important item early. Compass. It can be equipped and can be used as an item indefinitely. This allows you to check how far your main objective is (marked as a golden flag) and where are the side quests (marked as white silhouettes).
While I absolutely loved exploring the game without it holding my hand, the compass becomes a necessity in later areas. Some quests need you to reach places that are invisible to eyes and the not-so-good brightness settings in the game make it even more difficult.
Unlike FromSoft games where there is an abundance of enemy variety, Steelrising has a very limited number of enemies and their variations throughout the game. There is a medusa-like character with three variations. Fire, ice and electricity.
Most of the enemies deal elemental damage and can be tackled with opposite elemental attacks. Enemy AI is mostly great but ranged enemies can be a nuisance. Once they spot you, they will spam you nonstop. They will keep attacking in your direction even if you run far away from them.
The rest of the enemies are great with amazingly choreographed attacks. Enemies are never cheap but you need to learn their patterns and be patient to defeat them. Things turn more interesting towards the end of the game when a new enemy is introduced. A mechanical spider that can reinforce the enemies or buff them making the fights a bit tougher than usual.
Aegis can stagger enemies if she can land consecutive hits (by filling the stagger meter) and deliver a fatal blow.
Stealth is an important part of the game too. Targeting the enemy from behind puts Aegis in stealth mode and she can deliver massive damage to the enemies.
Steelrising offers some really challenging boss battles too. The main bosses in the game are called Titans and they are usually fed the souls of aristocrats being kept alive by a specific device. King Louis XVI orders them to kill anyone that comes across them and they are the most important part of his army. The first three Titans reward you with the tools needed to progress further in the game.
The addition of an easy mode in Soulsborne games is always a very difficult decision for the developers as this can result in a massive backlash from the fans. I personally believe every game should be accessible to everyone in terms of difficulty level. Spiders have done a marvelous job in this regard by adding “Assist Mode”.
Using the Assist mode in Steelrising is completely optional and it can be customized as per the liking of each individual. From increasing your health by various percentages to decreasing the damage you receive, this is easily one of the best easy modes available in any game ever.
The Assist mode has the potential to attract new players and people who get easily frustrated with difficult games. And for the Soulsborne purists, I assure you it is totally optional and this game offers a lot of challenges to satiate your thirst.
The sound design in Steelrising is a mixed bag. Where the clanking of the automats’ gears can put fear in you, lack of proper music during a Titan fight can make the whole sequence underwhelming.
The game uses minimal music and it works most of the time just like Bloodborne (where you can hear the prowling beasts from a distance) but unlike Bloodborne where every boss battle is elevated to the next level just by the orchestral music, Steelrising ends up underwhelming its major attraction with less than an exciting score.
Characters VA is great. I don’t like Aegis’ voice actor that much but the rest of the cast is amazing. Simply phenomenal. Lip sync is great too and the acting by VA makes me want to not skip a single dialogue.
The sound of hitting the enemies is good and full of impact. There is zero delay between animations and sound effects. Enemies respond to the sounds you make. And there are a lot of audio clues about the incoming attacks and projectiles. Every grunt and scream after landing or receiving an attack carries a lot of weight and authenticity.
The game has a lot of options to choose from. Graphical settings include almost all of the modern settings. It also comes equipped with Nvidia’s proprietary AI upscaling technique called DLSS.
The game transition between controller and Keyboard/mouse seamlessly. Alt-Tab works as intended without breaking the game and even if you go offline during the game, it doesn’t kill the game.
The game saves automatically at regular intervals so there is no chance of losing your progress in case of a random crash (which is extremely rare. Only one in my playthrough). The game offers cloud saves too. This is what a PC game should be in first place
Now comes the bad part. Technically the game is very mediocre at best. At least on PC. Anisotropic filtering is broken and Ambient occlusion works at its own leisure. This results in muddy textures and sometimes the floor feels like a film of grease. The game has gorgeous vistas only ruined by the imperfect implementation of technology. A massive patch dropped halfway through the review window and it fixed a lot of issues but still so many of the problems remain.
Steelrising also has severe performance issues on PC. I played the game on an i5 8600k paired with 16GB memory, RTX 2080S and Samsung 970 Evo Plus. It is a decent system if not a good one. Despite still being a great GPU, I failed to run the game at a constant 60fps at 1440p with DLSS set to Balanced and RT off.
Frame drops are frequent and sometimes they fell down to low 30s. This is like Bloodborne all over again but Bloodborne at least has perfect textures and no clipping through environments. I hope Spiders software moves from their in-house Silk engine to a better third-party engine that can support their vision fully (I am in no way against their efforts. Silk engine just doesn’t feel optimized for modern devices)
Coming from a studio that doesn’t have the budget for AAA games, Steelrising feels like a massive success. This is Spiders’ best game to date. The story is intriguing, the combat is exciting and the world is full of secrets to explore. Aegis is a very likable main character who only gets better as the story progresses. Steelrising is a major win for narrative and gameplay-driven games and should be used as an example by the studios who want to follow the Soulsborne genre.
Steelrising is an example of a tribute done right without losing its own identity. As a fan of Greedfall, I always had faith in Spiders and they have once again proven me right by delivering a better experience than the last. Exploring a destroyed Paris and helping the remaining citizens while combating the King’s army of Automatons is just so much fun through and through.
If Spiders can only fix the technical issues with the game and add a boss battle mode (just like Sekiro) so I can go back and try different ways to defeat them, Steelrising will become a perfect version of an already great game. A must-play!