With the French Revolution as a backdrop and its lead character being an automaton, Steelrising carves itself a niche in the Soulslike market.
King Louis XVI has seemingly gone mad, unleashing his army of automatons upon the populace in order to quell a movement that seeks to unseat him. All hope seems lost, until the queen commands her special, one-of-a-kind automaton named Aegis on a quest to locate her creator, Vaucanson. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll know of a way to shut down the automatons once and for all. Though your journey will be arduous: while you may be an automaton yourself, you’re viewed as an enemy to the many wreaking havoc outside.
Starting at a picturesque chateau and its gardens, Steelrising lets you visit numerous locations around France. Eventually taking ownership of a horseless carriage, you’re largely free to move between them at will, choosing to either pursue the main story or aim to complete a number of side missions. The majority of the environments here are claustrophobic, confining you to city streets or industrial workplaces, but there are flourishes of greenery. And as you approach the final act you’ll find yourself in even more varied locales.
No matter where you are, however, the gameplay remains the same. Progression feels pretty linear for the most part: despite each location being quite expansive, on your first visit your ability to explore will be limited to the occasional fork in the road, with one leading to a bit of additional loot and often a dead end. But as you play through Steelrising you’ll gain a number of skills that allow you to better explore each environment, making return visits more rewarding. Crumbling walls and weakened gates can be kicked down, a grappling hook allows you to zip to higher ground, and a dash ability allows you to cover large distances in the air.
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These abilities can be used in combat, too, each one useful for assaulting your enemies in their own unique way while also causing status damage. They round out a moveset that is largely defined by the weapons you wield. Both standard and heavy attacks are available no matter what arms you choose to wield, but other staples such as blocking and countering are only available as special abilities on selected armaments. Your choice of weapons here, then, is very important. Though at least you can equip two and easily switch between them to give you some versatility.
Mechanically, the combat of Steelrising feels solid. There’s weight to your attacks, but being automations your opponents are sturdy, often allowing them to hit through your combos. It can be frustrating, but once you’re aware of it, you learn to not get too greedy and better read your enemies. As you level up and upgrade your weapons, your attacks become more impactful, too, making it less of a concern. The only real thing that proves to be problematic is the range that certain enemies have, making simply dodging their attacks a tall order.
Thankfully some weapons offer ranged attacks, though they require bullets in the form of alchemical capsules. A large amount of these can be carried, but only a small number can be used in a short period of time. A variety of thrown grenades are available too, and can be looted or purchased at vestals that also serve as resting points where you can level up and perform other routine actions.
A nice touch is that these vestals are quite well placed: you’ll never have to travel far to have another go at a boss after failing, for example. Steelrising also has an assist mode which will please some. If you find things too hard, you can reduce the amount of damage you take, increase the stamina regeneration rate, and disable dropping your “souls” upon death. While the game warms you that enabling assist mode will disable some difficulty-related achievements or trophies, however, what it really means is that it will disable them all.
Playing the PS5 version of Steelrising for review, of the three graphical presets available we found the “favour frame rate” option the only one really viable. Thankfully the game still looks nice on this setting, too. The “favour resolution” or “favour graphic quality” options do indeed make Steelrising look nicer, but we encountered unfortunate performance issues that really affected the gameplay. Hopefully performance will be improved in these modes at or around launch, but there’s no guarantee. Other than that, there’s not much to report other than loading times are few but not particularly fast, and DualSense features are scant.
Overall, Steelrising is a commendable stab at the Soulslike genre by Spiders. It’s visually appealing, and Aegis’ unique abilities eventually make exploration feel more rewarding while also enhancing the combat. Those jumping in should be aware that combat isn’t quite as tight at that found in the likes of Dark Souls though, and Steelrising is a bit rough around the edges in general. Still, there’s a lot to like here for those seeking out a challenge within a new setting.