Steelrising Review | Grinding Gears

Steelrising is the latest game from Spiders, the developers behind Bound by Flame, Greedfall, and The Technomancer.

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Steelrising is the latest game from Spiders, the developers behind Bound by Flame, Greedfall, and The Technomancer. The game wears its inspiration on its sleeve. It’s unapologetically a Soulslike all the way down to its core experience and gameplay systems.

As a big fan of the Soulsborne games, I was a bit skeptical about Steelrising. There have been many attempts at recapturing the success FromSoftware has had with only a select few coming close.

What drew me in with Spiders’ latest game is its setting. A Soulslike take on the French Revolution that’s filled with monstrous automats? It sounds like what I would’ve been daydreaming of in history class back in the day.

Bot save the Queen

King Louis XVI has gone full cuckoo as his mechanical army of killer robots started to lay waste to Paris. You play as Aegis, a former dancer-automaton turned bodyguard of Queen Marie Antoinette—who acts as your initial quest giver to kickstart the events of the game.

The game begins with a character creation screen that offers very few customization options. It tries to give variety such as different face models for Aegis and material types for her body but they might as well not have them at all as each one looks almost the same as the other with minuscule differences. And chances are, you won’t even notice due to the different armor sets you’ll acquire eventually.

You’ll also be choosing between four classes: bodyguard, soldier, dancer, and alchemist. Each one has different starter weapons and strengths in stats. Don’t worry, like any other Soulslikes, this only affects the early parts of the game. You’ll be free to branch out to any other playstyle as you progress.

Steelrising’s best strength is in its setting. An alternate historical Paris is well realized with famous sites like the Notre Dame Cathedral as the game tries to answer the question: what if the French Revolution had a bunch of killer machines running around the streets?

The rundown look of each location tells an eerie story of the horrific events that happened before you could even show up to help. Piles of dead bodies, sustained structural damages, and rooms painting pictures of struggle all add up to the game’s fantastic atmosphere and environmental design.

As you go through the game, you’ll be encountering fictional versions of historical figures that I never thought I’d see in a video game. I’ve always been a fan of how Assassin’s Creed tries to give its own version and context as to why certain figures did what they did and how it led to key moments in history. Steelrising offers a similar experience in its narrative. If you’re a fan of French history, this will definitely keep you on your toes. It’s a fact-checker’s nightmare, but a gamer’s imagination set loose.

Voice acting is a bit more on the stiff side of things, especially with Aegis herself. Being an automat, I can somewhat forgive that she’s what text-to-speech is going to sound like if it became a voice actress, but sometimes it can feel really flat, especially in moments where story conflicts are happening. I wish I could say that it’s only an Aegis thing, but even the human characters sometimes look and sound like they’re robots themselves.

Facial animations and up-close textures on character models aren’t anything offensive, but they’re also not anything worth praising. They’re serviceable at best, lifeless at worst.

Bonk! Bonk! Bonk!

Gameplay-wise, it’s exactly what you would expect if you’ve seen or played a Soulsborne game. You have your basic and heavy attacks, vials for healing, a dodge button, throwable items, etc.

Bonfires are now “vestals” where you can rest, refill your oil burettes (which is the healing potion), buy and upgrade stuff, and level up Aegis. It’s all par for the course for any Soulsborne veteran.

One of the things Steelrising does to add a little bit of variety is in its unique weapon selection. As you explore the environments, you’ll be looting different chests that give various weapons and gear.

You don’t use the typical swords, spears, halberds, etc. While those weapon archetypes are present, they are designed in a way that leans heavily on the mechanical steampunk visual identity the game has. One of the starter weapons is a pair of deadly fans that can be used as a shield and as dual blades. Needless to say, weapon variety in both form and functionality is present.

The combat flow feels nice and crunchy with the excellent sound design really making you feel every hit and clunk of the automats. Steelrising’s stamina system sets itself apart by incorporating a cooldown opportunity. Think of it like Gears of War’s active reload. The caveat is, if you keep doing it without regulation, frost will build up on Aegis making her immobile and open for enemy attacks.

There is a nice sense of quick decision-making here as the combat system rewards both an aggressive and a more tactical playstyle. You do have to watch out for some weird feeling hitboxes. The window to trigger invisibility frames for the dodge is very small.

Each weapon feels distinct enough to try at least once. The good thing is that, unlike similar games, Steelrising doesn’t prevent you from using a weapon just because you don’t meet the stat requirements. It will help maximize its potential, but everything is still viable enough to use regardless of which stats you choose to invest in.

Speaking of which, you only need to level up six different stats here. While it does limit build variety, I like how I don’t have to spend a few extra minutes in the level up screen because I have to juggle between which one of the countless vaguely described stats with sometimes hidden attributes should I invest my hard-earned soul- I mean, anima essences into.

There is a module system (which replaces the ring system of the soulsborne games) where you find and unlock new perks to put on Aegis. This helps to keep the combat flow from feeling a bit too mundane as some modules really do give you helpful advantages. My favorite one is lessening the frost buildup whenever you try to cool down your stamina.

As you do your best to bonk every enemy down to scraps, the very familiar combat system is spiced up a bit with the three different elements: fire, frost, and fulmination (which is just electricity). Each one has its own respective benefits. Fire attacks do damage over time, frost buildup will freeze any enemy in place leaving them wide open for charged attacks, and fulmination increases damage received. These can affect both the enemy and the player.

Enemy variety is okay at best. Once you’re a couple of hours in the 20-30 hour campaign, you’ve pretty much seen all of it. You can only fight so many malfunctioning robots, serpent-like automatons, and those darn dogs (yes, it’s a Soulslike game, of course, it needs to have dogs) till you start to feel a pattern. It doesn’t have the benefit of being in a dark fantasy or a heavy sci-fi setting of other games where they can just go all out on the enemy design.

As much as it can, Steelrising still tries to ground itself in relative reality. Sure, there’s a mannequin warrior running around France squaring up with what’s essentially the Dwemer constructs from Skyrim, it doesn’t go beyond further than that in terms of asking the player to suspend their disbelief.

Even bosses, which are usually the pinnacles of a Soulslike experience, aren’t anything special. They’re called “titans” in Steelrising but they’re basically just giant versions of the normal enemies with just slightly different tweaks. They’re also a bit too easy which in turn, makes them forgettable as well. Nevertheless, they do offer some spectacle whenever they show up. Unfortunately, it takes a while before they do and they’re spaced out from one another a little too much in my opinion.

If you are worried about difficulty. Maybe this might be your first time playing a Soulslike game or you haven’t really gotten comfortable with its gameplay quirks yet, Steelrising does offer an “assist mode” where you can tweak multiple settings to cater to your desired playstyle. For those who have been calling out for an easy mode in these types of games, here you go.

Vive la evolution

Steelrising’s level design is a bit more linear rather than the interconnected web-like structure of the Dark Souls games. You travel from one main level to another which is hidden behind a mechanical carriage and a loading screen.

There’s still a good chunk of large areas that have different shortcuts to open but they lack the same amount of finesse and subtlety other games in the Soulseborne genre excel at. If anything, I’d compare Steelrising’s levels to what Demons’ Souls did. Go from the start to the end boss in a fairly straightforward manner with some tidbits of secret corners and pathways to take.

Even if I praised the atmosphere earlier, I’ll admit that it came to a point where I was sick of seeing just buildings and forests. It’s the same problem with the enemy variety. The setting does present an interesting backdrop for a game, but it also limits just how imaginative the designers can get in terms of aesthetics.

The game does have a bit of a Metroidvania aspect to it as you can go back to any previous area with certain tools that let you access otherwise blocked-off places. This does give a nice sense of progression in its own little way.

The ability to jump and mantle, a grappling hook and an air dash all contribute to traversal where you can progress through areas and even find secret rooms to loot in. Part of the “challenge” is figuring out where to go. There’s a nice sense of verticality present here.

However, there are times when levels can get lost in communicating where Aegis can and can’t go. Hidden walls and fences and ledges that look like they can be climbed but they actually can’t tend to get annoying for curious players like me who have a tendency to go through every inch of an area. I don’t know if I should think that this is just a bug or the game’s failure at being consistent.

On the subject of bugs, I actually didn’t experience much other than drops in framerates when a lot was happening on screen and an unusual audio error where only the last word of every sentence was heard from every character. This one only needed a quick exit to the main menu and back to fix, which wasn’t all bad since the game loads pretty fast on my PS5.

Final Verdict – 7.5/10

I’m sure you’ve been noticing just how much I’ve been comparing Steelrising to other Soulsborne games. That’s because a lot of what the game is trying to do with its gameplay systems has already been done much better in other IPs.

Spiders have been really upfront in labeling Steelrising as a Soulslike experience so that’s how I’ve been looking at it. How does it stack up to other games in the genre and even to FromSoftwares’?

The main story is a bit more straightforward with how it presents itself offering a nice change of pace given that the genre is usually more cryptic in its narrative. There is a fully realized codex and journal system here that details every character, enemy, location, and past story events.

This is a story-rich action RPG and if that’s what you’re looking for, then Steelrising is worth a shot. It is fun to run around bonking down King Louis XVI’s automaton army to scrap as you also try to juggle political tensions and being the problem solver of your favorite historical aristocrat.

The world Spiders built is something I would like to explore more of and see just how far they can take it. If my history knowledge serves me right, the time period in which Steelrising is set in is just before things got real nasty with the French Revolution.

For the majority of the game’s runtime, I enjoyed Steelrising. There is a fantastic framework here that can be improved upon easily in a future title. The potential is just staring you in the face even. If you like the Soulsborne games, then I can see you liking Steelrising. I definitely did.

If you do not like the Soulsborne games, maybe due to their difficulty, I’d still recommend Steelrising. Don’t like cryptic storytelling? There’s an in-your-face narrative here that’s actually fairly engaging. Think that it might be too difficult? There’s an assist mode that lets you make the game as easy as you want it to be.

There are robots, crazy aristocrats, and the French. What’s not to like?

This review was made using a game code for the PS5 provided by the publisher.