Recently on the channel I played a bit of Thymiesia, a “budget” Souls-Like game and while it was OK I didn’t really connect with it. Still in the mood for a new Souls-like, I saw that Steel Rising was on the horizon and put in a pre-order for it.
I had no real frame of reference for it aside from knowing the style of game it was. I watched 15 seconds of gameplay and was sold enough on it. It’s made by Spiders, the team behind games like Greedfall, The Technomancer and Bound by Flame. Games that I had played, found enjoyment in and mostly finished. Greedfall is the outlier here, I can’t play more than about 20 minutes of that game before feeling motion sick. Something about the camera and its motion just does not agree with me.
Knowing that, I was still excited to give Steel Rising a try and upon my first bootup, I started getting the same feeling of nausea. Luckily, however, I was able to tweak the settings for the camera, so it felt a bit more natural, and I was able to play on.
So what exactly is Steel Rising? It’s an alternate-reality Souls-Like action RPG set in France. You play as an Automaton (robot) named Aegis. Turns out Aegis is the only non-hostile Automaton and is the bodyguard to the Queen. Her mission is to go to Paris and put an end to the King’s robot army. Simple, but enough of a story to carry on.
In typical video game fashion it’s rarely that straight forward. On your journey you will encounter characters, go on side quests and hunt for upgrades and collectables. The story is told through text and item descriptions which is commonplace for this style of game, however they buck that trend a bit with fully voiced and animated cut scenes. Much of the story is told via cut-scenes and flashbacks with text filling in the blanks and fleshing out the world.
So what is it that Steel Rising does well?
When I asked myself this question, that first thing that came to mind was the pacing. The game is filled with moments of intense action mixed with exploration and deserved rest. At no point did I feel that I went too long with any one of those experiences. Right when I felt like I was nearing the end of exploring an area I would be met with a boss, a group of enemies or a cutscene to move the game forward. But I also felt like the game gave me the time I needed to restock, find upgrades and get my bearings.
Combat is fun for the most part, but it does take some getting used to. Steel Rising’s combat does not quite hit the standard set by From Software but it’s good enough to be satisfying. There are a variety of weapon types, each with their own move sets and a myriad of special abilities. Chances are you can find a weapon to fit your preferred playstyle.
I started by wielding dual fan blades but switched to two swords later on. Doing so meant I lost the ability to block as that is a special move with the fans, but I gained a very usable strong attack that fit my playstyle better. When your weapon strikes an enemy there is an appreciable weight to it and sound. Melee combat was the main style for my playthrough but ranged is also an option. There are plenty of guns or side arms you can use as well. You’re able to equip any two weapons at a time from your inventory. I decided on one melee and one ranged. The ranged weapon had ice elemental damage which is a bit overpowered in this game, but it made for fun and interesting ways of dispatching enemies and bosses.
Healing is done in the traditional way for this style of game. You have a health flask of some sort that refills automatically at save points. Steel Rising also takes a small page out of Dark Souls 2’s playbook and offers an additional health option. You have your main health item that heals quickly but you can also buy or find smaller health vials that restore your health slowly over time. Unlike Dark Souls 2, they do not stack. So, you can’t speed up the healing time by popping multiple. But they are a great way to stay alive in a pinch.
Lastly, I really liked the world they built. It’s made of several smaller interconnected maps representing various locations of what I assume is a Victorian era France. I never felt lost and I was rewarded for exploring. It seemed every nook and cranny I discovered had an item for me. Most of the time they were just small, mundane items but I like when the developers reward the player in some way for going off the beaten path or even just checking behind a door or bush. The world felt believable and added to the game. It was more than just set pieces and a place for the game to happen. The world itself helped to tell the story and sell the player on what was happening.
Where did Steel Rising fall a bit flat for me?
Let’s jump into some combat and camera talk. I spoke on these already, but I want to talk about the other side. First, the camera follows the player in a way that feels unnatural. It’s the same way the camera follows the player in Greedfall. It just feels off. With a few tweaks I was able to get used to it, but the base camera placement and anchor points just feels weird. This may be something that is limited to me or a few individuals as I assume this was tested prior to release so I won’t hold the nauseousness I felt at the beginning against the game. However, the camera in general still seems off to me.
The combat was overall fun and satisfying but it wasn’t always the most fluid. It didn’t feel like there were times where I could break animation and transition into a different attack or move. Once you press a button, you are committed to that action. I would have liked to have been able to cancel an attack and dodge out of the way if the attack was still very early in its animation. Maybe I’m wrong, and this system does exist, but I could not make it work for me. I also felt like the animation for combat was off a bit. I could not quite put my finger on it, but it seemed a little stiff on certain attacks or certain situations. The clunky/janky type of movement is actually part of the overall style of the game, and I am fully on board with that, but this felt like something else. It didn’t really take away from the experience, but I noticed it and felt it worth mentioning.
This is more of a playstyle preference than an issue but the secondary healing items I mentioned earlier were in limited quantity. You can purchase them from the “market” and the market will run out. It does replenish at various points in the game but if a player is having a particularly rough time with the game, they may find themselves short on healing items and only able to rely on the main one. I did not have that problem. I finished the game maxed out on them, but I can see this adding frustration to a players playthrough. I would have liked if the market had a limitless supply of them to buy. You can find these from enemy drops and in the world as well, so they are farmable, but having them readily available would have been nice.
The boss fights were easy? I never died to a main story boss. They are all easy to avoid with generous openings to exploit. That’s not to say they won’t punish you, they absolutely will. But spend some of the opening seconds of the fight figuring out their pattern and it’s pretty easy to work around their attacks. And if all else fails, use grenades. Grenades are extremely overpowered and will rinse a boss’s health bar in seconds.
There is no “end game”. By that I mean that once you dispatch the final boss, that’s it. Done. You can’t go back in and mop up any side quests. So, if you didn’t keep multiple saves, you have to start from scratch if you didn’t finish everything you wanted to do. The game does warn you when you reach the point of no return but in 2022, it seems commonplace to allow the player back into the world to finish side quests after beating the final boss.
My Final Thoughts
There is a lot to like about Steel Rising. It does the Action-RPG Souls-like genre proud while carving its own little niche in it. The controls and combat are overall very well done, the pacing is good and it’s a fun game to run through in a long weekend. There are areas that I feel could be improved but nothing that really detracts from the overall experience, aside from the game not allowing you to go back and finish side quests after beating it. While annoying, it is still the only real mark on an otherwise good game in my opinion.
Would I recommend Steel Rising?
By now you probably already know the answer. Yes. Especially since it priced a little under normal game pricing at $49 here in the US at the time of this review. Not quite a budget title, but not full AAA pricing either. For the money I feel I got the type of experience I was after and genuinely got wrapped up in the story and world that the game offered. I had a fun time with the different weapons and outfits available for Aegis and never found the game to be too punishing. Aside from the boss fights, there is a genuine challenge on offer that left me feeling accomplished after getting through certain areas.