Diving into a video game that boasts being a “Souls-like” is always intimidating, no matter how serious a gamer you are. Heading into Steelrising, I knew I would find it challenging, but unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons. Not only did I find myself uninterested in the storyline, but messy gameplay made a difficult game near impossible at times.
Steelrising takes place in revolutionary France, where townspeople are in hiding because of a murderous mechanical army, the Automatons. You, too, are mechanical, called Aegis, and you are guarding none other than Marie Antoinette. Aegis is the only machine that can understand humans and speak, and it is up to you to save Paris from the Automaton army.
I can’t say I planned to play a French Revolution, robot, Souls-like, RPG this year, but here we are. There is a lot to unpack there, but the story is best left to be experienced by the player. I wasn’t particularly enthralled with it, and found myself uninterested in the dialogue and progression, but I think that is a personal choice. History—even robot-enhanced history—never really interests me.
Missions in Steelrising are very much “fetch” quests. Run here, talk to this person, find this etc. That is pretty par for the course in an RPG, but the quest log was a lot to take in. Usually you’d find a summary with the quest objective at the bottom, but here there are paragraphs of dialog and information to scroll through before you get to the point. Great for people who enjoy an immersive story, not so much for those looking to grind their quests.
Vestals are also incredibly important to the game. If you don’t find one, don’t leave the game. These are checkpoints, but this is also where Aegis can upgrade attributes, equipment, and purchase outfits, weapons and consumables. I thought I’d cheat the game and run back to one to save after I cleared an area, but when you hop in, the enemies respawn, so save yourself the run!
This is also where you unlock your Modules with Module Keys. Modules are like enchantments from other games, slots that allow for bumping up stats or altering mechanics. Aegis has five Module slots, and they can be unlocked with keys found while questing to equip stronger Modules.
For me, what usually keeps me interested in an RPG is the gameplay. Steelrising features four classes to choose from, Bodyguard, Soldier, Dancer and Alchemist. Each has their strengths, like Bodyguards with increased durability and engineering, Soldiers with power and vigour, Dancers with agility and vigour, and Alchemists with elemental alchemy and engineering. These allow them to either chain attacks together, handle heavy weapons, freeze enemies, take heavy damage and more.
“Steelrising features some very exciting ideas in terms of combat that, on paper, sound like a lot of fun.”
The weapons available in Steelrising are vast, ranging from Fans to Chains to Maces, Dual Swords and more. Each weapon also features a special ability. Some feature Block, some do ice or fire damage, counter-attacks or ranged attacks. My personal advice is to go with ice damage, freezing Automatons goes a long way in Steelrising, though my personal favourite was the Fire Chain, it’s just too cool to not wield.
Steelrising features some very exciting ideas in terms of combat that, on paper, sound like a lot of fun. I chose the Dancer class, as I usually favour agility-strong assassin types. Unfortunately, where the game struggles most is the finesse of its controls. A Souls-like is hard on its own, but when your character is often dodging the wrong way, attacks are taking you in all directions, and controls are unresponsive, it makes a hard game near impossible.
The run controls move from 0 to sixty, and you are able to run directly into some furniture pieces putting you on top of them, yet things you should logically be able to jump on, you can’t. The dash you eventually learn feels like it takes longer to move you than just running as it stalls you in the air briefly, and the dodge juts you in random directions sometimes, leaving you open to attacks. For a game that requires so much skill and patience to stay alive, it works against you more often than not.
“I loved that Steelrising is bringing accessibility to games like this, and players have the choice to enable them or not.”
This all comes with my experience during my time with the game on Xbox Series X. Luckily, Steelrising allows for difficulty controls with its Assist Mode. You can mitigate damage by different intervals, up to 100%, which is the only way I could make it through the game during the review window and actually progress. You can also enable keeping your Anima Essense after death, Endurance Regeneration Speed and Easy Cooling.
I loved that Steelrising is bringing accessibility to games like this, and players have the choice to enable them or not. Enabling Assist Mode does limit the trophies you can get, but to play the game without stress was worth it to me. Some players prefer the challenge, but with the way the game handles, I didn’t have the patience to constantly restart due to glitches and poor controls.
Along with accessibility and inclusivity, Steelrising is available in 14 languages. You also have the ability to change subtitles to small, medium or large. I found the tutorials helpful, as they are stored in a guide where you can easily find anything you don’t remember, like special moves, mechanics or facts.
The lack of a proper map in Steelrising was bothersome to me. I found a lot of the locations looked similar, and there weren’t many unique landmarks. After a while in one area it all blended together. Though the map will tell you which location you are in, you can’t see paths or directions at all. You eventually get a compass that is used in your inventory to tell you which direction you’re heading, at least.
I mentioned not losing Anima Essense when you die, you’ll want to keep an eye on this as it’s used for everything. It is your currency for shopping, upgrading your skills, upgrading your weapons and anything else you can think of. Kill everything. Smash everything. You will need it. Also, if you do die and are ported to a Vestal (the save/upgrade locations) further back, you can actually just power run back to where you were and things will eventually stop chasing you, just a fun fact.
Steelrising feels like an RPG that just doesn’t hit the mark. The animations for special moves and attacks can be beautiful, but the scenery and enemies are dull, character design is minimal and the graphics themselves fall flat. The game doesn’t take advantage of next gen capabilities, and even the dialogue is dull—your character’s voice is meant to be robotic, but it comes off more boring than anything.
For the most part, NPCs are hidden behind doors, which is part of the storyline, but it felt like a cop out to me, since they got away with having to design so few characters this way. If the cutscenes were stunning, I may not complain, but they feel like something that could have easily been just “okay” on the last gen systems.
Accessibility and options are always great in an RPG, but there are little excuses for the clunky gameplay, lacklustre story and repetitive locales. Steelrising is an RPG that failed to draw me in, making it more of a chore than a break, even with interesting classes and weapons.