Steelrising is a recursive action RPG from Spiders, the developers behind 2019’s GreedFall. Its alternate-history version of the French Revolution sees alchemy and robotics giving birth to automats, fully autonomous bipedal machines capable of following orders. With King Louis XVI fending off a peasant uprising, his orders are to kill them all.
You play as Aegis, a unique automat with the power of speech under the control of the queen, Marie Antionette. The queen has been sequestered under heavy guard away from her young ailing son, but with the king growing more irrational by the day, Aegis is secretly sent out to investigate what has become of the prince.
The alternate history premise is intriguing, but a large chunk of the story focuses on when King Louis XVI unleashes his automat army on the revolters — an event you don’t witness. It felt like more than half of my playthrough was filled with notes, NPCs, and cutscenes explaining that this event had taken place and emphasizing how terrible it was, but I grew tired of hearing the same story beat secondhand. The later half of the plot introduces a flurry of characters with names you’d possibly recognize if you’re a French history buff but who are otherwise boring to speak with. A subplot that explained what makes Aegis special would have been especially appreciated as she is the most interesting character by far, but her journey to self-actualization is not well fleshed out. By the game’s end, Aegis cares significantly more about the people and their cause, but I couldn’t place exactly what had changed her.
In combat Aegis’ progression is a much smoother affair. After selecting a starting weapon and base stats, you’re free to allocate Anima, the game’s XP currency, as you see fit. Combat revolves around light and strong attacks, and each weapon has a special skill ability. Certain weapons can grant the ability to shield or parry, while others may imbue an element like ice or electricity. It took me a while to warm up to the pace of combat — both Aegis and enemies have big wind-ups with stiff attacks — but over time I grew to like what felt like a good representation of a mechanized battle.
Enemies come in about a dozen varieties, with added elemental flavors to mix things up. While none of the fights are especially challenging, you’ll find yourself in trouble if you get surrounded, so managing enemy lineups remains fun throughout. Bigger variants of normal mobs frequently serve as mini bosses. These encounters at least remix move sets but still feel a bit like filler between the main bosses. The marquee titan bosses, despite being bigger combat set pieces, are often not much more challenging and can often be easily cheesed with throwable items. Defeating these bosses will unlock abilities like a freezing air dash and electric grappling hook as new attacks, which in classic Metroidvania fashion double as traversal options.
Steelrising’s seven locations are separate maps you visit as needed. Each one is a large winding area that loops back on itself several times, giving access to early save points and providing shortcuts back to later zones, but because you’ll have to revisit many of them as new objectives open up, certain paths are often blocked off by the story. It’s not usually made clear that you can’t progress for that reason, and It doesn’t help that so many of the areas look remarkably similar, making it even easier to get lost while navigating.
A whole host of smaller annoyances plagued my playthrough, like textures struggling to load, NPCs jittering in conversations, and infrequent choppy gameplay, but nothing I’d consider detrimental over the 20-hour experience.
Steelrising might lose some in the weeds of its slow-burn story, but it can be a satisfying spectacle of combat thrills and exploration when it’s firing on all cylinders. If you’re looking for a manageable soulslike experience and are not turned off by powdered wigs, I’d encourage giving it a shot.
Steelrising is out September 8 for $49.99 on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X | S.
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