Squad-based medieval combat comes to life.

I’m no stranger to hitting enemies with blunt weapons, but it’s usually behind the conceit of rolling a twenty-sided die. The few moments I spent this afternoon playing War of the Roses from Paradox Interactive and Fat Shark Studios made me regret that I haven’t picked up a warhammer for real. Recently defected from nearby DICE, Gordon Van Dyke serves as producer of this third-person multiplayer bloodbath, and he brings his special skills keeping his team hitting their milestones, but he’s also pretty dang handy with a greatsword. Between chopping down knights and longbowmen together, Van Dyke promised the PC-exclusive War of the Roses would be out in 2012.

There are several archetypes to choose from, at least in the alpha build the Paradox folks had ready to play at PAX East 2012. The Northerner is covered in mail and wields a claymore-sized weapon, while the footman has a shield and longsword. Several ranged types are available, but the crossbowman has a seriously broken user interface right now. “We’re fixing that,” Van Dyke said. “That’s what having this kind of playtesting at PAX can help with.”

Whether it was by design or a happy accident, different players will find success with different weapons, just like men did in medieval times. “I could tell when you started playing that you were frustrated,” Van Dyke said to me, and he was right. I started out with the Northerner and just couldn’t land a blow. The team concentrated on making the physics of actual melee combat come to life in War of the Roses. By moving the mouse to the left or right, you change the direction you swing, and your opponent can parry and reduce the damage to nothing. Also, objects such as pillars or even clotheslines can block your swing if you are careless. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t hit anyone with my big sword.

“You are deadly with that hammer!” Van Dyke said after we successfully fought off three players together. It’s true, once I tried playing the hammerman, I was an unstoppable force of blood-letting. Lancasters and Yorkshiremen fled before my wrath.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from playing the game, but we eventually stepped aside to discuss Van Dyke’s new role at Paradox. He was producer for big EA-funded titles like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 but he jumped ship last year to head a team at the smaller PC-centric Paradox. “I have a lot more freedom now,” he said. “I can make the call for how my game will look or play without having to get 10 people’s approval. On the other hand, we don’t have the resources that EA had.”

The smaller team suits him. “I knew a lot of good people at EA, but we were spread out and I didn’t see them very often,” Van Dyke said. “At Paradox, it feels like a tight-knit team.”

As for the future, Van Dyke is excited to make War of the Roses a franchise. He’s interested in standalone expansions and even adding the next step in technology in the middle ages – gunpowder – through updates.

Despite the similarity to Mount & Blade – another favorite of mine from Paradox – there is no world map view or an economic system. Still, I have high hopes for the focus on multiplayer for War of the Roses. The strategist in me might have a desire for an over-game of taking strongholds or political intrigue, but there is just enough satisfying about nailing a charging knight in the head with a hammer. Does that ever get old?

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