All in all, I’m not a fan of the term Soulslike. It’s a cheap way to go to describe games that kick your ass every now and then. When the developers themselves call their game Soulslike, I still have to give in, and let them have what you want.
Steelrising is, well, a Soulslike. Or a game with a bit of a challenge, in good Norwegian. You are going to die. Every enemy is a potential challenge, and you generally never get strong enough to wave the enemies away as if they were annoying knobs on a late summer’s day.
What separates Steelrising from other Soulslike are primarily two things; firstly, it’s not quite as challenging as many other games in the genre are, and secondly, it has robots. Lots of robots! Steampunk robots full of quirks and quirks in the middle of the French Revolution!
Save us from the king!
You step into the role as Aegis. You are a dancing robot that was primarily created for the sake of elegance, but after King Louis XVI’s mechanical army has gone after everything that pumps blood, it becomes your job to clean up the madness. You travel through Paris during the French Revolution and dance a violent dance with a bunch of mechanical beasts in a variety of sizes and shapes.
You get some choice about how you want to play when you first start. Some cosmetics are needed, but of greater consequence are some choices in what fighting style you want. The latter need not have a permanent effect. Steelrising has simple role-playing mechanics that let you build up Aegis, and how you start determines nothing but what the very first upgrades are, as well as what weapons you start with. You are free to go in exactly the direction you want.
Once you are out in the open and gain control of Aegis, one thing becomes very clear; This is a game from French Spiders, and that means we get a game with a fascinating eye for visual details, but a bit stiff gameplay.
Steelrising joins the series of games from Spiders, but doesn’t hit as hard as the fantastic Greedfall from 2019. Spiders are primarily very good at creating magical worlds that are easy to get into, the gameplay they have still a little left on.
A good try
That said, Steelrising certainly offers a lot of fun. Aegis is easy to control. With two attacks, and one or two extra tricks up your sleeve, it is easy to understand how to keep up with the enemies, even if it is not always as easy in practice. Most of the battles play out in more or less the same way. You hit the enemy a few times, dance away from an attack, hit again, dance away, and done. There is not terribly much more to the formula than that, but timing and positioning is an art form in itself.
Gradually, the developers spice up the experience with more elements that create both challenges and opportunities. Elements such as fire, frost and electricity can be used to inhibit both you and the enemy, and a series of grenades can be thrown to give you a small advantage before the enemy is on top of you.
As in all Soulslike games, you are vulnerable. One small mistake and you’re down for the count. The game throws a bunch of mechanical monsters at you, some of which are quite small, while others are as tall as houses, and most of them appear in different element variants.
The battles can be great fun, especially in those situations where you encounter something extra big and ugly, and have to use everything you have to bring it down. It gets a little worse in tight situations where you’re stuck between a crate and a beam and have to fight against the game’s sometimes rather frustrating camera.
There are many narrow alleys in this game, and it is not always so easy to have an overview. The game is dark, gloomy, and very beautiful at times, but sometimes you don’t know ahead or behind. The game’s mechanism for locking onto enemies offers a tiny symbol that is barely visible in the heat of battle. If you meet three or four enemies in a narrow street with tall buildings and a lot of rubbish on the ground, you are quickly blinded and unable to find out where you are or who to attack during the two seconds of distraction the enemies need to lay down on the ground.
The big star of the game
The biggest attraction in Steelrising is without a doubt the gorgeous areas. Spiders are incredibly good at creating a convincing environment, something they demonstrated brilliantly in Greedfall. Here we get a beautiful Paris that has been ravaged and destroyed by war. There are corpses, rubbish and scrap everywhere, and the most important thing the developers achieve with this is to really show how the maxines of Louis XVI have ravaged the city.
At the same time, it gives the developers a golden opportunity to create a game with many hidden and/or locked roads and detours. Steelrising can easily slip into Metroidvania with its focus on gradually opening up new areas as you progress through the story. Many areas are locked to you the first time you are there, but gradually you get the chance to fly short distances through the air, drag yourself towards points far away, and knock down walls.
In addition, you will often encounter locked doors that can only be opened from the other side. As you explore the map, you will also open new roads, thus making future navigation easier.
The latter becomes very important since the safe areas where you can store and upgrade Aegis are not as sensibly placed as one might wish. Sometimes they appear unnecessarily close to each other, while other times you have to go through many streets and buildings and a huge amount of enemies bordering on the absurd before you can save.
At the end of the road
The progression in Steelrising is good and constant for most of the game. It is only when you have unlocked the extra tools and are free to explore all areas that the problem really becomes apparent. At this point, a number of side quests appear, and they can be a frustrating experience.
There’s something about going back to an area you’ve been to many times before to fight the same enemies that just smell like cheap filler. This is perhaps what I like least about games; to do things over again. I get bored quickly, I don’t like repetition, but that’s exactly what we get when we have to brush up on the side quest in Steelrising.
This game gives us a map of Paris, and we get to travel to a number of areas in Paris. What we don’t get is a map of each individual area. Instead, we are left with a kind of compass that just puts an icon on the screen that shows you which direction to go in. You can’t teleport between safe zones or anything like that, and when you go out on side missions you have to jump through a confusing labyrinth that gives you little or no indication of where you actually have to go to reach your goal.
You get bored, irritated, try to just run through areas full of enemies to reach the goal, but get knocked to the ground. Just being able to teleport to a safe zone closer to the goal would have made everything better, but no. Instead, you have to run through the entire map two-three-four-five times to find the one thing you were supposed to do.
The first time you travel to an area is a good experience. Then we have a mission icon on the screen that constantly updates and shows which direction you should go. The side mission only tells you that your destination is 300 meters away, but gives you zero assistance in finding the right way. It is quite hopeless in a game that is so full of detours, closed doors and dead ends that you can get tired of less.
I like Steelrising maybe a little more than it actually deserves. It’s a game with obvious flaws that could easily have been fixed, a combat system that is functional but inventive, but a value that makes me melt. I love that dirty, ruined version of Paris. There is something wonderfully different about it, and the way the game is structured allows you to see an incredible amount of the city. They show a war-torn city from its best sides, so to speak.
The game is also not long enough for you to get tired of it, and although it is always annoying to die, it does not happen so often that you lose heart. What could have really raised this game a few notches is a proper map that made it a little easier to navigate in the final hours of the game, as well as perhaps the possibility to teleport from place to place.
It is rather doubtful whether Steelrising will go particularly far in competition with other games in the genre, but the unique aesthetics make this game absolutely worth taking an extra look at. There is enough fantasy based on the European Middle Ages out there. A little French revolution is a fitting break.
Steelrising is out on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and Windows.