Hot on the heels of the rather disappointing Thymesia, we’ve got yet more soulslike action inching its way methodically onto Xbox consoles in the clockwork form of Steelrising. Spiders, the developer behind the excellent Greedfall, has come up with another cracker of a game to add to its resume here too, as this is a super inventive effort that avoids most of Thymesia’s missteps and serves up some satisfyingly crunchy combat in a delightfully unique setting.
In Steelrising you assume the role of Aegis, a mysterious automaton masterpiece, who’s been directed by none other than the Queen of flippin’ France to set out and destroy the evil robotic army of Louis XVI during a funky alternative history version of the French Revolution. The action that ensues does take a little bit of time to get going, with the first area serving up rather bland early enemies to learn the ropes against, however, give it a chance and Aegis’ adventures soon begin to settle into a very nice groove across the game’s refreshingly zippy running time of around about 20 hours for a thorough run-through.
Yes, once you get your hands on a few of the more interesting weapons and start facing off against massive automaton Titan bosses, exploding robot dogs, hoplites, metal musketeers, stalkers, pruners and many more types of mechanical foe, the combat here really does transform into an addictive and satisfying affair that brings plenty of its own ideas to the table.
At the core of Steelrising’s battles you’ve got a very similar control set-up to a regular Souls game, with a dodge move alongside a light and heavy attack, all of which use up stamina to perform. No big surprises there. However, here your stamina works a little differently, requiring you to avoid it bottoming out lest you overheat and have to use an emergency cooling system that causes freeze damage. Take too much freeze damage and you’ll be temporarily rooted to the spot as you struggle to de-thaw. It’s a novel approach that works well to keep you on your toes and also feeds nicely into the game’s wonderfully detailed world and character designs. Indeed, Aegis moves around, heals up and fights in a wonderfully animated clockwork manner and Spiders has very obviously put a lot of effort into combat and enemy animations across the board.
As well as your regular strikes and some simple but effective stealth that allows you to get the drop on foes for a hard-hitting surprise, you can also hold in your heavy attack button to perform a powerful charged variant and, depending on what weapon you’re currently using, holding in the left trigger will cause you to do any numbers of very violent things, from shooting a musket that freezes enemies, to lighting up an enormous pointy “volley mallet” to explode in the faces of your foes. There’s also plenty of variety in airborne attacks too, with Aegis proving to be rather agile in this regard when you want to drop down onto foes or jump at them during battle. There are tons of fun weapons to find and get to grips with, from razor-sharp fan blades that double up as fancy shields, to an assortment of swords, halberds and other grisly steampunk death devices. Aegis has also got some seriously stylish attire to get her hands on, with lots of exquisitely detailed period costumes to nab from chests across the game’s world.
On top of all of this, you’ll collect lots of different modules from defeated bosses and a few other places during the campaign too, and these slot into four upgradeable ports on Aegis’ body, giving you the chance to add your own customised buffs such as more health, more powerful attacks, more efficient cooling and so on. Steelrising also incorporates elemental aspects into its action both through your main weapons and a slew of different grenades that cause lots of different damage types to both your enemies and yourself – yes the clever automatons you’ll face off against here can and will use every trick you do in order to kill you and see you warped back to the last Vestal that you activated.
Just like Dark Souls’ bonfires, these Vestals are where you respawn, purchase various goods and materials, and where you’ll spend your collected “anima essence” to upgrade your metal body, your weapons, your healing flask and so on. The general rhythm of all this stuff is nothing you haven’t seen before but the stylish and unique weapons, chunky robot combat and elemental damage aspects combine to make the action here feel surprisingly fresh overall.
Oh, and there’s some cracking bosses to get stuck into doing battle with during your fight against Louis XVI’s metal armies. We didn’t come across any that really pushed us as ridiculously hard as some of those found in the likes of Dark Souls, Sekiro or Bloodborne, but the giant Titans here are plenty of fun to tussle with, each one sporting delightfully outlandish designs and some pretty awesome attacks for you to get busy dodging. Speaking of dodging, it’s in later boss battles that the game’s unique stamina cooldown mechanic really starts to come into its own, as you’ll need to be very careful not to overheat and end up getting rooted to the spot, leaving yourself open for an absolute tanking. This mechanic seems like a little bit of an afterthought early doors, but once you start coming up against stronger foes you’ll really want to take it into account at all times, adding some nice rhythm and strategy to the game’s meatier encounters.
Then, just when you’re getting properly settled into the flow of all of these various battle mechanics, Steelrising starts to reward you further with brand new traversal options that really open levels up, adding lots of backtracking fun as you hunt for loot, and introducing a fairly surprising amount of actually decent platforming. Just like any other Soulslike you’ll have played, you unlock shortcuts as you explore areas here, and the cool traversal additions – which include a “Bishop’s Hook” rappel which zips you to high places and some fancy new air and ground dodges – are incorporated nicely into how you hunt around zones, making for a game that’s got some very smart level design that encourages you to get busy investigating.
It’s not just smartly designed either. The various locations you’ll visit throughout Napoleonic-era France, and a few other places besides, are absolutely dripping in detail and atmosphere, with dark moody skies, rain-soaked streets, lots of devastated buildings, fires, blown out bridges, and the corpses of thousands of revolutionary soldiers strewn all around the warzone. It’s fairly grim and often quite bloody stuff, managing to recall Bloodborne’s dark and twisted design aesthetic whilst still remaining very much its own thing.
On a slightly more negative note, the story in Steelrising is a little on the weak side, never reaching anywhere near the surreal highs of FromSoftware’s greatest hits. The voice-acting too, is generally quite poor, with Aegis herself suffering from a pretty stiff voice performance and cutscenes are generally quite flat as a result of this. We also struggled a bit with a few of the weapons in the game from time to time, with some taking far too long to run their animations on fancier attacks, leaving you completely open to enemy assaults in the process. It’s not a huge issue, and once you’ve settled on a weapon you enjoy it pretty much takes care of itself, but there is a slightly rough and ready aspect to scraps at times depending on who you’re fighting and what you’re smacking them with.
In better news, there’s some nice choice in the order in which you take on side and main missions, with multiple quests for you to choose from on the game’s rather striking world map, giving you a little more agency than you may have been expecting as you work through the campaign. There’s also a huge Codex full of details for every character, enemy and location to pore over, as well as lots of lore to find hidden around areas to fill you in further on what’s going on all around you. Oh, and you’ll bump into some notable historical figures on your travels, which is always a bit of fun.
Performance on Series X was also pretty much perfect during our review run apart from the odd graphical glitch here and there. We’ve heard there are some audio issues on the PS5 version, but these didn’t materialise at all during our playthrough on Xbox. We chose to play on the game’s framerate mode, which dials back the picture quality from both the resolution and graphics modes, but leaves the action feeling super-quick and smooth – and it still manages to look very, very pretty. We should also give a shout-out to the inclusion of an Assist Mode which allows you to toy around with damage reduction, the option to keep your Anima after death, easier cooling and a faster stamina regeneration speed. This is a nice touch that will hopefully make the game more accessible to a wider audience, so kudos to Spiders for that.
Overall, then, we’ve been super-impressed with Steelrising. We knew Spiders could serve up the goods (we’re big fans of Greedfall) but there were concerns that soulslikes were beginning to leave us feeling a little burned out. However, the wonderful setting, awesome robots and unique combat and traversal mechanics that have been added to the mix here make for an addictive and satisfying game that we’re still having fun with, even after wrapping up our review – which is always a very good sign.
Steelrising is a super solid soulslike that incorporates a wonderfully unique setting and lots of well-designed battle and traversal mechanics into the mix. There’s tons of lovely little details in the world and characters here and the combat is addictive, crunchy stuff that gives you lots of cool weapons to toy around with. The story may not be the strongest, it all takes a while to get going properly and the scraps can get a little rough around the edges from time to time, but overall this is an impressive new entry in the genre that fans should absolutely make some time to check out.