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Steelrising Review (PS5) – An Accessible, Imperfect Soulsborne That Lacks The Spider Entertainment Fundamentals

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Steelrising Review (PS5) – Even though Bound By Flame was far from a perfect game, it set a precedent for me when it comes to games that come out of Spider Entertainment.

The quality of writing combined with the story it wove made struggling through the clunky gameplay worthwhile. Even then, the clunky gameplay still worked well enough.

Steelrising changes direction from what Spiders’ normal games look like. Instead of an action RPG, the team dipped into the Soulsborne formula in order to explore a potentially fascinating, cyberpunk post-French Revolution alternative history.

While Steelrising puts together a solid attempt at the formula, it loses out on a lot of what makes Spider Entertainment games delightful.

Steelrising Review (PS5) – An Accessible, Imperfect Soulsborne That Lacks The Spider Entertainment Fundamentals

You take on the role of Aegis, an automaton who, unlike the rest of the robots in the game, has the ability to think for itself and even speak.

Your master, Marie Antoinette herself, sends you into Paris to investigate what happened to her children, and see to putting an end to the current insurrection plaguing Paris.

In my preview a couple months ago, I didn’t see much of the story, but that didn’t worry me.

“Not much of the story popped up in the build I played, but I never worry about the narrative quality when it comes to Spiders.” is what I said at the time.

In hindsight, I realize that my early time with the game should have drawn more of my attention. While the narrative here is not bad at all, it’s also a far cry from the other more potent stories that Spider has put together.

Instead of the full narrative breadth, the team delivers more of a subtle story in small chunks.

This story comes in the form of the occasional cutscene, where you often meet historical figures of the French Revolution, or short conversations you have with citizens who have barricaded themselves in their houses.

The writing quality associated with Spider Entertainment appears in spots through the entire game, but it just doesn’t show up as much as it should.

Early Inconsistencies Quickly Mount

Unfortunately, the best stretch of the story comes in the second half of the game. Considering the genre Spider chose to use in Steelrising, this means that many people may not invest the time it takes to experience the full narrative.

To add insult to early-game injury, the voice acting in Steelrising starts off lackadaisically. Aegis, being an automaton, sounds robotic and stoic, which comes across well and even emotes a little more as Aegis experiences more.

However, half of the figures you meet along the way feel underacted. Even the very first character you meet, Marie Antoinette, is voiced very lethargically with a delivery that sounds more like a first attempt in the studio.

Fortunately, the more prevalent characters you come across offer up more engrossing voice work. Still, it takes a while for those characters to appear.

Limited Benefit from PS5

From the very first moment of the game, Steelrising presents you with a fully-realized environment that somehow looks underwhelming. Dilapidation riddles the streets of Paris, naturally after a destructive takeover, so the areas lack much color variety.

What makes this harder to swallow is how dated the textures look. For most of the game, you run down muddy streets filled with rubble and glass, but the textures don’t share the same level of realism.

Standing buildings and scaffoldings retain healthy graphical fidelity, but the muddy streets look more like they’re Saran-Wrapped and unnaturally reflective.

From face value, I wonder why Steelrising is on PS5 at all. Everything that Steelrising offers lacks a high level of detail on all fronts to warranty an appearance on the next generation.

Whether it’s visuals, audio, and overall presentation, PS4 offers in spades everything the game needs in order to do what it does.

Let Loose With Assist Mode

Steelrising offers one saving grace for people who only wish to experience the story: Assist Mode. This mode allows you to either reduce or eliminate damage you take, increase stamina regeneration, and retain your Anima (this game’s version of souls for leveling your character and gear).

While using Assist Mode turns of Trophies completely, just plowing through enemies without consequence has its own level of reward. It also helps you learn enemy movements and patterns for future playthroughs.

Unfortunately, Steelrising doesn’t include New Game+ of any kind. On the other hand, running through the game with Assist Mode maxed just to level your character would make New Game+ disproportionately easy for gathering Trophies.

On a personal note, Assist Mode ages better than co-op does in the Souls games. Considering that the co-op utilized in those games requires a server and another person playing the game, knowing that you can just play the game on your terms whenever you start this game just feels more natural.

It stings a bit now for me as a Trophy hunter, but I know Assist Mode will help people playing this game years from now.

Take It To The Automats

The true meat and potatoes of Steelrising come with combat. You begin the game with four classes: Bodyguard, Soldier, Dancer, and Alchemist. These only serve to provide you with specific starter weapons and early stats that benefit those weapons.

As you explore, you gain access to all the different weapons in the game, allowing you to truly play the way you want.

Alchemic weapons let you apply elements to enemies, like freeze with ice and stun with electricity. For instance, you can use a gun emboldened with ice to freeze enemies from a distance. Then, you swap to the fan blades to chip away a bunch of health.

As hinted at above, controlling your enemies plays a key role in combat. Steelrising offers up two ways to do so: through alchemic application and through staggering. In essence, hit an enemy enough times in a short amount of time, and they stagger.

This leaves the enemy open to one hit where they receive more damage than normal.

Options and Their Imbalance

Each area features enemies that are weak to different elements or weapons. This almost forces you to switch out your weapons whenever you move to a new area. I say “almost” because the game can be approached with any combination, but some enemies just prove much harder to dispatch that way.

If you struggle in a new zone, this almost means that you must farm more and more Anima and materials just to level different weapons for that area. This elongates the time it takes to progress.

Considering how spread out the story is across the game, this can contribute to a reduced drive to keep going.

Then there’s the parry function; I purposefully saved this for last. This mechanic works so well that, if mastered, you don’t need to swap weapons at all. Practically all attacks can be parried, with the only exceptions being alchemic range attacks.

These range attacks only do small amounts of damage to apply that element.

This opens the game wide open. On one hand, you try to play how you want, and you are almost forced to change it up along the way. On the other, you master parry and only struggle with timing enemy attack patterns.

I lack much skill when it comes to parrying in video games, but Steelrising offers more freedom in this department than the Soulsborne games do.

When Potential Meets Limitations

Without spoiling it, Steelrising has a story hook late in the game that felt quite cool. The build up to it in the second half of the game also came across much more progressively than the first half of the game did. While I see the ending as worth the cost of admission, not everyone will.

A combination of a slow narrative, very dated visuals, and lackadaisical early-game voice acting will undoubtedly deter a lot of players.

Those who persevere will find a fun Soulsborne that demands just enough without pushing back as much as the games that inspired the genre all the while providing a cool alternate universe for an important point in French history.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.



The Final Word

Steelrising puts together a solid, accessible Soulsborne title complete with fun combat and simplistic RPG elements. However, the dated aesthetic combined with the overstretched narrative and the foibles that come with it make this feel like a Spider Entertainment game and more of a basic third party title. The heart of the development team shows from time to time, especially near the end of the game. But, the way the team executes this formula knocks the fundamentals out of balance, creating an uneven experience with too much of its weight on the back end.