Soulsbornes have exerted a strong influence on players and developers alike, casting a certain magic. Before Elden Ring took FromSoftware into the mainstream stratosphere, the studio took the genre it created from cult classic to a central pillar for many titles that borrowed from it. But now comes a very European entry to take up the mantle and to offer up its own unique spin.
Steelrising has a European charm to it, one that’s specifically tied to its French Revolution setting. We see an atmospheric, dark Paris, but it also glitters with the gold and glamour of that age’s kings and queens, a trait that also contributed to their doom. Steelrising establishes this royal patronage in its opening, while you play an automaton charged with the task of finding her creator imprisoned in Bastille and who was a favourite of the Clockwork King.
Soon we encounter other automatons: machine guards and beasties that have a dazzling variety to them. These clockpunk creations contribute to combat that’s like the mechanical gears inside their shells: considered, hard, and precise. Players must decipher the combat mechanism of every foe. Steelrising will offer up a challenge to any hardened Soulsborne fan, but those who struggle – like me – will be relieved that the game’s developer Spiders has cooked up a rather well-developed ‘Assist Mode’.
Spiders CEO and founder Jehanne Rousseau tells me Greedfall, the studio’s previous game, cost less than €5m to make and that the more-than two million copies it sold amounts to a “huge success” for them. “It’s very far from triple-A,” she says, and hinted that Steelrising’s budget was significantly more than Greedfall but still much less than €10m. Nevertheless the studio has larger ambitions for this latest title and hopes Steelrising will be distributed in Japan, which would make for a neat circle.
I played around two or three hours of Steelrising, taking up the first couple of chapters or so, and also had the chance to fight the first major boss. The first thing to do was create our character. Classes included Bodyguard, Soldier, Dancer, and Alchemist, and I chose Dancer and tested out its default weapons: light armoured fans. Overall there will be nine types of weapons on offer including claws, swords, chains, hammers, muskets, halberds, and tonfas. Players will have to watch their timing and stamina bar and there are stealth and jump attacks making Steelrising’s protagonist quite the mover.
The character creator was fleshed out and offered a fair amount of customisation, but don’t forget you play an automaton so your body shines with a metallic sheen. Soon I was wandering the maze-like gardens of the palace, and creeping up on enemy automatons. The environments in Steelrising are quite beautiful. Although nearly devoid of humans the streets of Steelrising are brighter and more colourful than, say, Bloodborne from which it draws obvious inspiration, but there’s also an emphasis on exploration and verticality.
Later on, there were platforming aspects as I jumped from house to house and pallet to pallet, while before encountering the first major boss – The Bishop – you receive a grappling hook which was enormously fun to use, complete with a slick animation. Steelrising’s combat feels crunchy and satisfying, and the enemy types were great to discover. There were dog-lions, snake-women, bucket-chain guys, and later on, a massive boss who rode around on a ball wielding huge saws. It’s a metallic-looking bestiary and you’re armed with an array of thrown items that do elemental damage. There was a nearly God of War-like approach to the combat as well with slowdowns in time and the elemental attacks.
It was challenging. I am not a Soulsborne player truth be told (Gran Turismo is where I like to git gud) but I enjoyed Steelrising after turning on the many options available to me in Assist Mode. Toning down enemy attacks and boosting my resilience to them made things far breezier and soon I was progressing, happy to explore this unique take on Paris. We were told that we’d be meeting famous historical names such as Robespierre, Lafayette, Marie Antoinette, and Lavoisier, and I enjoyed this historical frisson. It felt like I was learning a warped version of French history.
Rousseau tells me Steelrising is a “love letter” to the genre FromSoftware created , and there will be plenty of secrets for players to discover in this ruined Paris. It’s a feast for the eyes too. The devs studied real costumes of the period and delved into the literature and oil paintings of the time to come up with the aesthetics for the game. The designs of the automatons and the clothes in Steelrising were quite the treat.
With its Vestals, Anima Essence (basically XP), and the save points that are activated similarly to the Soulsborne games (complete with respawning enemies), those fans of FromSoftware’s titles will be in somewhat familiar territory. But in the story, characters, enemies, and setting, Steelrising offers something of its own, with enough variety in combat and traversal that should delight this fanbase.
Although with a steep initial learning curve, and with a copious amount of enemies, those who are fans of the genre should settle right in. Steelrising’s beautifully drawn historical setting and twists in the clockwork automatons should pull players through its wrecked streets, adorned with the corpses of the Swiss Guard, and its darkly golden Paris.
Steelrising launches September 8 on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.
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