The French game developer Spiders, known from Greedfall, has done his homework regarding the French Revolution. In addition to famous people, important neighbourhoods, gardens and squares are also beautifully portrayed. That’s where the similarities end, because in Spider’s version, King Louis XIV has an army of bloodthirsty automatons – humanoid robots – under his command. These inexhaustible machines are running wild, killing everything and everyone in their path. Fortunately, there is one automaton that can stop them.
You play as Aegis, a former dancer at the king’s court and now the personal bodyguard of the refugee Queen Marie-Antoinette. Throughout the game, the focus is on defeating King Louis XIV and his mechanical army, but the story of Steelrising thankfully goes deeper than that. Along the way, you’ll meet a small ensemble of characters who, together with you, learn more and more about why the automatons have gone crazy.
Aegis is the main character of Steelrising, but the real lead role is played by alchemy. It explains why Aegis is the way she is: not only her arsenal of weapons and combat combos, but also her graceful way of talking and thinking. Aegis and the other Automata are the accomplished miracles – or curses – of this forbidden science.
Automaton against automaton
Also during battles in Steelrising the focus is on the use of alchemy in addition to regular attacks. Think bombs, bullet capsules and weapons that can freeze, burn or electrocute. Spiders wanted to pay tribute to the Souls games with Steelrising, so there’s also a stamina bar to keep an eye on and you can lose a lot of health if you get hit by an enemy. This merciless dynamic often keeps you on the edge of your seat as a player, but you can also choose to make the game a lot more forgivable by turning on the Assist Mode. For example, this allows you to choose how much damage Aegis can take before she breaks.
How Aegis continues to fight is up to you. At the start of the game you choose whether she is primarily a bodyguard, soldier, dancer or alchemist. This mainly determines which weapons Aegis can handle better, for example heavy weapons as a bodyguard, firearms as a soldier or fast weapons as a dancer. There is a wide variety of weapons to pick up, such as muskets, axes, spears and swords, fans and hammers. Each weapon also has a special ability, such as blocking or a whirlwind of sharp blades. Experimenting with which weapon best suits which type of enemy is an interesting part of combat. For example, fast weapons or firearms work best against heavy enemies that like to ram and slam, while high-impact heavy weapons are very effective against prototype enemies that take a lot longer on their next attack.
The more vending machines you destroy, the more Anima Essence and other useful items you earn. Anima Essence is the currency of the game and you can invest in more strength, health, stamina, balance, technique and/or alchemy. There are also specific modules that Aegis can install that, for example, make weapons more powerful or improve her stamina. While you can find different types of outfits, they often offer no real protection. That’s quite disappointing, since you expect from an RPG that the armor you find later in the game protects better against stronger enemies. So pay close attention to which upgrades and items make Aegis more resistant to mechanical and alchemical hazards.
A bloody history lesson
There are eight main areas in and around Paris that Aegis can travel between by means of a Horseless Carriage. Think Versailles, the beautiful Luxembourg district and the impenetrable Bastille fortress. Each area has characteristic narrow streets or picturesque gardens that you could get lost in at first glance. The design of well-known architectural works, such as the Palais du Luxembourg or the Hôtel des Invalides, have also remained well recognizable despite the war and destruction.
It pays to explore these districts well and return to them later. After you defeat a Titan – the bosses in Steelrising – you get a tool that allows you to reach certain parts of the city that previously seemed closed off. You unlock a total of three: one to climb higher, one to dash through wooden barricades, and one to break through weakened walls or fences. In this way you create multiple shortcuts for yourself and find hidden items, such as bombs, oil tubes for your health or large amounts of Anima Essence. Although the game is quite linear, these tools enhance the sense of discovery and exploration.
The side missions feel more like a must than a side activity to possibly undertake.
Non Present Characters
Unfortunately, the different levels feel a bit empty. Of course, as Aegis you find yourself in the middle of a bloody revolution and automatons terrorize the streets of Paris, so a shopping character to chat with for a while would also be strange. A number of NPCs have been added that briefly talk to Aegis from behind their windows, sometimes for more context and sometimes for a small side mission. But Paris is not really lively. It also doesn’t help that many of these invisible characters’ dialogues are often (partially) cut off.
Aegis’ claim consists mainly of historical figures who are currently in Paris. Some names that will stand out to history buffs include guillotine fan Robbespiere, America liberator La Fayette, and the alchemist Nicolas Flamel. You’ll also be joined by an astronomer, a chemist, a banker, an anti-slavery activist and a few other important men who made themselves known and heard during the French Revolution.
They provide you with side missions. In most games, these are ways to take a break from the main story, but in Steelrising that’s the case. The side missions feel more like a must than a side activity to possibly undertake. Especially the side missions that can influence the course of the story, for example when you have to choose a side between the revolutionary Robbespiere or the military folk hero La Fayette. Hopefully the developers will add more varied side missions in the future that have nothing to do with the main mission, but instead revolve around one of the most fun aspects of the game: exploring Paris.
Steelrising is out September 8 for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. The PS5 version has been tested for this review.