War of the Roses Review

October 25, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Fatshark
Publisher(s): Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC
Review Platform: PC
Release Date: October 2, 2012

Fatshark’s War of the Roses pits Houses Lancaster and York in bloody battle against each other during the dynastic wars of the mid- to late-1400’s. You begin as a footman, with little to protect yourself beyond some flimsy armor, a shield, and a sword of minimal quality. Bravery and determination are admirable, but if you want to change your stars, it’s skill you’ll need.
  • Huge battles of up to 64 players
  • Gameplay rewards skilled players, as opposed to those with the best gear
  • Highly customizable crests to make you stand out on the battlefield
  • Steep learning curve
  • Only two game modes and a few maps
  • You’re likely to unlock everything within a week of playing the game
After a few sluggish and uninteresting tutorials on the handling of the game’s different weapons and preset classes, I joined my first multiplayer match. You’re given two options here: Team Deathmatch or Conquest. The first being a bloody massacre and the second being much of the same, but with a few letters you need to stand by to capture points. With the level of fidelity in War of the Roses’ weapons and armor (and given the subject matter of the game), it would have been nice to see a Siege, or even Horde, mode incorporated into the game.

Similar to the Battlefield games, you choose your class, join a squad, and then pick your spawn point. The leader of your squad can provide your squadmates and you with a buff, provided they have the Officer Training perk. Different banners under this perk will allow you to provide different buffs, such as the Armour and March Speed banners. This makes breaking your army up into squads of infantry, cavalry, and archers very effective with the proper organization.

I enter the pre-spawn lobby on the Lancaster side, but sadly there is little information provided to me beyond a generic list of squads and a map of the battlefield. Because there’s no indication of what buffs each squad leader is providing, I choose one at random. I would have asked my teammates, had I any means of communicating with them before I spawned. From here I can spawn either at one of our captured points, or at my squad leader's location. They’re in the thick of a tough fight, so I pop in nearby and start hacking away with my sword.

Melee combat in Roses is heavily dependent on each combatant’s skill. Armor works much like it would in the real world, shrugging off most attacks. If you want to deal damage, you’re going to have to get into the fleshy parts, which isn’t easy when your opponent is a fully armored knight, harrying you with strikes of his warhammer. I get a lucky stab - delivered by holding down the left mouse button, dragging down, aiming, and releasing -  into an enemy player’s face and do a little dance. When damage is so difficult to deal that the game awards you experience points for every one point of damage you deal, getting a solid kill in feels like you’ve won the entire match. Sadly, a quarrel from a crossbow puts an end to my dance and I slump to the ground.

Allied revivals and enemy executions are available for extra experience points, and as is the case with so much of War of the Roses, they are not a sure thing. If you are struck while trying to revive or execute a target, the action is canceled and it’s back to square one. With arrows whistling through the air and swords everywhere, your attempt to revive anyone is almost a guaranteed failure. This means that when you are downed, it’s best to yield and return to the spawn screen, saving yourself some time and holding any possible execution at bay.

Archery is more my speed, picking off my opponents from as far away as I can manage. Longbows and crossbows act differently, with the former being an arcing, rapid-fire affair, and the latter having a straight shot with a long reload time. Keeping your longbow drawn for too long will mess up your shot, so it’s important to find a rhythm when loosing your arrows. Similarly, you can decrease the length of your crossbow’s reload time by properly ratcheting its lever and the more bolts you can get out per minute, the more effective an archer you’ll make. If you can manage to hit a moving target.

There’s a solid amount of customization in the game, from perks, to armor, weapons, and even horses. Everything functions accurately, from having to strike your enemies with the blade of your axe (and not the handle), to being able to pull the visor of your helmet down to prevent your face from taking damage, while limiting your visibility. Lances break when tilted against solid surfaces like trees, rocks, and even the more resolute knights. If you’re running around in light armor with just a hood, expect every blade to be your end if you’re not fast on your feet. Bodkin arrow heads will pierce through armor, but swallow tails will cause your enemy to bleed.

Bleeding is not something you want to do for extended periods of time. Holding B will bandage your wounds and stop you from bleeding out. Unless, of course, you take any damage, at which time you will stop bandaging and the count down until you bleed out will resume. Sadly, the UI does little to inform you of how much damage you’re suffering. The edges of your screen will get bloodier the more damage you take, but its easy to miss in the thick of things and when starting out I was taking so many hits I actually thought the blood was just part of the design.

War of the Roses is not an easy, nor forgiving, game. You will begin sloshing through the mud and only a handful of players will rise to glory. It is clear, through my level 20, fully-armored, character that gear does not a knight make. Roses is the kind of game where you may be max level, but a new player who knows what they’re doing can still kill you with a well-aimed stab. This is appealing to those players who can swing the game’s metaphorical sword, but for the rest of us, it can be off-putting.
Aside from the occasional glitch, or crash, and the almost complete lack of a HUD, I enjoyed my time with Roses. I will say that the gameplay feels much more like a simulation than an action game, but there is an audience for that sort of thing and Fatshark has done a great job of giving their players believably medieval combat. If there is one thing I’ve taken away from playing War of the Roses, it’s that I’m glad I live as chronologically far away from a medieval battlefield as I can manage.

Final Score “Victory to the House of Lancaster!” 7.0
War of the Roses is actually one of the more visually impressive games I’ve seen this year. The armor shines, the wood splinters, and there is plenty of blood.
I loved how medieval the combat felt, in that it was difficult to survive for very long and certain people were just better swordsmen than others. However, I don’t think that the steep learning curve will appeal to most people and honestly, you can only deal 0 damage to the same guy for so long before you get bored.
While there isn’t much now in terms of maps and gameplay modes, there is a sizeable amount of unlockables and more on the way. War of the Roses real value, however, comes in how unique of a game it is. Battlefield comes to mind, but really there are very few titles I could compare Roses to.
Possibly my favorite experience in the game was when I heard the thunder of horse-hooves coming from behind me. A well-timed sidestep and an enemy cavalier’s lance narrowly missed my head. It’s always wonderful when the sound feeds into the gameplay like that.

Review by Jeff Ellis

I'm a freelance writer and game reviewer with a year's experience working in the game industry. I've been playing games longer than I've been able to read. In fact, I learned how to read by watching my brother play JRPGs on our Nintendo. I also learned geography from Uncharted Waters: New Horizons. Facts that I probably shouldn't be proud of, but I am. You can read more of my writing over at First Word Problems and keep updated on the site and me via Twitter @1stwordproblems. All Articles by Jeff. 

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