Steelrising Review: A Souls-Like Pièce De Résistance (PC)

In a genre that’s tending towards over-saturation, Steelrising injects some much-needed vigour to preserve it from stagnation. By artistically blending robotic fantasy and French history, French gaming studio Spiders tells us a harrowing tale of tyranny. With Paris on the brink of destruction by mechanised monstrosities, we are tasked with restoring peace, and man is it fun.

Steelrising Review: A Souls-Like Pièce De Résistance (PC)

From the moment I opened Steelrising for the first time to the second the credits started rolling, I was in bliss. Every aspect of the game had me captivated. The designs, the mechanics, the controls, the environments. I had to choose my play sessions at night because I knew that if I started earlier, I would forget to do everything else in the day. Only the entice of sleep could pry my hands from the controller. Reviewing Steelrising was a blast.

French gaming studio Spiders is a company of developers from the old gaming company Monte Cristo, known for their work on Silverfall and their previous game, Greedfall. I never played Greedfall, but I feel like I now want to give it a go because it’s clear Jehanne Rousseau (Spiders director) knows what works.

To put my biases up front, I am a big Souls-Like fan. I hold Bloodborne and Sekiro up as two of the best games ever made. I do, though, see the genre getting far too much attention. It seems like a new Souls-Like is released every month. It’s hard to tell how much time is left before the sea of Souls-Likes grows too vast and players start losing interest. When such a time comes, players will look back and only see a handful of titles sticking out over the surface. I argue that Steelrising deserves to be one of those titles.

Steelrising is coming to PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC on September 8th for $49.99.

Steelrising - Official Gameplay Trailer

Story – Révolutionnaire But Lacking in Presentation

Paris, nearing the end of the 17th century, the country is poor and the people are starving while the nobility and royalty continue to live lavish lives. Spiders had the inventive idea of taking King Louis XVI’s fascination for clocks and mechanisms, and turning it into a tyrannical fixation. Steelrising depicts what happens when an already corrupt leader is given power beyond reason. And what better setting for such a story than the French Revolution?

I did a bit of research on the French Revolution before coming into Steelrising (I knew absolutely nothing about it beforehand) which I recommend doing because it really helped immerse me in the world. It’s not necessary, the game does give you journal entries with short histories of all the characters and other stuff. But I always find that reading through a bunch of logs never stokes a genuine interest. This is something the game does rather poorly. I loved meeting the characters behind great names like La Fayette, Lavoisier, and Marat. They do a great job of bringing these characters to life with excellent voice acting and adequate writing. But if I had no idea who these people were going in, I might have just seen them all as the same guy with a silly wig. That being said, they do get some points for the plot.

They got Marie Antoinette's crazy hair right.

They got Marie Antoinette’s crazy hair right.

La Parcelle

You are Aegis, a humanoid robot dancer built by the fictional adopted son of the real historical figure, and inventor of automata, Jacques De Vaucanson. You are tasked by Queen Marie Antoinette to search out your creator and find a way to immobilise the army of destructive machines King Louis XVI has released on the city of Paris. On your journey, you meet members of the revolution who need your help for various missions. At first, it does sort of feel like you were just being told what to do over and over but that plays into the aesthetic of being a robot, and it changes over time. There is a specific theme to Steelrising, one that they pull off pretty well.

Aegis. Robots can be pretty.

Aegis. Robots can be pretty.

There are a few side quests. For a lot of things in Steelrising, I noticed it had me in a bit of a goldilocks zone. There aren’t so many side quests that they get annoying, giving quality to each quest. There was enough to pad out the playtime, but not so much that they felt like filler. They are important to the characters and add to the story. The only issue I noticed came down to the presentation.

Contrary to what’s expected from the genre, Steelrising leans into traditional cutscene-centred storytelling. And most of the cutscenes consist of close-up shots of character models talking with dodgy facial animations. Though weird animations can be charming, it adds unwanted silliness to the seriousness of the story. Luckily though, there’s enough in the writing and vocal performances to push past the awkwardness. They got some real talent for the voices.

Steelrising does an adequate job of setting up the villain and giving you a reason to oppose him. With a satisfying through-line, I was kept interested all the way to the end.

The Clockwork Tyrant.

The Clockwork Tyrant.

Gameplay – Parfait In Every Way

If you’ve played any Souls-Like games, you will feel at home with Steelrising. There are a lot of established tropes. Varying enemy types with unique move-sets that encourage you to pay attention to every move they make rather than just hacking away. A variety of weapons, each with their own special qualities and learning curves. You can upgrade your stats with the currency you get from defeating enemies, and when you die, you leave behind the stash you had accumulated to be picked up later, granted you don’t die on the way there.

A variety of weapons at your disposal.

A variety of weapons at your disposal.

It is in the gameplay where the goldilocks zone truly became apparent to me. There are eight weapon types, then there are around three to four weapons within those categories. Each has different stats and special attacks. Enough weapons to let you experiment with your build, but not so much that you end up chucking them all in the inventory and never looking at them. To augment your build, there are six stats. Two for damage scaling, two for health and stamina, and two for armour and status afflictions. Enough to provide choice without spending an hour with each point, deciding where to put it. The character customisation gives you choice over your look without spending hours tuning dials to get her looking perfect. If you’re way into RPG’s, you may be disappointed with how small the selection is on things. But that ain’t me … I’m all about that action.

The Core Loop

I rejoiced when I learned Steelrising took more of its inspiration from Bloodborne than Elden Ring. The attacks are quick, the dodging is fast and the pace is erratic. All notes that play into the feeling of being an automaton. There is no obnoxious delay after every input, it is instant and you have complete control. If all of Souls-Like combat were described as ballet, Steelrising would be staccato. The enemies are always jerking around in clockwork motion, meaning you really have to concentrate on them. Even the grunt-type enemies need more than just mindlessly whacking them.

Steelrising Review - Action-Packed Fights.

Steelrising Review – Action-Packed Fights.

The enemy placement is thought out enough that you really have to be careful in each new environment. And there are minor stealth elements, you can get in sneak attacks to do a bunch of damage but they didn’t waste their effort making you crouch in tall grass everywhere. The mechanics are all so tightly built that even Vaucanson would be proud.

Status Afflictions

There are only three status afflictions: fire, freeze and fulmination (seems they have an ardent appreciation for alliteration). That may seem low, but they built the game around it. Steelrising implemented the Metroidvania technique of hiding secrets and new areas behind barriers that require tools you unlock later in the game. What’s great about these tools though, is that they’re not just traversal items, they’re also used in combat to inflict a specific affliction. This seamlessly blends afflictions into every encounter without having to change your build.

When on fire, enemies take damage over time. When frozen, they stay still so you can get some hits in. And when inflicted with fulmination, every attack you hit them with does more damage. Because every enemy is weak to one of these afflictions, battles not only employ your skill and reflexes but also pattern recognition. It’s a beautiful use of status effects, and is wholly satisfying.

Endurance

What I think sets Steelrising apart most from other Souls-Likes, is its take on the stamina mechanic. Like most games, stamina is used for attacking, dodging, jumping – everything combat related. And when you run out of stamina, you have to wait for it to gradually come back before you can continue combat. In Steelrising, if you’re skilled enough, you can keep your stamina going indefinitely. There’s a mechanic called Rapid-Cooling. Once your stamina breaks (by doing an action that requires more stamina than you have) there is a brief moment where you can get it all back with the tap of a button. How much you get back depends on how well your timing is. And if you press it too early, it locks your stamina bar for a really long time.

It’s high-risk/high-reward, and the game encourages you to use it by making the normal stamina recovery time really slow. Also, if you use it too many times in quick succession, it inflicts you with freezing. It’s quite a nuanced mechanic, but once you get into the rhythm of using it, it’s empowering. In many situations when my stamina would get low, I would hold back and dodge from side-to-side just to break my stamina and get a chance to use it. Once you master it, it plays such an integral role in combat. Also, you can tell how much stamina you have by the visuals built into Aegis’ character model. No hud is necessary. This is such a welcome bit of polish for players like me who like to turn the hud off.

Level Design

The level design is exactly the kind of level design that I love. Drawing heavily from Bloodborne, which drew from early Resident Evil games. Every map is a labyrinth. As you explore, you unlock doors and ways back to areas you’ve already been. This has always been my favourite type of level design because it creates a relationship between every room, corridor, street and building. In my mind, I can still trace out every path in the Resident Evil mansion because of how they all relate to each other. I will remember every environment in Steelrising for years to come because every memory builds into the next. Labyrinthine map design teaches the player to create a blueprint of the environment in their mind. As opposed to something like Elden Ring where all of the dungeons bleed into an unmemorable mass (I need to stop dunking on Elden Ring).

Bosses

The way they introduce new enemy types is interesting. Most mid to high-level enemies are first seen as ‘Unstable Automats’, which are essentially mini-bosses. The first one I came across, I thought it was a fully-fledged boss fight. But soon after defeating it, that same enemy started showing up all over the place. It’s nice to have a ring where you can fight a powered-up version of the enemies to come so you can get a better idea of their attacks. It’s also a clever way for them to include more boss fights, which is the only thing I found lacking in Steelrising’s gameplay.

Spiders aren’t FromSoftware, so it would be unfair to expect them to have a litany of unique and interesting boss battles. All I wish is that they were more difficult. They’re well designed, and have interesting move-sets that require a lot of attention. But on the final boss, I was testing to see how effective the petrification grenades were and accidentally killed them. By the end of the game, there’s a bit too much in your arsenal that could be fixed by putting a cap on how many items you can hold or something.

I wouldn’t say the bosses were easy, they certainly made me struggle from time to time. But there is no Malenia level threat to truly test how good you can get at the game. I have a feeling they were a little scared of turning people off with the difficulty, they’ve even added an Assist Mode to make it easier. But if I may speak on behalf of the Souls-Like community, you can trust us. We play these games for the difficulty and are comfortable with the frustration that entails.

Graphics & Sound – Magnifique

Steelrising is downright beautiful. Apart from the awkward character models I mentioned earlier, everything is gorgeous. The lighting shines off of every surface with a realism rarely seen in games. The textures are all high quality and the environments are picturesque. Steelrising paints the portrait of an 18th-century Paris half destroyed by rampaging machines. It is rather taxing on the system though. It recommends 16GB of RAM, an i7-8700 or Ryzen 5 3600X, and an RTX 2070 Super or RTX 3060Ti. I spent four grand on my PC only a couple of years ago, and it still struggles when I max out.

The sound is mostly ambient and dynamic. I get the sense they were trying not to let it distract you. No particular tracks stick out to me except for the one that played during the final segment because it was particularly emotional. Music only truly plays once you get into battle. They did a particularly good job of letting the music crescendo as the action starts. If an opponent sees you, the music amps as the battle begins. But if you sneak up on your enemy, the music slowly ramps up as you approach them then kicks in once you either attack or are spotted. When you’re running around exploring, though, it’s mostly quite empty.

Steelrising Review - A muddy workshop in Les Invalides.

Steelrising Review – A muddy workshop in Les Invalides.

Conclusion

With every side-quest finished, and a decent amount of exploration, the game took around thirty-five hours to complete. A very decent and modest playtime. Like with everything else, it’s right in that goldilocks zone. Just when I thought I was growing dispassionate with this genre, Steelrising tore right into my chest and took hold of my heart. Absolument incroyable.

Steelrising was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Dead Good PR.

Summary
Steelrising is a masterclass on creating mechanics and controls that work in perfect harmony. It reinvigorates a genre that's quickly becoming over-populated, and stands out as an example of extraordinary game design. Steelrising will go down as one of the best releases of 2022.
Good
  • Quick, snappy controls
  • Gorgeous visuals
  • Interesting story
  • Perfectly balanced
Bad
  • Could be harder
9.5
Amazing