Set in a turbulent depiction of 15th century England, War of the Roses thrusts players into the heart of a bloody civil war which became the focus of Shakespearean classic, Richard III. In a nutshell, the campaign was fought between the influential houses of York and Lancaster, eventually giving rise to the Tudor dynasty thirty years after the Richard’s forces met King Henry’s at the battle of St. Albans.
Aside from the occasional snippet here and there, none of this will be at all apparent when playing War of the Roses; despite being situated in an period rife with betrayal, murder and corruption, the historic context only acts as a backdrop for this ambitious medieval combat sim.
Aside from actual gameplay, War of the Roses borrows heavily from its FPS counter-parts. Dropping the conventional match-making system, the game allows players to pick and choose between servers, which can host up to 64 combatants simultaneously.
Once connected, players are dropped into one of two scenarios; either your bog-standard team deathmatch or the objective based “Conquest” mode, both of which are compatible with the game’s current stock of maps. Felling enemy soldiers and helping to secure checkpoints grants players experience and gold which, in time, will be used to unlock items from the game’s arsenal. This includes weapons and armour as well as equip-able perks, all of which help to define your in-game avatar.
Needless to say, your primary weapon will ultimately determine your gameplay experience, and with 10 definitive categories to select from there’s plenty of room to experiment. These include standard melee weapons such as swords, axes and maces, as well as long-ranged armaments and lances.
Those who gorge on multiplayer shooters will no doubt be drawn towards the game’s assortment of bows, all of which adopt that familiar first person perspective, though what sets War of the Roses apart is the intense hand-to-hand combat.
The design philosophy behind these melee encounters is strictly utilitarian. Regardless of which weapon you lug into battle, you will always be restricted to four basic attacks as well as a block/parry function, all of which are mapped directly to the mouse.
Click the left mouse button whilst motioning to the left and – with most hand weapons – your avatar will initiate an attack from that direction, whilst gesturing either up or downwards will trigger either an overhead strike or long-range thrust respectively.
On paper it all sounds rather dull though there are a myriad of variables at play, not to mention luck, and of course, skill. War of the Roses’ critical hit system and environmental scale gives each battle its own distinct flavour with unpredictable results. Archers can fend off burly, armour-clad pursuers or obliterate oncoming lance-wielding knights with a single arrow. Likewise, footsoldiers can turn the tables on an enemy ambush or can just as easily be felled by an enemy waiting around the corner.[drop2]War of the Roses offers a cohesive, rewarding gameplay experience that many will find refreshing though it’s hard to gloss over the negatives. One such flaw is the imbalance between low and higher levels players, or to be more specific, how poorly the game caters towards newcomers.
Unlock-able weapons, armour and perks will often come tagged with level requirements and are much more versatile than the default gear available. Unlike online shooters such as Call of Duty, Battlefield etc. in War of the Roses higher level players will have the upper hand most, if not all, of the time.
This isn’t to say that scraping your way to a double digit rank is a Sisyphean task; once you hurdle the game’s learning curve you’ll find a way to put yourself on par with veteran players but until then it can feel as though you’re running against the grain.
As mentioned before, the game’s array of battlefield’s are diverse and fairly significant in size, not to mention nicely detailed. A fitting palette of rustic colours and clever lighting gives everything a polished though slightly-authentic feel. The same applies to character models, though it’s hard to ignore the overall lack of variation on show. With only a handful of armour sets to choose from, it’s difficult to separate yourself from the crowd, even with a custom insignia and paint-job.
- Fluid, visceral combat that will have you gritting your teeth.
- A good balance between melee/long-range fighters.
- Looks great even on mid to low settings.
- Plenty of potential to expand.
- Only two game modes (at present.)
- Imbalance between high and lower level players.
- Could do with more appearance customisation options.
- Over-priced for what the game currently has to offer.
It certainly won’t revolutionise the way we approach competitive online gaming, though War of the Roses has laid down a meaningful precedent. For the first time since Mount & Blade: Warband we have a multiplayer title that competently showcases reflex-sensitive combat and could have a very bright future ahead, especially with Fatshark and Paradox committing to regular content updates.
However, with only two game modes currently up and running (despite an impressive stock of 7 playable maps) £24.99 is a lot to ask, even when you consider Fatshark’s track record.