When someone asks me if I play games online, or if I play multiplayer, my mind immediately pictures something Call of Dutyish or Battlefieldy. Modern military shooters which if I’m honest, bore me silly pretty quickly. I’m from an era of multiplay that revolved around railguns, rocket jumping and skillful movement – not games where people can dedicate hundreds of hours into unlocking ‘perks’. Perks which dangerously alter the playing field and often make games inaccessible to newcomers. In my humble opinion, naturally.
War of the Roses, by 13-man studio Fatshark, is a medieval multiplayer-only title that somehow manages to encompass all of what I love, with all of what I dislike, and come up with a rewarding and enticing gameplay experience. There’s no rocket jumping mind, but I’ll let that slide.
Two teams, the House of Lancaster and the House of York, of up to 32-players per side go head-to-head wielding an array of 15th-century weaponry and armour. In case you are confused as to what that entails, it’s a storm of plate armour, chainmail, swords, axes, halberds, crossbows, longbows and shields. There’s not a grenade launcher or ACOG in sight. This may immediately sound dull if you seek Hollywood blockbuster-level explosions, but fear not, the depth of gameplay and action will more than fill those gaps.
There are two types of matches, the bog-standard Team Deathmatch, and the infinitely superior capture-and-hold Conquest mode. Conquest is where I spent 90% of my time in game as it tends to naturally encourage a little more teamwork, even on public servers.
Depending on your choice of build (everyone starts with the basic footman) you’ll need to get to grips with some unique combat mechanics and controls. Swords, axes and polearms all require deft mouse control to alter the direction of swings and strikes, and the strength of the attack controlled with the duration of the mouse click. Parrying is accomplished by the use of the right click and mouse movement in the direction of the incoming strike. This all sounds rather cumbersome and complex and, well, it is. That’s kind of the point.
The learning curve feels vertical at first, but after a couple of matches it all starts to make sense. It becomes fluid and the fights genuinely start to feel like you are making each attack with a sense of skill and strategy and frantic skirmishes get the adrenaline pumping. Each individual victory brings exhilerating relief and each time you are slain, you know it’s because you weren’t good enough (archers and cavalry aside). It comes down to the fact that War of the Roses has that learning curve just right, and that it rewards progression through a natural improvement in ability.
I personally gravitated towards an Archery build. I’ve always enjoyed Archery gameplay ever since getting my head around the skill in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic years ago. The mechanics mean that you have to draw your bow at the right time, as a drawn bow can only be held for a few short moments. Shots drop severely too, so this must be taken into account. Once again, the pay off of spending time to grow with the archery mechanics means that each successful shot feels well earned and deeply satisfying. The fact I’ve spent many hours with the spinfusors on Tribes: Ascend leading moving targets meant I felt right at home with the bow and arrow. Chances are you’ll find something you love and stick with it. The sign of a good multi-role game is when you can find a role that suits your playstyle and then improve your skills in an enjoyable way – rather than constantly aiming for the next unlock, and the next and the next…
War of the Roses does feature unlocks, new slots to create builds, new armour, perks, weapon types, but these crucially offer new and flexible playstyles rather than significant benefits over new players. Except for the Cavalry. Horses have a tendancy to trample through battles and joust you in the face, but hey, at least it’s not a helicopter or a nuclear weapon.
That teamwork I mentioned earlier? Well, when you are ‘killed’ in battle, you aren’t actually stone-cold dead, you have a few seconds whereby you can be executed (a finishing move which grants your executor extra points) or revived by a fellow warrior. After a few seconds you can continue to wait for a resurrection or yield, beg for mercy so that you cannot be executed and go straight to respawn. The Conquest mode seems to see more reviving going on, however I’m still being left dying whilst a team member passes me over to execute the enemy next to me, on too many occassions. The community will iron this out by screaming blue murder when not revived.
So War of the Roses looks great, plays fantastically – given some time and effort, and offers a unique multiplayer experience which rewards skill and strategy whilst still ticking boxes for those who seek unlockables. There are a few minor gripes, the cries of ‘mercy, mercy!’ could do with a little variation, it’s heard frequently. I’ve experinced a few buggy respawns through the floor or shrubbery but nothing major. The exclamation that DESERTERS WILL BE HUNG, DRAWN AND QUARTERED and an infinite countdown emblazoned across my screen was pretty irritating, but only happened once. Minor bug and polish issues are not enough however, to stop me highly recommending War of the Roses. It’s a unique and rewarding multiplayer experience.
I would’t say no to some Horse repellent in the next patch though.
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