I’m a huge fan of the Steelrising premise (which is good, because huge fans are a weapon too). In it, we’re transported to an alternate history where King Louis XVI stopped the French Revolution before it started properly, err, killing everyone with steampunk robots. You are Aegis, a female robot created to entertain and protect Queen Marie Antoinette. Marie, safe on the outskirts of Paris but somewhat annoyed by her husband’s new penchant for extreme mass murder, sends you on a soul-like mission to solve it all.
This requires some work, but luckily Aegis is a very advanced robot, the best of all robots. Lightweight yet adaptable, and even with advanced AI, Aegis can quickly weave its way through more twisted than usual metal in its path. It’s a bit too easy, actually.
Steelrising has eight levels, comprising different areas in and around Paris. It is not an intricate and totally connected world like in a soul game correct, but the levels themselves are quite large and have some doors that you can only open from the other side to create shortcuts, that kind of thing. You can also tour some of the Parisian tourist hits as you go: the Louvre palace, pre-art galleries! The banks of the Seine! Ooh, is that Notre Dame on the horizon?
However, this is during a quickly quelled revolution, which means Paris is in a state of hilarious ruin. The streets are blocked by hastily erected barricades, burning carriages or, depending on where you are, just a few large bundles of topiary that have fallen over. After a few hours and killing some big bosses, Aegis gains additional abilities that broaden his traversal options. There’s a long jump of sorts to get over big gaps, a mini battering ram to get through doors and weak walls, and a grappling hook to get up on distant ledges. This opens levels even further; he might remember a wall that blocked him at the beginning of the first level and think, “Well, I wonder what’s behind it?”
The other barriers to your progress are of course all the bad robots. Automatons were originally designed to do all kinds of work, so in addition to guards, there are things like lumberjacks, butchers, and musicians that have become very aggressive, often with a secondary fire, ice, or lighting elemental attack. I really enjoyed the enemies, because you can see how they started out designed for specific tasks. There is one that appears to be a gardener or a lamp lighter. stuff that’s basically a snake with swords stuck all over it. He has a nasty habit of hiding in walls and falling on you like a complete bastard.
Some of the big bosses are also tremendously funny. Every once in a while you get a mini-boss which then starts to appear as a regular enemy, but there are several big main mega-bosses. My favorite was basically a bishop’s miter with a very sarcastic design rolling on a circular saw. He was even holding a bible and had a tiny bishop figure for a head. Top work.
There’s also some wiggle room in how you approach these guys. Aegis have a few different possible original skins aka: classes (I chose “Dancer” which made me less strong but faster and more stun power, but you could be a warrior or mage-type elementalist) as well as some fun weapons to choose from. There are light, medium, and heavy weapons, each with a secondary move or special attack, and two slots, so you can spec with a heavy and a ranged melee weapon, for example. There are big heavy metal wheels, a fire chain whip, a scroll on a stick that turns into a huge shield, the fans, maces, dual swords, halberds… They feel different and suit different styles. I spent most of the game with knife arms that were fast but had no blocking function, and pistol arms that fired icy bullets. And the problem was that I became basically unstoppable.
There are some things that hold you back in combat. There’s a stamina bar (explained when you overheat), elemental status effects can really mess you up, and proper blocking takes some skill. Auto-locking in combat makes things unintentionally much more difficult in multi-enemy situations, because it switches targets when you don’t want them to move and sticks when you want them to. Despite this though, I spent most of Steelrising feeling overwhelmed. All the bosses, even the big titans, took me to two max attempts: one to miss but learn the attack patterns, and then another to kill it. I was spec’d to move fast and stun hard, so I could constantly pull off finishing moves and special attacks. I rarely used consumables, never needed to grind to level up, and if I died it was usually from being careless or frustrated.
I couldn’t tell you the places that are good to grind in Steelrising anyway. I found the levels, while fun to watch, to be inconsistent. There are long stretches without any enemies, while other areas are stacked. You level up Aegis at Vestal shrines, where you can upgrade weapons, skills, and module slots (where you can drop new firmware to make yourself better, faster, stronger), but you can’t travel between them like with Dark’s bonfires. Souls, and its location is sometimes weird. They’re also too easy to miss, because until you activate them they look like statues, and there are a lot of statues in this game.
And because you can’t travel between them, it discourages exploration. There are a ton of secrets to find, and some really cool parts to explore in Steelrising, but if you go off the beaten path and die, you could end up respawning at a Vestal point miles from your objective, and with no choice but to work hard. down the same bunch of sewers you now regret being curious about.
It’s frustrating not only as a gameplay experience, but because things like this also feel like Steelrising gets in its own way when it doesn’t need to. For every peak where you realize you’ve figured out the annoying robot enemy’s attack pattern with maces instead of hands, there’s a channel where you find a door that doesn’t open but looks like it should, or you get lost in a garden formal for five minutes because it’s indistinguishable from the other three formal gardens you just fought for. And the things you should be thinking about in a Soulslike: learning the map; bosses tough enough to destroy your will to live; Absolute precision in your attacks: it is not necessary to consider it.
Even though the story and side quests are interesting enough to make you want to finish Steelrising (and they are), even though the world is pretty ugly (and it is), even though the combat has the makings to be interesting and cool (and it is). ), you may end up annoyed and a bit bored by it all. And it’s worse because it’s almost better than that.