Gamers currently live in a world dominated by the modern military shooter. We have the Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Battlefield franchises making tons of money on today’s theaters of war and the soldiers who fight the battles within them. After all these years, some are beginning to think that the genre is growing stale; that studios should create new games to challenge the status quo. This is the task undertaken by Fatshark and Paradox Interactive in War of the Roses, a team-based multiplayer title centered on a far more historical military age: the middle ages. The result of this attempt is a valiant one that, while fun, also exhibits a fair share of clumsiness and borrows from the formula that these AAA franchises have made the norm.
Named after the bloody civil war that erupted in England during the 17th Century, War of the Roses features medieval action where the two teams battling it out represent the two sides of the conflict: the houses of Lancaster and York. Despite the historical homage given to the time period, not much else is pulled from the events of the war. In the game’s tutorial mode, known as Battlegrounds, a narrator will give a brief backstory on each battle, but that’s just about all players will get as far as high-level production, cutscenes, or a story. This is all just background for what’s really important: combat.
Since battles during the middle ages were completely devoid of guns, these brawls to the death are fought with axes, swords, lances, spears, pole arms, longbows, and crossbows. Most of those involve being right up in your enemy’s helm, so melee action is one of the most important elements for War of the Roses. Unfortunately, it isn’t executed to perfection. The direction of your swing is entirely dependent upon the direction in which you are turning when you initiate the atack via mouse click. This can feel difficult and awkward when trying to outmaneuver multiple foes in a skirmish to stay alive. Despite the mechanic being a shortcoming on offensive, defensively it works well and prevents players from turtling when blocking. Having the ability to hold on to your attack for a stronger strike – another crucial part of hand-to-hand battles – puts a nice bit of risk and reward into each encounter.
Though difficulties can be found in melee, the title’s ranged combat is nearly flawless. Everything feels the way it should. You can sense the tension in the string as you pull the longbow tight, and arrows will fall as they lose velocity over long distances. Crossbows will require you to hold your breath for an accurate shot, and you’ll also need to manage your time with the weapon’s prolonged reloads. I also felt a bigger sense of skill and satisfaction when nabbing kills via archery than I normally do when sniping a foe in a modern military shooter.
Despite the bliss of using the bow and arrow, there’s nothing more gratifying than taking advantage of War of the Roses’ execution option, which allows players to deliver a few final blows to a fallen enemy for extra experience points. The time frame isn’t infinite, as players can choose to beg for mercy and respawn without humiliation after a short period. Choosing to do so, however, also eliminates the possibility of revival from a teammate. Both executions and revivals take a few seconds to pull off and can be interrupted, so don’t expect impending doom or salvation once either of these animations begin.
What type of medieval soldier you want to emulate is managed through the game’s class, perk, and upgrade system, which is incredibly similar to its gun-toting contemporaries. Upon leveling, players will gain access to four preset classes before then unlocking five custom classes. The options in this system are surprisingly deep, allowing for the player to pick a weapon type, sidearm, armor class, and even what specific type of fighting style and craftsmanship were put into these tools of war. The selection of certain perks will grant access to particular items, and each perk has two additional bonuses that can be unlocked. It’s a great system that kept me wanting to gather experience and coin to test out everything it had to offer, but at the same time felt unoriginal and a bit too familiar.
The game’s multiplayer structure won’t be a shock to anyone familiar with online PC gaming over the past decade, for the most part. Game type selection is incredibly bare bones, with only team deathmatch and conquest to choose from. Server sizes are rather fair, featuring up to 32 players on a single map for what creates some pretty entertaining slash-fests. Personal customization, however, is pleasantly more varied than one might expect and allows players to create their own crest to wear upon their armor in addition to your typical choices of color and design. The team could have gone further, but what’s offered is still far more than what’s found in most other team-based multiplayer titles.
Graphically, War of the Roses certainly won’t inspire or awe you. It’s enough to keep you happy and playing, but these aren’t your big-budget, AAA visuals. Some of the worst aspects of the entire game, however, are a handful of the animations. In short, they’re clunky. Archers will run with their heads looking up, holding bows with both hands in front of their stomachs, as if oblivious to everything going on. It makes the game feel a bit aged, and sometimes completely broke my immersion during an intense contest.
While it has issues, it’s nice to see a studio attempt to take what has made the big AAA military shooters so popular and put a different, more medieval spin to it. War of the Roses can be a lot of fun once you get beyond its learning curve and awkwardness; and it rewards those who are acutually more skillful. Anyone looking to take a break from the norm and exchange gun for sword or bow – while still having a familiar leveling system – could find this title a worthy call to arms.