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War of the Roses Review (PC)

Ahmed Sharif goes to war not with a sword, but with a flower

For those who need a refresher in early Renaissance England (let’s not scoff – most of us do), the War of The Roses was a time of hereditary wars fought between 1455 and 1485, and involved two parties; the houses of Lancaster and York, both fighting for succession to the throne. The literary buffs among you may notice some similarities between the houses of Lancaster and York with that of the fictional houses of Lannister and Stark, and you’d be right to think so. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice bases much of its storyline on this period of history.

War Of The Roses doesn’t focus on conveying this rich portion of history in any great detail, and you won’t find much in the way of variety either. If you’re expecting some campaign content, you’ll find none here. The only thing close is the multiplayer tutorial which comes with the assistance of some of the most useless AI I’ve seen (it’s almost comically terrible), but what it does focus on creating is some of the most tense and unique multiplayer action I’ve experienced in a while.

The way War of The Roses structures its multiplayer is similar to most. So far two game types are available: a conquest-like game type which involves securing control points on the map and team death match. The controls are deceptively simple, and I say that because for the first handful of hours you’ll be dying continuously while the confusion of battle has you flailing about helplessly. Holding down the left mouse buttons brings up a circular gauge which you can release after reaching a sweet spot for powerful attacks, while to parry holding down the right mouse button brings up your shield.

These may seem easy to execute on their own, but to direct both your blocks and attacks subtle mouse movements are needed to place them correctly on your opponent. The time it takes to swing your weapon (and the recoil from it) or to raise your shield is far from instantaneous. It may feel somewhat clunky and lethargic at first, but in time I came to appreciate how these timings echoed real combat.

All these nuances meant that battle situations require a level of methodical-thinking before charging in. Take for example when fighting a player armoured in plating; to avoid your weapon deflecting, your sword must strike in the tiniest of crevices in their armour to register damage (the hit detection is quite impressive in this regard). Knowing this, it wouldn’t be particularly sensible to confront your heavily armoured target on your own (especially if you’re not as well protected); tactical victories are often won by attacking your enemy when they‘re isolated and without support.

Even in the most chaotic of situations you must constantly watch for incoming attacks while carefully timing your own; a wasted swing often means death or a barrage of damage quickly equalling death. The concept of ‘shooting from the hip’ simply does not work in this game, and if you hadn’t yet deduced – 1v1 battles are pretty epic affairs. Some can last upwards of 5 minutes if both players are skilled enough.

Visually, the game is quite impressive. It should be more than satisfying for those with a craving for eye-candy, but while combat and gameplay realism stand-out, character animations certainly feel the opposite, most seeming unnatural and slightly abnormal. Having said that, executions (a finishing move a player can do to downed enemies), are cool-looking from the first-person perspective of the dead (or about-to-be-dead), but not so much from those performing the execution.

The bow mechanic is certainly a testament to the games attention to detail and realism in weapon practice. An archer will quickly tire from pulling back his bowstring for too long and take more than a while to reload after firing. This realism is also reflected in how plate armour will brush aside arrows easily (not including the gaps in a player’s visor, only for those skilled archers) but they fall prey to blunt weaponry like maces. These mechanics are never fully described to players, most of it is learned through ”WTF HE’S NOT DYING?!” along with many suicides.

Character progression isn’t entirely customizable. You begin with basic preset classes, going from a lowly footman, then through enough earned gold (XP) begin to unlock advanced classes of Longbowman, Footknight, and Crossbowman and eventually you’ll be able to ride horses as well. There is a noticeable difference when fighting veteran classes. While it may be possible to take them down with enough dexterity, it’s almost always better to avoid them. There is some noticeable grind to unlock better classes and weapons. It’s a slow process, and the lack of gameplay variety definitely attributes to this.

While playing certain imbalance and bug issues are also rather prominent. I’ve found that certain maps end in a one-sided victory far too quickly because access to control points is far easier for one side than the other. Squad spawning is also something I’m not entirely fond of either, and through experience have learned to avoid it unless you enjoy spawning to your own death. Most of the time I’ve spawned facing a mob of enemy players or off the side of a building.

War of The Roses certainly isn’t the next big multiplayer revolution in gaming, but it definitely offers a unique variety of gameplay that presents an exciting change of pace. Its teething problems are definitely an annoyance, but are easily solvable given some patches. The game’s difficult learning curve does mean you’ll need to bear through many quick and noobish deaths before getting a good handle on gameplay, so it may scare away the more casual players. It certainly would be better had it offered more than just a multiplayer mode and seven maps, the lack of content certainly makes the price seem slightly steep, but Fatshark’s promise to provide more content may help offset this worry for now. What’s for certain though is that War of The Roses is a fresh and addictive title that dares to enter a realm rarely exploited in the genre. The result is one undeniably worth trying.

7 deadly flowers out of 10

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