I’ve been thinking about the genre a lot since I got the chance to work with pre-assembly steel rise, an upcoming role-playing game in the spirit of the soul from the French developer Spiders. In this take on the infectiously popular and infamous complex genre, Spiders hopes to send us to an alternative Paris during the French Revolution. But instead of fighting human soldiers, we’re facing deadly clockwork automata, or “automata.”
You take on the role of Aegis, an automaton she once created for dancing but has now repurposed and is tasked with finding the queen’s children in the midst of a deadly revolution, as well as hunting down secrets about her own origins. You will engage in fierce battles with other automata, earning experience, “anima”, to increase your stats by finding new weapons in the environment. If you die, you will leave the anima where it is, and if you die again, you will lose it forever. It’s like a soul; You know what to do.
Here are my heretical credentials for even daring to speak of a soulslick: The only game of this kind I ever played was Deck13’s splash; it’s just that the sci-fi aesthetic speaks to me more than fantasy (especially the hackneyed cultural grooves of medieval fantasy –to yawn). i played with Dark Souls 3 desperate like me Bloody. ancient ring was the first soul-like besides splash which I really enjoyed and that’s mostly because it gave me more work to do than just march through the corridors of death to find ways to connect said corridors together through doors so that I could skip suffering to move on to new suffering.
Based on a beta preview of the game, steel rise should be, for me at least, one of the best souls-like events I’ve had, if only for the reason that I can pause it and not have to worry about online intrusions from infinitely better players. There’s also the super-cool inclusion of “Assist Mode” which lets you adjust how much damage you take, as well as a few other options. I was told that this mode comes at the cost of not being able to earn certain achievements.
It sounds like a fair deal that keeps the challenge that the developers see, while still respecting the time and skill level of the players. I’m a woman with a full time job and a lot of hobbies, so while I respect the challenges of real souls, unless the aesthetic really grabs my attention or, for example, ancient ringthe pacing is a bit different, the fatigue of dying over and over again will likely push me off the screen to tackle a modular synthesis project or try to read that Pynchon novel again or whatever.
I’m not sure if steel rise will win diehard souls like the fans, who I think have picky tastes in what raises the bar set by successful and specific games. I can tell you that for the first few moments with the help mode turned off, it felt like a hell of a soullike because I got frustrated and it was a familiar frustration – maybe a little more frustrating than other soullikes I’ve found.
These enemies hit and they hit hard. Also, when they are in groups, I find them more dangerous than in FromSoft. Souls game, especially since it seems like you have to hold down the right analog stick to change the capture target, instead of clicking it. On top of that, I feel like the game wants me to maintain pressure at a faster rate than I might be used to in this genre, which is tricky when your stamina meter drops, in my opinion, much faster than it should be.
But steel rise different in that I, the player, the one who owns the stupid box I’m playing on, can tell the game to fuck around and not hurt me that much. Or any damage. Now I own this world.
Although such a powerful journey is interesting in itself, it allowed me to understand the pace of the game a little better. I was able to go from deadly skirmishes with squeaky metal freaks to something more like sparring. Most of the time when you get hit it’s pretty obvious, so disabling the damage (however you still take fall damage and some elemental damage) allowed me to jump in and study the movements of the enemies and my own without getting frustrated. die again and again. This is what switched me from disappointment to fun.
Being able to disable damage and return after each hit allowed me to better learn my enemies’ moves and anticipate their attacks. Scaling damage from zero allows you to soften the experience learning curve and serves as a kind of difficulty choice. I also became better at managing my movements by learning the most effective moments to get in there and yell. It helped me really figure out which weapon I would like to use more and learn steel riseNuances without much disappointment. I can make the game meet me where I am and not the other way around.
I focused on two types of weapons. First, it’s a seriously cool firearm that allowed me to keep some distance from enemies with stylish attacks and ground slams for subtle but effective area fire. The second was the “shield musket”, which did slightly more damage than Bloody firearms and could freeze enemies to give me the opportunity to deliver the finishing blow. As the name suggests, it had a magical(?) shield that I could deploy if enemies tried to thwart my efforts to keep them at bay.
If I had to compare this to one of Souls games, it seems that he is sitting somewhere on Sekiro side of things, especially since you can jump and use the grappling hook to get to higher ground above the Parisian streets. So far this works well enough. Clockwork machines and 18th century furnishings help this stand out from the crowd. Souls clone in a way that is not possible in combat in the game. It’s a unique atmosphere. Throw in dash something like Assassin’s Creed through the historical fantasy side of history and you will know what to expect.
The narrative feels like a more traditional action RPG than something from FromSoftware. On the one hand, it does not seem so mysterious. You also get access to an expendable compass that turns target markers on or off. Although I appreciate the rigor, let’s say ancient ring allowing me to explore the world without such things, I liked having some more traditional HUD elements here because I could stay focused and jump into bits of the story more directly.
There was a little more story in this early preview build than I had hoped, especially as I think the story and aesthetic will be what really makes this game unique. I hope it’s just because it was just a preview of something bigger. I’m interested in Aegis’s interactions with humans, as she is an automaton herself, fighting other automata. There is a cool opportunity to play with the standard atmosphere of “intelligent robot”. What is intelligence in this world anyway? Does Aegis feel an affinity for her fellow automatons she kills?
The demo left me with questions that I want answers to. Judging by previous Spider games, especially TechnomancerI expect some fun twists and unexpected plot twists to be explored as well.
While this early preview has been described as a beta, performance and visuals should be significantly improved for the final release. My favorite part of spider games is their environment design, which sings with artistic flair and ambition in previous games. But so far steel rise shows an overall dullness that I hope will be polished to a more pleasing sheen in the final release. I also hope the sound is better balanced as there is a cool sounding soundtrack that is unfortunately often buried under the shrill clang of combat.
The performance also deserves attention. While I think a stable and high frame rate is probably best for this genre in general, steel rise has a more substantial need for a stable and reliably fast frame rate. Like I said earlier, it seems to me that he wants me to be a little faster than most soul likes, so much so that I wonder how this game could turn out if it was borrowed. Devil May Cryaction instead Dark souls‘. Aside from the speculation, there’s a cool vibe to the characters’ movements. Like clockwork automata, everyone moves at a hard, calculated, slightly unnerving pace that reminds me of the original. Terminator movie meets bounty hunter droid in season one The Mandalorian.
When the framerate drops, as it regularly did at high settings at 4K on a machine with an RTX 3070 in the tank, this animation just doesn’t work and looks worse than it really is. This has a cascading effect, making the game feel a little harder than it should as everything just feels wrong, and it doesn’t quite sell the otherwise interesting concept of clockwork machines engaging in a hard, death-blow battle amidst the sounds of ticking gears.
steel rise releases on September 8 this year for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. There are no plans to release on PS4 or Xbox One. Dealing with a genre that has a clear leader and many ex-imitating competitors, time will tell if a full, polished experience will help it stand out.