The Soulsborne sub-genre is an extremely crowded place right now. Several developers are vying to spin a familiar formula in interesting new directions, some with more successful results than others. Developer Spiders, best known for Bound by Flame and GreedFall, are also attempting to spin this formula with its latest Soulslike, Steelrising. While it never really delivers anything new or even that complex, it’s a decently fun time let down by a lack of ingenuity.
Steelrising takes place in an alternate take of the French Revolution. King Louis XVI has gone mad and put a stop to the revolution by way of mass slaughter with his creation of murderous robots. Marie Antoinette, exiling herself from the now desolate streets of Paris, creates a female automaton named Aegis to carry out her duties. Marie tasks Aegis with infiltrating the Parisian streets and getting to the bottom of King Louis XVI’s mad creations.
If you’ve played any number of Soulsborne games, you’ll instantly be familiar with the basic gameplay loop of Steelrising. This includes choosing a starting class, stamina management, expanding the lore through item descriptions, resetting enemies at bonfire-esque rest points, accumulating “souls” currency called Anima Essence to level up (that’s lost upon death), bombastic boss fights and interweaving level design. The world is split into eight distinct and large sections, though they’re not as intricately connected as From Software’s worlds. Locked gates and doors open new paths and shortcuts, but for the most part, it’s fairly linear and uncomplicated.
This simplicity extends to some of the combat too. While it gives the illusion of a more complex RPG combat system with its various weapons and their special abilities like lightning and fire imbuements, the actual flow of gameplay is straightforward. It’s a matter of evading, hitting, dodging and hitting again, rinse and repeat. Apart from some of Aegis’ flashier finishers and combos, there’s not much complexity in its action. Some might find this disappointing while others will appreciate the game’s rudimentary hack-and-slash focused style.
Combat is a mixed bag in Steelrising. While there’s an excellent assortment of weapons with fun elemental buffs, it rarely feels like there’s meaningful progression every time you perform upgrades to skills and tools. The core combat is admittedly entertaining and flashy with plenty of gorgeous particle effects, but this is hampered by some bad hitboxes and terrible AI. Enemies will swarm you with little to no strategy or plan, leading to some unintentionally frustrating moments and deaths.
While the world design borrows a lot of elements from Bloodborne‘s Yharnam, it’s quite gorgeous in a morbid way. The streets of Paris have barricaded hellholes with roaming automaton guards, ruined buildings and decrepit locales. Some sections – including variations of the Louvre, Bastille and Jardins du Luxembourg – are interconnected while others are standalone, though each zone is quite large and full of secrets if you venture off the beaten path. Invisible walls tend to block your progress in unnatural ways so it’s a bit immersion-breaking, but the overall presentation of this dark steampunk world is stellar.
Enemies are creatively designed with some exciting boss fights littered around the map. Since King Louis XVI designed many robots with the intention of taking on roles in society like artists and builders, this is reflected in their designs. The robots eventually become highly aggressive leading to their violent and confrontational tendencies, but each enemy’s design has a story to tell so they don’t come off as boring husks to simply bash. Aegis herself is a nimble, well-designed and memorable protagonist though comes across as a bit robotic at times (this is probably intentional).
Along the main quest, you’ll encounter plenty of familiar historical figures who have all felt the impact of the king’s murderous rampage. If you’re familiar with Assassin’s Creed, you’ll instantly recognise how this plays out. Engaging with these NPCs boils down to some decision-making and dialogue options, though outside of a few plot-changing revelations, didn’t do much to impact the overall narrative. It’s a bit disappointing as this took away from some of the more exciting RPG aspects of the game.
The story is much more fleshed out and traditional than most Soulslike games, which is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, the problem is that the story just isn’t very interesting. Unless you’re a history buff who loves seeing alternate spins on key characters and events, it’s unlikely that you’ll be as engaged in the unfolding twists and turns. Dialogue can come off as jarring and wooden, not helped by stilted voice acting that’s almost as robotic as the new inhabitants of Paris.
By far, the best part of Steelrising is its accessibility and customisation features. Unlike most Soulslike games which lock you into difficulties, players can tailor the entire experience to their liking. This goes as deep as adjusting your and your enemy’s health bars, damage output, aggressiveness and much more. This makes it a perfect gateway into the Soulslike sub-genre for newcomers and one that, despite all its missteps, I can honestly highly recommend if you’re getting into it with the intention of playing more challenging games like Elden Ring or Nioh later.
Going from the best aspects to the worst of Steelrising, the game simply doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from the competition. As previously mentioned, Souslike games are releasing at an alarming rate and it will be difficult to stand out in an oversaturated market. Spiders’ attempt is noble but beyond welcomed difficulty options and a stunning aesthetic, it brings very little to the table to shake up the formula.
Boss fights are by-the-numbers encounters that range from uninspired to exciting with not much consistency, while the interconnected nature of the zones feels like a last-minute addition to align it with the bare necessities of Soulslike games. The obvious comparisons to Bloodborne can’t be helped and while this isn’t always a bad thing (see Lies of P), Steelrising is either being inspired by it or basically ripping it off at any moment – it’s hard to tell.
Steelrising is also let down by some notable bugs and crashes. Before the day one patch, the game crashed at least half a dozen times on PS5, especially when entering new areas. If it didn’t crash, it dropped frames. This also happened during battles when the screen became a cluster of particle effects and enemies as the framerate struggled to keep up. The day one patch did address some issues but more patchwork is definitely needed to rid of the technical hiccups.
Overall, Steelrising boasts amazing customisation options, a beautiful presentation and acceptably fun gameplay, but it lacks an inventive edge to really stand out among its peers. Some might appreciate its more straightforward narrative and overly simplified combat, but veterans won’t find much here that they haven’t already seen or played.
This Steelrising review is based on a code sent to us by Nacon. The game is currently available to purchase on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S at R855.
Story - 6/10
Gameplay - 7/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 5/10
Steelrising delivers simple yet fun gameplay, great difficulty options and a beautiful presentation, but in a crowded market of Soulsborne games, it struggles to do anything different or leave any lasting impact.
Decently fun gameplay
Brings nothing new to the table