Sunday, 4 November 2012

Review: War of the Roses (PC)

After recently getting some money back from an order gone wrong I decided to go for an impulse purchase and immediately found the recently released medieval stab 'em up War of the roses and instant buy. 

Based on the civil war fought between the houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose) in 1400's England, WOTR is a team based third person multiplayer game that sees players attempt to bludgeon, stab, slice or shoot each other for glory and the chance of a brutal execution kill.

The maps are all visually distinct and detailed
There isn't much of a story other than the loose framework of the historical conflict on which it's based.  Battles take place over numerous locales of famous battles ranging from castles, fortified towns, farmlands, orchards and moors. The maps aren't battlefield in size so combat is usually easy to find and constant as you play in one of two game modes, consisting of team deathmatch which just involves reaching the kill score to win, while conquest has teams fight to capture locations around the map to fill a bar at the bottom of the screen.

These settings though are merely a framework to have two teams start knocking ten bells out of each other.  This game relies entirely on it's melee combat to provide the hours of fun it sets out to provide.  Much like the popular Mount & Blade series, War of the roses uses a similar combat system.  Melee combat has players holding the left mouse button down to charge their attack while the direction the mouse if moved dictates the direction of the swing.  So moving the mouse right with the mouse button depressed has your character make a right hand swing attack.

The combat is a lot more in depth though compared to Mount & Blade.  Different armour types are more or less easy to penetrate depending on where you hit, what type of weapon you are using and even what part of the weapon you swing with.  Axe's for example can be switched to use the flat side to crush armour instead of pierce, with the weapon side being changed by pressing Q.  Shields become invaluable to surviving as deflecting attacks are crucial to staying alive on the field, but every piece of armour can be destroyed eventually if it takes too much punishment.

Headshots are insta-kills regardless of armour
It makes battles become frenzied tactical fights as players aim to hit the weak spots on each others armour while also defending against counter-attacks.  Some players really enjoy the chance to face an opponent in honourable combat, duelling each other away from the grand melee to see who is the better fighter.

Ranged combat takes the same armour penetration values into account when loosing arrows or bolts.  Shooting goes from third person to first when aiming, but bows only allow you to aim for so long before you need to redraw your bow.  The advantage being that bows have greater range, while crossbows can be aimed as long as you like but have less range but more penetration power. 

One of the more standout moments of combat is the executions.  When you have downed a foe they are left prone waiting for a friend to get them back to their feet or to respawn when a timer runs down.  If you are unlucky enough to be alone or amongst a large group of foes, then they may just decide to put you out of your misery.  These take the form or brutal killing moves, such as crushing necks with shields, stabbing people in the face multiple times, breaking necks or just impaling them with a sword.  What makes these worse is that you see them from a first person perspective if you are the unlucky player to be downed.

After every match you earn experience and gold.  Levelling up unlocks new weapons and modifications while gold is spent to buy these items.  An example is a castillon sword.  When you buy it you then choose which steel to use which can alter it's damage, penetration, encumbrance and swing speed.  Then you pick a fighting style which alters it further, then what type of blade grind you want and finally the pommel type.

Executing your fellow man is worryingly satisfying
All of these allow you to have a weapon that fits your fighting style and can make a big difference when you swing, it's a nice level of depth which makes a relatively shallow weapon set stand out.  Being as there are only 30 weapons in the game you will soon unlock and play with them all in a relatively short time as experience and gold is easy to come by each round, but really the gameplay is more about the skill of the player rather than the armour or weapons they have unlocked.

The game allows for a customised character class system.  Originally you start with only the pregen characters which fit four archetypal classes.  Footmen are medium armour wearing soldiers, archers uses longbows and light armour, crossbowmen are jack of all trades types mixing light and medium armour with melee and ranged skills.  The heavy footman has the best armour with 2 handed weapons to boot for a heavy front line fighter.  When you have enough gold and experience you can unlock your own custom class which can be a mix of any of these weapons, armour and skill sets.  You purchase perks which determine if your character can wield a bow or ride a horse, while other perks increase armour skill, shield use, movement, weapon proficiency and capture rates.  It is a very flexible system that creates characters that are difficult to categorise for opponents.

I would warn though that for a download title this game does have it's problems.  Numerous times now I have been kicked back to the desktop during a battle with no way to report the fault to developer fatshark.  Although the game can support 64 players it is very unlikely the game will run smoothly with this number.  High pings and sketchy netcode at this high number results in warping semi-regularly, with no means to set a ping limit to keep high pingers off the server it can eventually lead to server reboots meaning you lose all of your progress from the match.

Knights are powerful but exposed when their charger is killed
Fortunately the game runs pretty smooth on 48 players as a maximum and since the maps aren't battlefield 3 size you won't be running around for ages looking for a foe to kill.  There is also good news in the announcement of a new content update consisting of 2 new maps, 10 new weapons and at least 1 new armour set so the future as far as the developers are concerned is bright.

Graphically War of the roses is decent for a download title.  Characters are detailed enough to highlight the armour and weapon variation enough while the world itself has enough character to make each map distinct from the next.  It's not AAA graphics but for the price you aren't expecting that.  Characters can seem a little wooden for some animations such as running or swinging weapons, but then executions and horse movement are both very realistic.

The soundtrack for the game features numerous orchestral battle scores that give it that epic medieval battle feel.  Weapon sounds are realistic and make suitably meaty sounds as they find flesh to strike.  There isn't much in the way of voice work besides the odd line from a york or lancastrian soldier as you select a team, or the muffled scream of a soldier being gutted.  I guess it's good enough but then this isn't a game about words, it's about hitting people with swords.

SCORE: 7.0/10

If it wasn't for the sometimes rage inducing crash to desktops and semi-regular server reboots this game would have gotten an 8.5 but until they fix those issues I am forced to give it a lower score than I would like.  Still the game is really enjoyable when it works properly and is definitely worth the money.


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