Rooks Keep Preview (PC)

It’s hard to judge Rooks Keep based on the preview build. It’s clearly got a long way to go, and feels like a very early prototype with animations missing, balance issues, and a general lack of polish, but beneath all the tattered decorations lies the hint of something that could be a frantic and exciting game. My experience was limited to offline against bots (I couldn’t find any games happening on the preview build whenever I checked), so hopefully combat feels more natural against human opponents, because right now there’s a lot of flaws limiting the potential fun.

If you just judge the ideas and not the execution, though, Rooks Keep could be something quite unique. It takes chess and turns it into constant battle, substituting black and white for monsters and humans, with each team having different classes that take the place of the usual chess pieces. In place of a rook there’s an ogre or a gladiator, in place of a bishop there’s a mage or warlock etc. Classes each fall under a different power level, and the more powerful ones cost more skill points to play as when you respawn; points that are unlocked through your prowess on the battlefield.

It's basically how you always wanted chess to play out as a kid

There’s a few modes, but the biggest split between them is chess modes and normal arena modes. Normal arena modes consist of deathmatch, last man standing, or conversion; the first two function as you’d imagine, while conversion is an interesting twist. When someone dies, they join the opposite team, with teams getting stronger pieces to play with as their numbers dwindle. It’s a neat idea, but fails in execution, as you just constantly respawn on a different team, and it seems you win no matter what happens, as everyone always ends up on the winning team by the end of the game. It’s fun, but there’s not really any consequence, and it doesn’t make too much sense.

Chess mode plays as you’d expect, and is very similar to Battle vs. Chess. Unfortunately, the execution again lets it down, and if you want a chess game that also incorporates action battles, nothing at this stage suggest Rooks Keep will trump Battle vs. Chess. The chess part is fine, but the one vs one battles are over far too quickly, and the problems in combat are highlighted even more when in such an intimate setting.

At the moment, the combats feels stuck halfway between Mount & Blade and something far more arcade-y, and as a result it’s a difficult rhythm to fall into. You need to play a patient game of defence and parrying, but there’s little reward for doing so other than prolonging the inevitability of death - parries are hard to time, and don’t give you enough of an advantage when you do pull one off. There’s also a lack of mobility, and you’ll often find yourself getting insta-killed by another enemies’ special ability while defending against your current focus.

Battles are often just a mess of special abilities

It’s the special abilities that really upset the balance, and the most effective way to play seems to be to run about, dodge (which consists of jumping 6 foot forward), and then unleash your special ability, before waiting for it to recharge and doing the same again. Normal strikes just aren’t effective enough and it’s too risky getting up close and personal to use them, and a lot of the time it’s hard to even tell if they’re having any effect at all - especially with certain classes. Having just quick attacks, one powerful attack, and one special attack per class also makes combat feel limited and repetitive, and there’s not much variation.

Rooks Keep claims to be Unreal Tournament with swords. That’s a big claim, and not one it’s currently matching up to. It’s currently an arena stab-em-up, true, but not a particularly impressive one, and a lot of work needs to be done to turn it into something worth investing a lot of time in. Hopefully it can get to that point, though, as the ideas are solid, and they promise something better than what’s currently on offer.

Most Anticipated Feature: The massive and hectic arena battles; so long as the combat is improved.

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