War of the Roses Review (PC)

Right, let’s get this out of your system now – yes, War of the Roses is a little bit like Mount & Blade, in the same sense that Battlefield is a little bit like Call of Duty or Halo, except if one of them was a game that was just one game mode or something. They offer similar experiences seeing as they both involve medieval combat, but as games they are quite different. One thing they do have in common though (aside from the obvious) is that they were both made by fairly small teams, so at the very least they get some props for what they’ve done with so few resources.

War of the Roses is based on the conflict between two competing houses within the old English Royal Family in the 15th & 16th Century – the two sides each had a rose as their house symbol (Red for Lancaster, White for York), hence the name of the war. Whilst there’s no real narrative or story to accompany the game, some of the maps are sites of famous battles, and you do get some historical context dotted around here and there, but for the most part War of the Roses is just about the combat, and the setting is merely a way to contextualise what you’re doing. In a way it’s a lot like Counter-Strike – highly skilled based, and the fact that it’s Terrorists vs. Counter-Terrorists is actually immaterial. They could be Yankee’s vs. Dixies for all it mattered.

Seems simple enough

To begin with, all you will have access to is one load-out – The Footman. An average grunt soldier, you’ll be able to use your sword and shield to get to grips with the basics of the game and not be totally owned by everyone else if they have higher gear. Combat with mêlée weapons revolves around four directions – you move your mouse in the direction you want, and your weapon will attack from that side (downswing, left swing, right swing and ‘stab’) and blocking works the same way if you don’t have a shield. As you go through the first few levels, you’ll then unlock the crossbowman, the longbowman, and finally the heavily armoured knight. Bowmen are especially quite fun, if you can master them, and there is some cool gear available for them.

Loud-outs in War of the Roses are about subtle trade-offs. Around level 5, you’ll be able to create your first custom load out using the money you’ve earned through fighting in the games. Typically, your money equals to the amount of XP you earn, but only in certain situations. Hit’s, knockouts etc… net you money and XP, but executions only net you XP, as do reviving teammates and so on. You then take that cash to the Profile editor and start unlocking what you want. To start with, you’ll need some perks, which are divided up into categories. Each perk has a number of sub-perks you can choose from as well. Some perks are essential for certain loads outs, for example there’s a perk to carry a shield, a perk for a horse, a perk to use a bow, some perks exclude others, but for the most part your load-outs are going to be cantered around heavily armoured knights, medium armoured soldiers, or lighter bowman, with some over-lapping as you unlock more stuff and get better at everything.

The fact that you can even design your own devices is a nice touch

From there, you then need to actually outfit your character – each ‘Profile’ can potentially have a main weapon (usually something big like a two-handed weapon or a bow, spear etc…), a secondary weapon (one handed sword, axe or mace for example) and then a dagger – all of which are optional. Each weapon can then be altered in a variety of subtle ways – choose what fighting style you use, what grin, what kind of handle, metal etc… much like attachments for your weapons in Battlefield, these choices give subtle yet crucial benefits – unlocks don’t kill people, people kill people.

It’s the act of running around and stabbing people in the face that really makes this game shine though, and it’s great that you can just jump in and get to grips with it. Server latency is actually pretty good, even if you’re playing on a non-local server, and the fact that you can have up to 64 players just turns the fun up to 11. One on one duelling can be really challenging, as you have to make sure you get past your opponents block with enough force to penetrate their armour and do damage; I always just go for the face.

Despite the lack of a scripted narrative or anything, there is a single player component to War of the Roses which allows you to play around with various gameplay concepts offline against AI opponents. The London Tournament Grounds, for example, has ‘contests’ in several areas from assaulting a wooden fort, to archery, to mêlée practice and even a ‘king of the hill’ mini-scenario. If you go to the offline Bamburgh Castle map, you have to make your way through the castle by capturing checkpoints and defeating the AI defenders – all as a crossbowman. The other maps also have a range of different scenarios and exercises – all of which can be incredibly useful if you don’t really know what you’re doing, but unlike similar games these modes do not contribute to your online rank (no exp), and they don’t even net you any gold that you can spend in the Profile Editor – a shame, but we’re sure Fatshark had their reasons.

The impassive face of death...

To say that War of the Roses doesn’t have any downsides would be a lie, but then again ‘downsides’ isn’t really the right word either, more like ‘concerns’, or simply things that make you stop and go ‘hmm’. For starters, whilst two game modes and seven maps is not nothing, it doesn’t mean your exactly spoilt for choice either, and the fact that the official servers just constantly rotate through the maps means that you’ll get used to all the locales very quickly. Conquest and Team Deathmatch also are game modes that are recognisable everywhere, guns or not, so it’s not like there’s anything particular exciting there either. Secondly, there could be more in the unlock system –not so much with all the little ‘alterations’ and stuff, but there could be more variety of weapons, and more advanced weapons available at lower levels, even if it was inferior forms of the current ones. We suppose you could argue it gives you something to work towards, but… no. Just give me my damn spear now thank you. There are other niggles, like the fact that only a handful of maps are really suited to players on horseback, but to be honest we’re straying close to nit-picking. IT’s a good game, it’s got a lot of potential – Fatshark just need to not be slow in realising it.

But at the end of the day, you get out of this game what you put in – Skill Is not an unlock, is the motto the guys are going with at the moment. In a way, this game could turn out to be more skill-orientated than Counter-Strike. It’s definitely going to be punishing to casual players or people who simply aren’t that good, but if you do manage to get to grips with it, it’s very rewarding. It can sometimes feel a little grindy, especially early on as you’re trying to save up money to perfect your first load out, but other than that this is one good looking and well-made man stabber.

Top Game Moment: Getting a head shot on someone from really far away. Like a boss.



By the_fourth_horseman (SI Veteran Member) on Sep 26, 2012
So what you're really saying is, that it's a bit of an anticlimax?
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Sep 26, 2012
This seems like a nice change of pace from all the shooters. Getting it depends a lot on my buddies getting this as well though, a Christmas sale should help with that :).
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Oct 01, 2012
I wouldn't say it's an Anti-Climax... there's just not as much to play around with as I would like.

The core gameplay - which they've put a lot of work into - works really well and is a lot of fun. They just need more weapons, maps, etc... which we're told is coming anyway.