War of the Roses: Hands-On

Published on May 13th, 2012

A new pretender to the multiplayer throne.

While gaming’s mainstream has become obsessed with burly Marines and modern warfare, there’s a growing number of us who’re hankering for an experience which harkens back to the days of a purer kind of combat. A battlefield where there aren’t cowardly tools like laser-guided weaponry and tricky mines; a time when you saw the whites of the enemy’s eyes before you plunged your sword into their metal armour exterior to penetrate their fleshy innards, or better yet send a well-placed arrow directly into their cranium.

War of the Roses: Hands On

Finishing off downed combatents looks unashamedly brutal, not to mention bad ass, but they do make you very vulnerable.

looks to deliver on all the violent promise its titular 15th century setting provides, and recently we got to experience its competitive multiplayer charms with our eight man Yorkists versus the Lancasterians on a map supporting up to 64 players.

It’s hard not to get carried away with the grandeur and promise of Fatshark’s latest multiplayer-only experience as you watch team-mates gallop around on horseback armed with golden lancers chasing similarly mobile enemies, or better yet charging into clusters of allies and enemies swinging away at each other with an array of axes, swords and poleaxes, but this isn’t simply a modern shooter re-skinned – far from it. Fatshark has reinvented melee combat with their mind-numbing array of various weaponry in mind. When swinging your instrument of death you choose a quadrant of an enemy to attack, while they have the opportunity to block and counter your movements if they select the same area. This easy system is further complicated by gauging the kill depth of your weapon. Using a spear for instance requires a stride’s more distance between you and your prey in order to maintain a healthy swing – too close and your swing will just hit them with the hilt of your weapon rather than its nasty point.

War of the Roses: Hands On

Watching mounted warriors chasing each other on horseback never gets dull.

It’s a radical system and one that takes a while to get used to, not only due to the sheer number of tactical options (via changeable builds) but also that you need to keep a constant eye on those behind and around you. The fact that by default your view is third-person helps in this endeavour a little, but we found it tempting to chase down enemies as they retreated, inevitably leading to even bigger cluster of foes and subsequent death.

The action isn’t all chasing however, as there are ranged weapons like a one-hit kill pistol, crossbow and standard bow, all of which utilise a first-person perspective while aiming, cutting off your peripheral vision. It’s a really nice touch, as ranged specialists would usually win out against all others, but the fact that they’re too busy pulling back their string or reloading means that skilful players can usually sneak up for an kill in a couple of swipes.

Did we say kill? Ah, we actually meant incapacitate, requiring either a nifty sword or dagger plunged hard into the chest to confirm the kill – at least until they respawn. These finishers are really clever things and punctuate the grotesquely intimate nature of medieval combat, further heightened by an immediate first-person perspective to enjoy the humiliation of your prey, however at any time you can be interrupted, halting the move or even be downed yourself offering up an interesting paradigm: do I go for the glory kill or quickly put him or her out of their misery?

War of the Roses: Hands On

Crossbow men were the 'P90 Spammers' of their day.

Further to this risk/reward paradigm, anyone downed can also be revived by their team-mates, and there was a few instances of us going for a finishing move, getting interrupted by an enemy, downed, and then having to wait as our attacker revived his buddy, with the original victim sticking his sword in my torso for the ultimate act of vengeance. It’s a masterstroke of multiplayer design as melee players are encouraged to cluster together for attacks, as they’re more likely to be revived if they run into problems, otherwise they just bleed out on the floor waiting for the inevitable.

War of the Roses: Hands On

Watching mounted warriors chasing each other on horseback never gets dull.

Both visually and systematically War of the Roses, even in pre-Alpha state, already provides a great online battleground with our network match proving to be a lot of fun – even if it was slightly chaotic. Fatshark has already proven they can put out a good class-based shooter experience with Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West, but with War of the Roses they’re expanding the core gameplay one step further with a customisation system which allows players to select their own emblem and design their own weapon by choosing different materials, tips, hilts and armour loadouts.

You can choose different visors, helmets, plumes… you name it there’s probably a toggle for it in the build editor somewhere. The development team has gone to insane lengths to add the details Paradox strategy heads love to pick apart, and even though in gameplay terms these toggles don’t have a massive impact (at least for now) players should still enjoy experimenting.

War of the Roses has always had a great concept, but the exciting thing is Fatshark are beginning to deliver on their medieval warfare promise. Expect an Open Beta to peak its plumed and polished head out of the bushes later in the year.

For a more detailed preview of War of the Roses, check out this month’s issue of PCGZine.

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