War of the Roses Beta Preview

There’s always been something fascinating about medieval battle. A field of combatants using only their God-given brawn, skill, and speed to defeat their opponents. The fight is personal, the competitors look each other in the eye, and in the end respect is earned while life is taken. It’s a romantic look at death and war, but it certainly beats the cold, detached nature of a B2 bomber removing white blips from a computer screen.

With these thoughts in mind, the War of the Roses promotional material became instantly intriguing. Up to thirty-two players can join the House of York or Lancaster, and wage war against one another on historic battlefields. I jumped into the beta ready to be completely absorbed.

When basing your game around the medieval, it’s a bit strange to see Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s sensibilities present throughout. The design team seems to have taken just about every aspect from the popular military shooter to heart. While persistent multiplayer leveling may be commonplace today, few titles actually decide to name their skill boosters “perks”. You’ll gain levels, unlock new classes like the Footknight, and once you hit level 5 you’ll be able to customize loadouts and assign different weapons and perks. I wouldn’t doubt that at some point, you’ll prestige as well.

I’m not going to beat the current technical issues into the ground right now. This is a beta after all, but XP isn’t reflected properly and there’s plenty of weird graphical stuff all over the place. That being said, there are some strange things happening with combat that I’m not too keen on.

Without a proper tutorial in the beta, I had to fumble my way through the simple act of swinging a sword. You’ll click, then move your mouse in one of four directions to begin your attack. A meter appears which I have yet to completely understand, but I believe it relates to power and/or accuracy of your swipes. Then SWOOSH! Did I mention that your camera is also tied to mouse movement? Yeah. You’re moving the camera while picking an attack. It’s pretty annoying and makes it tough to hit another dude. When your sword caroms off nearby walls and obstacles, this can be kind of infuriating. There were plenty of people that were good at it though, so I could just be missing something (or just suck).

Even with this frustration, I do find the entire experience oddly rewarding. It’s not as personal as I had hoped, and I often feel like it’s a stilted version of Die By The Sword, but charging into battle is exhilarating once you get the hang of what’s going on around you. Instead of a quick blast of machine gun to end a one-on-one battle, I’ve found myself standing toe-to-toe with another footman as we exchange and block our attacks for what feels like an eternal duel.

Striking down your opponent doesn’t necessarily result in their death. You can choose to move on or execute them in a fairly brutal fashion. The one being executed gets to see their life end in a first person view. Executions reward XP where mercy does not. They’ll also be able to be revived if you leave them be, so there’s little reason to let them live unless the battle around you is too thick. I’ve bent over to stab someone’s eyes with my dagger, only to be struck down by a halberd because I wasn’t paying enough attention to my surroundings.

It’s not completely sword and shield though. Other classes can use crossbows and longbows, both of which come with negatives, but placed in the hands of a skilled shot can be extremely effective and if you listen to plenty of the people in chat, “cheap as fuck”. Some soldiers can even mount horses and gallop forward to help capture conquest points or support the footmen. I was able to try out all of the preset classes before my XP was reset thanks to a beta patch.

War of the Roses has the makings for something really cool, and I can see it being a cult favorite like Mount and Blade became. I just hope they’re able to fix the glitches before release and perhaps add some more control options to make swordplay less unwieldy. Or, maybe everything is fine and I just wasn’t cut out for the battlefield.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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