War of the Roses – Review

Platform | Release Date
PC | October 2, 2012
Developed by Fatshark
Published by Paradox Interactive

The Pitch:

War of the Roses is a team based third person action game set in 15th century England. Two rival branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet – the house of Lancaster (the reds) and the house of York (the whites) – fight over the throne, and the player is thrown into the fray.

War of the Roses is a competitive multiplayer game where players strap on heavy, medieval armor and fight in hand-on-hand combat. Support can be given from cavalry and archers, but when your horse collapses or the enemy closes in, you must draw your sword and fight.

Despite the heavy armor, this package is light on content. What content is here is also a bit rough. With effort, you might squeeze a diamond from this coal, but it isn’t easy. Nothing is easy in War of the Roses.

A Training mode is included, but it is just a series of bot matches on each map, with a rudimentary objective. The bots are both surprisingly dumb but lethal; archers are deadly accurate while your teammates don’t help. These matches could be enjoyable if a friend or two could hop in and together you could learn the ropes, but bots are not available in multiplayer and you can’t practice on privately hosted servers. Only competitive play on ranked servers or paying to rent your own are options. There is also no party system, only a server browser where friends can attempt to join the same server. Your group must then hope more players join to actually end up on the same team, since the game does not allow numerically uneven teams to be formed.

This leaves you to enter public, competitive, ranked servers by yourself with a level 1 character to learn the ropes. The popular Call of Duty level up system is present, and initially you can only play a sword-and-shield Footman. After a level up, you can try your hand and the pre-built Crossbowman, and after that a pre-built Archer. Eventually you will earn the levels and gold required to open up custom slots, and begin buying weapons, armor, modifiers, perks, and abilities.

Without much direction, it’s hard to know which to buy, but you can begin with some of the common or popular perks that were included in the pre-built classes. I built a crossbow sniper, whose range and damage greatly exceeded the defaults, but had over a 15 second reload speed. By having such a large penalty for a miss, downing a fully armored knight at 100 yards with a headshot was deeply satisfying. The class customization available appears to have Pros and Cons rather than superior unlocks. However, given how quickly I was killed by players with more experience and large, fancy hats, I am not certain that it is truly balanced.

Frankly, I still have no idea what I am doing. I have enabled the option to show damage numbers, which are sometimes replaced with shield icons of various colors to designate an absorbed hit, so I am clearly connecting. However, I’m not doing nearly as much damage to them as they do to me. The angle of your attack, the type of weapon you are using, at which point during the swing it connects, and the momentum behind the swing all appear to have impact, but controlling or understanding these factors is difficult. Since the game also deploys a Battlefield 2 squad spawn mechanic, you can spawn on your squad leader. This results in group combat devolving into chaotic mobs as reinforcements respawn faster than an entire squad can be slain. I’ve found much greater success in a support role as an archer or my custom Sniper, picking off single foes caught unawares from a great distance.

Mounted combat is also present. I have witnessed armored knights on horseback control the plains of a battlefield. My attempts to replicate this tactic involve me running people over with my horse, giving my teammates time to finish them off. While controlling the horse itself is not too difficult, it can be hard to connect with an attack. And, speaking of downing other players, the execution system is graphic, satisfying, and an interesting twist on the revive mechanic. You can lay indefinitely awaiting any teammate to pull you up, until an enemy scores a hefty bounty giving you a killing blow. It is a fine balance between waiting for a revive and deciding to spawn on a squad leader or base camp. Guess incorrectly and you’ll either have a long run ahead of you or watch from a first person perspective as your opponent stabs you in the face repeatedly. It makes things personal, like Burnout Paradise taking a picture of your face and sending it to the player that just took you out, or Call of Duty’s killcam (which wouldn’t be as useful in a melee combat game).

Maps have a lot of personality. Each is distinct in location, layout, and environmental temperament. One is a large, green field covered in a non-obscuring fog and another takes place in the streets of a city on fire at night. Each is unique enough to be instantly recognizable, which is something I find lacking in most competitive multiplayer games. It was very refreshing to encounter here.

The overall lack of polish and features, while having an abundance of personality, make War of the Roses both frustrating and fun. I’ve found it more difficult to get the hang of than Mount and Blade, and the lack of co-op against AI and private servers has made this difficulty curve steeper.

If you pre-purchased War of the Roses, you’re likely enjoying the competitive package offered here. However, without the tools necessary to more easily learn the game’s systems, it is difficult to recommend.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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