Steelrising PC Preview – Clockwork Souls
The Dark Souls series led to the creation of the Soulslike subgenre, with studios creating similar action RPGs with a punishingly high level of difficulty. Steelrising is an upcoming Soulslike that has many of the traits of the subgenre, but instead of resembling Dark Souls, it takes inspiration from Bloodborne, with fast and fluid combat that rewards an aggressive playstyle.
Steelrising is set in an alternate timeline, where the French Revolution was thwarted by an army of clockwork automatons under the control of King Louis XVI. The player takes control of Aegis, the personal bodyguard of Marie Antoinette, who is sent on a secret mission to find the creator of the automatons, and use his knowledge to destroy the machine army. Aegis was originally designed to be a dancer, but she can use her incredible agility and precision in combat to take her foes apart in battle.
The Steelrising demo contained two levels and a boss fight from a later point in the game. The player is given the chance to customize their own version of Aegis, which amounts to changing her skin color, wig, and selecting a face design from several presets. Her clothes can be changed later, once new items are found in the overworld. The player then selects from one of four classes, which determine Aegis’ starting weapon, item, and stats. The Bodyguard gives her the Body of Work hammer, which is a slow, two-handed weapon that can be used as a shield; the Solider gives her the Gribeauval Halberd, which is a spear that has a powerful rifle-like ranged attack; the Dancer gives her the Armoured Fans, which are fast weapons that double as a shield; and the Alchemist gives her the Glass-core Batons, which are dual-weapons that can be temporarily enchanted with the cold element.
Once Aegis has been kitted out, the player is thrown into Saint Cloud, where she must face the automaton guards of the mansion, while the player learns the ropes of the game. It was revealed in Screen Rant’s interview with Steelrising director Jehanne Rousseau that Aegis will only be facing machines in the game, all of which are clockwork monstrosities that are reminiscent of the artwork of the era. The basic concepts of Steelrising will be familiar to Soulslike fans, with potions being replaced by oil, bonfires replaced with Vestals (which also contain the shop), and souls replaced with anima essence. Aegis can carry ammunition, which is used by guns, and will often power the secondary attacks of her weapons. The enemies she faces might seem like slow machines, but they can perform attacks using bursts of speed that will catch the player off-guard at first. Luckily, Aegis is also a fast character, with a dash action and a jump, which is also used to explore the environment and to strike from the air.
The main draw of Steelrising is the combat and the game doesn’t disappoint. The first few foes will go down easily, but Aegis will soon be tackling groups of enemies with mixed abilities, such as cannon-wielding automatons, fast dogs with unblockable attacks, and serpent-like machines that breathe fire. It’s possible to unlock a wide variety of weapons in the first two stages, giving the player plenty of options in how they want to tackle the threats in the game world. The combat in Steelrising is fast and fluid, with preference given to agility and weaving in and out of range. The Bloodborne inspiration is clear in Steelrising, with some Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice thrown in, thanks to the use of jumping and powerful parries in combat. Once the player gets Aegis’ rhythm down, then they’ll be seamlessly cutting their way through enemies.
One aspect in which Steelrising can be punishing is in its stamina regeneration, which can be painfully slow to come back once depleted, in the same way that the recent Salt & Sacrifice handled stamina regeneration. Managing stamina is vitally important in Steelrising, as running out when cornered will lead to Aegis being reduced to scrap. Steelrising is bucking the Soulslike trend and including an Assist Mode, which lets the player toggle reduce the damage Aegis takes, hasten her stamina regeneration, and even stop her from losing anima essence upon death. The Assist options can be accessed at any time, but using them will lock the player out of certain achievements until they start a new game file. The inclusion of an Assist Mode might be seen as controversial to some Soulslike aficionados, but the player never has to engage with this system if they don’t want to, and unlocking the achievements does provide some reward for completing the standard difficulty mode in Steelrising.
Outside of the starting gear, Aegis can also find different weapons in the overworld, each with its own unique gimmicks. The Fire Chain is a slow whip with a long-range and wide AOE, and can be given the fire enchantment to make its attacks more powerful; the Falchion and Sabre are twin swords with an incredibly powerful spinning attack, which will drain most of Aegis’ stamina when used; the Nemesis Claws are swift weapons that can parry and counter enemy attacks, and the Charleville 1789 Shield Musket is a fast pistol that inflicts the cold element with each shot. The weapons in the Steelrising demo cover a lot of different playstyles, and it was really only the too-slow Body of Work hammer that felt underpowered. Aegis can have two weapons equipped at one time and picking the right duo of weapons is vital, as one isn’t going to be enough to tackle the threats in Paris.
Aegis can inflict status effects on her enemies, which is the entire purpose of the Alchemist class and its associated stats. The three status effects are Flame Affliction (deals continuous damage), Frost Affliction (prevents the enemy from moving, but attacking causes the effect to end sooner), and Fulmination Affliction (the enemy takes additional damage while affected). Of the three, the Frost Affliction is easily the most powerful, as the ability to completely paralyze the enemy gives Aegis lots of breathing room to heal, restore her stamina, and then pile on the damage against the prone foe. The Charleville 1789 Shield Musket is the best weapon in the preview, as it’s fast, can fire bullets from outside of melee range, and quickly inflicts the Frost Affliction. The only downside is that the gun requires ammo, but this is found on a lot of enemy corpses and can be purchased cheaply from stores.
The Paris of Steelrising is one of empty streets, broken machinery, and beautiful skylines. The visuals and collision effects in the preview left something to be desired, as it used a work-in-progress build. The levels themselves use a mixture of the Dark Souls shortcut-opening progression, where the player gradually unlocks doors that lead back to save points, and a Metroidvania style, where routes are blocked off until the player can return later with a specific item needed for exploration. One fantastic addition to the game is a Compass item, which shows the location of the nearest checkpoint of ongoing quests. This means that the wandering round of Soulslikes is kept to a minimum in Steelrising, as it’s always clear where the player is going. The levels in Steelrising also have a lot of verticality, as the player is expected to jump and travel across platforms, making the Compass even more useful.
Aegis spends most of the demo fighting robots, but Steelrising does feature encounters with humans, as well as conversation trees. Aegis encounters the famous Marquis de Lafayette, who seeks her help in finding a weakness in the automaton forces. The English localization in Steelrising mixes French words into the mix and it does a good job of feeling natural. The brief sampling of Aegis’ voice in the preview was for a monotone character, though that’s to be expected for a robot. Once Lafayette is found, the player unlocks the horseless carriage automaton, which acts as the fast travel for the full version of the game, and the level part of the preview ends.
The boss encounter in the Steelrising demo is The Bishop of the Cite, which wields a staff and a massive book on a chain while traveling around on a massive bladed sphere instead of legs. Luckily, the boss encounter is fought using a save file with a high-level Aegis, who is stocked up on items and gear. The Bishop of the Cite can grab Aegis with the Book and drag her close to the sphere, which needs to be dodged by jumping. The stock of items that can be used to inflict status effects (including lots of grenades) makes this fight easy, as the boss can be kept at a distance, then frozen, allowing the player to pile on the damage in safety. This Soulslike boss encounter would be a lot trickier without these items, as the boss is fast and deals a ton of damage, and not being able to lock it down so easily would result in a challenging encounter. The purpose of this fight was to show off the spectacle of the boss fights in the game, with its angelic design resembling something out of the Bayonetta series.
The Steelrising preview was rough from a technical standpoint, with a number of visual and collision hiccups. This is made up for by some stellar gameplay, an awesome combat system with plenty of options for the player, levels that are enjoyable and rewarding to explore without feeling overwhelming, and a world that is oozing with atmosphere. A more focused Soulslike with compact stages and challenging foes that aren’t overpowered feels especially refreshing after experiencing the bloated Elden Ring. The streets of Paris in Steelrising might be dangerous, but they’re a lot of fun to explore, and they could lead to a fantastic new Soulslike in the future.
Steelrising will be released for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on September 8, 2022. Screen Rant was provided with a code for the PC version of the game for the purposes of this preview.
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