The Wars of the Roses were an infamous string of conflicts between the Houses of Lancaster & York, spanning a few decades in the mid 15th century. The bloodiness of combat, as well as how much these affairs perturbed an already tumultuous society, is debatable to this day, though all historians generally agree that stuff definitely went down between the warring factors.
The high-medieval setting, with its valiant warriors and the glorious brutality of the weaponry, certainly doesn’t sound like something that would make for a blockbuster of a game; not that it isn’t interesting, it’s just that there are countless examples of analogous battles throughout history that would be great choices for a video game setting, and the average modern gamer sure does love shooting stuff with guns. The War of the Roses, released on PC a few days ago, has nonetheless forayed into the topic. Unlike its comparable sibling Mount & Blade, however, this is solely an online multiplayer game.
Well, please feel free to take all that historical background information up there and promptly forget about it. While the choice of setting would be crucial had the game implemented a serious campaign mode, the only real relevance it has is on the list of weapons and the factions you’ll be fighting for—not unlike any other multi-player combat game of the past decade. The real focus is on the combat itself; while the historical background is an intriguing addition, the gameplay is the core of The War of the Roses.
Luckily, the game succeeds on this fundamental level, though not without some faults. Much like medieval combat, The War of the Roses can at times feel clunky, difficult, and outright buggy. What’s probably not so true about 15th century combat, though, is undeniably present in the game: pure and simple, it’s fun.
I was warned by Paradox beforehand that the game has a steep learning curve; that the combat can feel completely off, due to potentially unintuitive controls. For my first few moments with the game, their proclamation was dead on. I felt like every time I’d mastered something, another issue would crop up. After running through a few rounds of the tutorial and trying my newly-gained prowess online, however, something clicked.
It’s a very rare occurrence in video games for such a feeling to overcome the player, but once I got War of the Roses down pat, it became extremely satisfying to land blows on my enemies. You’ll soon find yourself not struggling with the intricacies of how to control the game, but rather the ins & outs of each weapon and how best to impale your opponent in his restrictive armor or knock the liquefied brains out of your foes’ ears.
I look back at my first hour with the game, and realize I must have looked about as coordinated as an orangutan wearing roller-skates. I was wildly swinging my mouse at enemies, jumping about and spinning; when I realized that only intricate & precise mouse movements were needed to attack properly, and that timing was a huge part in becoming a successful knight, it all became simply gorgeous.
The controls effectively boil down to the left button swinging your weapon, while the right parries. A timed gauge indicates how powerful your attack will be, and releasing it at the right moment is crucial. For actually attacking, you’ll simply move your mouse in the direction you want to swing; left and right are self-explanatory, while forward or backward will allow you to smash your weapon downward or thrust it forward. Ranged weaponry is decidedly simpler, but they have their own debilitations—have fun with that load time on the crossbow.
There’s an underlying amount of strategy to War of the Roses that’s negligible while playing, but definitely there. If you swing a little too hard, it could leave you open to a quick attack from the enemy; if you don’t pay attention to your foe’s movements, your well-aimed blow to the face could clatter helplessly against their formidable armor. Rushing into a crowd of the opposite team by yourself will almost assuredly get you killed, even if that horse you ride on feels like a bout of invincibility. The immense control you have over your weapons is nothing short of an astounding and refreshing control scheme (Skyrim is almost sickening now), but the phenomenally meticulous hit boxes make sure the challenge isn’t artificial. Once again, timing is key.
Of course, the strategy behind War of the Roses isn’t without some crippling flaws. Executions are, for the most part, worthless; while pulling one off when you have a legion of friendly soldiers around you is no trouble, it’s simply not worth the risk in most situations (though smashing a shield through someone’s skull is undeniably cool, and gruesome if you are the one viewing it). I mentioned the use of cavalry earlier, too: while they add some fun dynamic to the game, I don’t think anyone would agree that a team with multiple steeds is just as balanced as a squad of infantrymen.
The game itself isn’t free from hindrances, either. My modestly-powered system should be able to handle it with ease, yet my framerate nevertheless suffered on occasion for weird, unobvious reasons. Perhaps more annoyingly, the game likes to close inconspicuously after rounds; I’ll play a few games without any problems, and then it’ll simply shut off after the next round is over (this is apparent in the tutorial, as well). While it’s got an easy solution, rebooting the game constantly isn’t exactly a welcome feature.
There are, of course, some other more negligible problems. There are quite a few bugs that, however infrequent, infiltrate the game in every way. From respawning off the side of a building to getting stuck in various objects (and even the ground), you’ll certainly see some stuff going on that probably isn’t realistic of medieval combat scenarios. If you like playing “Last Man Standing” types of battles, you’re also out of luck; there’s no way to disable respawning as of this writing. I’ve also ran across a few people claiming that there are some server-related problems, and though I haven’t experienced anything of the sort, be aware of that possibility.
If you care about graphics, it’s not likely that The War of the Roses will let you down. It’s not pulling anything absolutely breathtaking, but it’s got some nice lighting effects and everything looks sharp, from textures to weapons, and it does a great job of finding its own unique look. It does skimp out on detailed adjustable settings, but you’ll be fine without them. The music that plays is thematically fitting, and several of the compositions are rather inspiring for the onset of a virtual war. Voice over work is competent, though I wager this is negligible to most players as it’s an online multiplayer game.
In regards to actual content, there are only two game modes as of now, deathmatch & conquest, and seven maps available. If you get pulled into the magnificence of battle this won’t be a huge issue (at least, not initially), it might put some people off in comparison to its price. If you’re into progressing your character, building your own custom ones, and unlocking new content, you’re in for a treat; the game has plenty to offer in terms of customization, and having your own builds can add an entirely new dynamic to battle. While the developers claim that upgraded armor and weaponry is nothing compared to true skill, it’s hard to deny that an entry-level footsoldier will fair as well as a decked-out knight, but the progression happens swiftly enough where you’ll not be so inadequate in comparison to any veteran players out there now after a few hours of play.
If you’re concerned with any of the problems mentioned above, just remember my echoing sentiment: the game is highly enjoyable, even with these varying issues. It’s hard to consider a few bugs and lacking multiplayer modes as deal breakers when you see that a few hours have passed as you’ve become more and more immersed in the finely tuned gameplay presented by the 13-man team at Fatshark. Of course, Paradox and Fatshark have promised that they’ll be keeping an eye on the game, adding new content to it, and fixing any prevailing issues; if you think you’ll enjoy this but are wary about the price and problems, think of it as a building block to something that’ll surely become much more expansive in the future.
While I could be chiding the game for its various missteps, I’m instead awaiting bigger and better content and problem-solving patches in the future. It all comes down to the fact that, above all, The War of the Roses succeeds in being a legitimately thrilling game. It might be lacking a lot of the features other popular multiplayer-based games boast, but for the most part it makes up for it in its ingenuity, from its intricate controls to its historically-accurate take on medieval warfare that brilliantly evades the alarming potential for a convoluted mess of strict and unsatisfying gameplay. While there’s no denying a few patches and some additional content would be welcome, the game more than stands on its own as it is now as an enticing foray into the open medieval multiplayer genre. Will I see you on the battlefield?
Final Grade: B
- War of the Roses Gets Some New Content in November