A creative setting can do a lot for a game. For evidence of this, look no further than Spiders' Steelrising, a Soulslike currently in development and set for release this September. Uniquely, Steelrising takes place during an alternate-history version of the French Revolution, one in which King Louis XVI is holding Paris hostage with an army of mechanical automata. You are Aegis, a sentient humanoid automaton sent by Marie Antoinette to put an end to Louis XVI's reign of terror by cutting your way through his army one clockwork robot at a time. Of course, Steelrising can't entirely fall back on its admittedly brilliant premise; its gameplay also has to work for it to succeed. I was lucky enough to sit down with a preview build showing off the first few hours of the game, and I came away with a cautious but pronounced enthusiasm for what Spiders could accomplish with the full game.
Steelrising's Combat Is Chunky And Satisfying
In combat terms, Steelrising isn't bringing too much new to the Soulslike table. Just like other games in its genre, it revolves around stamina management and punishing enemy mistakes. Importantly, though, Steelrising succeeds where many of its peers fail. Its combat feels weighty, hefty, and consequential, with each swing of one of Aegis' weird and wonderful weapons either landing with a satisfying impact or leaving her wide open for retaliation. This makes each encounter against one of Paris' many crazed automata feel rewarding. Too many Soulslikes fail to understand the genre's balance of risk and reward with each weapon swing, but Steelrising has a good, solid grasp on its fundamentals. Aegis' movements feel purposeful, as do the attacks of her enemies.
Steelrising's enemy variety is also pretty impressive. During a handful of hours with the game, I encountered a pretty diverse batch of automata, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (although it is fair to say that most of them can be defeated with the old dodge-front-right trick). Some robots spew fire, while others hurl metal balls infused with lightning at you. Some are small and agile, while others are large, bulky, and brutal. It's all par for the course when it comes to Soulslikes, but the menacing, mechanical whirr and click of each enemy makes them feel intimidating as they sneak up on you or confront you in a darkened Parisian alley. For the most part, Steelrising's combat delivers, and that's the most important element of a game like this.
With that said, there are certainly elements of Steelrising that feel incomplete right now. All too often, you'll think you've dodged an enemy attack, only to be clipped and dealt pretty staggering damage by the very end of the animation. Some enemy animations are almost impossible to predict; the jerky, sudden movements of automata work well as a way to invoke the uncanny valley, but not so well when you're actually trying to deal with the things in combat. This isn't helped by the fact that not all weapons allow you to block, but some attacks feel like you'd be much better off shielding them than dodging away from them. There were times during my few hours with Steelrising that it felt like the game wasn't handing me the tools I needed to succeed, making runs back from checkpoints feel just a little more tedious and repetitive as a result.
Luckily, Steelrising does manage to inject some variety into its combat through its weaponry. There are plenty of weird and wonderful devices to try out in combat here. One of the starting classes wields a pair of bladed fans that can double as a shield, for example, and you'll also get access to a ball on the end of a chain which you can ignite for extra damage. These weapons, which also include ranged firearms and big, heavy melee options, can also inflict different debuffs on your enemy, and putting together a particularly devastating build in this regard feels immensely rewarding. If Steelrising can just polish up the moment-to-moment combat, then Spiders could be sitting on something seriously special here.
The Setting In Steelrising Does A Lot Of Good Work
Even though the combat can occasionally grow a little tiresome, this never becomes a serious problem, and that's down in large part to Steelrising's setting. Spiders' version of late-18th-century Paris is breathtakingly beautiful. Foliage shimmers in the sunlight, barely masking the automated menace that lurks around each street corner. The automata themselves, including Aegis, are brilliantly unsettling, moving in that particular clockwork way that makes them feel simultaneously hilarious and sinister. That's aided in no small part by the sound design, which truly accentuates the cracks and metallic clangs each time you make contact with an enemy's metal shell. Exploring the streets of Paris is a joy thanks to this careful, meticulous attention to detail.
There is a slightly unfortunate over-reliance on text logs and lengthy, wordy dialogue trees to tell the story here, though. The voice acting is characteristically solid; it's about on the same level as Spiders' previous game GreedFall, which had some rather excellent performances amongst its main cast. However, the cast here delivers the story in a clunky, overly expository way. Not every Soulslike needs to have the same obscure background storytelling as From Software's series, but delivering the narrative in this way clashes with the core gameplay of Steelrising. It's especially comical when you forget to dismiss a text log after picking it up and have to fight an enemy with a giant block of wordy exposition covering a third of your screen. This isn't a dealbreaker, but some more elegantly-implemented storytelling wouldn't go amiss.
It's also really not possible to overstate the weirdness of the setting. Steelrising has taken a risk here, and although Spiders' new game is not really mechanically similar to GreedFall, I can feel a similar desire to move away from the tried-and-tested settings of the genre within which the studio is working. Bumping into figures from the French Revolution, such as Marie Antoinette or the Marquis de Lafayette, is a grin-inducing novelty in a Soulslike. It remains to be seen whether Spiders can stick the landing, but I'm optimistic. I'm not saying I want the final boss in Steelrising to be a giant mecha-Louis XIV with shoulder-mounted turrets and La Marseillaise blasting as the boss theme, but I'm not not saying that, either.
In Steelrising, Spiders could well have an unexpected hit on their hands. The combat is surprisingly satisfying and rewarding, and there are plenty of weapons to engage with if you don't like your starting option. Exploration feels good; there are tons of hidden items to discover if you head off the beaten track, and they're usually useful in some way. The refreshing premise strikes just the right balance between being endearingly silly and being genuinely intriguing, and if Spiders can make the most of the potential in that premise, then this could be a real success. Here's hoping that when the finished game arrives in September, it lives up to the huge amount of potential on display in this preview build.
TechRaptor previewed Steelrising on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is set to release on September 8th, 2022, on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.