Have multiplayer games given you the cold shoulder? Are the typical players online too interested in their kill to death ratio to provide a challenge? Thankfully the “bros” are not playing War of the Roses, the latest release from Fatshark and Paradox Interactive. The player will side with either the House of York or the House of Lancaster as both factions wage a bloody war for control of the throne. Although this title has a limited range of features, the core gameplay and frantic action is enjoyable and provides a very different approach to multiplayer gaming.
The genre of medieval combat has not been explored very often in the multiplayer space, with the only notable exception being Mount and Blade. I am very new to these type of titles, and so going into War of the Roses I was vastly outmatched and not as knowledgeable as some of the skilled veterans I squared off against. To their credit, however, the community of players was very helpful and always willing to give advice on the finer points of the game; something you normally do not have in most current multiplayer games. Trust me when I say though that if you're new to these type of games, the learning curve is very intimidating. The concept is very simple but difficult to master: using a variety of weapons such as swords, maces, axes, shields and bow and arrow two teams face off in Team Deathmatches or fight to gain control of specific capture points in Conquest mode. The combat with most weapons is used by clicking on the left mouse button and moving it in different motions for the desired attack. You can pull back with the sword and thrust it forward to possibly inflict a very damaging wound through the opening of a foot knight’s visor, and then using the right mouse button parry the next blow that nearly decapitates your head. These techniques sound simple enough but early on you will have no real luck in pulling off such advanced maneuvers. Especially with higher level players armed with multiple weapons and most of the time charging at you on their trusty mount. During most of the early levels you'll feel like you're just flailing your arms wildly in the air hoping to luck out and possibly scratch someone with your dagger. That will change once you begin to level and have the opportunity to customize your knight in shining armor, along with perks and weapons to suit your style of play.
As mentioned previously there are only two game modes, Team Deathmatch and Conquest which are contested on seven battlefields. There is no single player campaign at all and the story that does come from the game is shown very briefly in between matches. This was slightly disappointing, however Paradox Interactive has already dedicated a team to producing regular content that will add more to the multiplayer experience including more weapons, skills and maps. Although the game is limited, when matches occur it is done very well and is engaging enough to keep people playing until higher levels and customization options are available to them. With enough practice and experience combat will begin to click, and can become a very violent version of chess as each player anticipates their next move and attempts to counter with a blow that will lead to their opponent’s demise. Once players have been taken down by some cruel fate, they can chose to beg for mercy or the victor can execute their fallen foe as they defenselessly watch the scene play out in its entirety. This sometimes will lead to some great opportunities to strike, as an archer perched on a nearby roof may be able to down the would-be executioner before they're able to strike down their prone enemy. Many times I was saved from certain death by a skilled archer and then helped back to my feet to fight once more. The game really takes combat seriously, as archers will only be able to hold back the arrow for so long before they become tired and cannot keep their shot on target. Crossbows take very long to load and can sometimes be misfired similar to shooting a real crossbow. This dedication to realism really adds character to the game and can lead to some amazing moments. I almost wish there was a replay system to capture some of the insane scenes that played out during our sessions.
The game is not without its faults, however. In my time playing I normally had a bug or glitch in each match, whether it was someone using a shield smash while I was stuck in between a bale of hay and a wall unable to move or get free, or an invisible man running around with only his armor and weapons exposed. The most enraging moment, however, was when I played almost the entire day and gained absolutely no experience or currency for playing in multiplayer matches. It was great learning the game throughout these matches however being stuck with only using character classes with very "creative" names such as Footman, Crossbowman or Longbowman was not helpful at all. Overall the performance was solid, and graphically the game was impressive and ran very smoothly. At times I found myself taking a moment from battle to look out at the field as it ran red with the blood of the House of Lancaster and saw a lush wooded area and a stream running throughout, undisturbed by the chaos of the fighting around it. The war was also fought as the elements of nature tried to do its worse, rain falling from the sky as fire lit up the night. It was quite the sight to see and added a great visual to the massacre that transpired throughout the war.
Hopefully in the next few updates things will begin to smooth out but currently the game isn't as polished as it should be. Especially after an extensive beta before it was released. The diehard players will enjoy what is available for quite some time, but casual players will see and do pretty much the extent of what is available in a few days of playing. Thankfully, the price point is reasonable at only $29.99. I just hope that consistent updates will be able to breathe more life into the game and keep players interested. For anyone that would like something different in their multiplayer experience and need some more medieval mayhem while they wait for the new season of Game of Thrones, War of the Roses is a limited, sometimes difficult experience that is also rewarding and innovative, and should be a game that players check out.