War of the Roses is a game I’ve spent months looking forward to. The moment I heard the words “Call of Duty in medieval times” I was hooked. That description is a bit nebulous, though. I mean, what exactly is Call of Duty without its guns and flashbangs? After getting my hands on it, I’m happy to report that the game delivers on its promises and lives up to its comparison, albeit with a few quirks that hold it back from greatness.
For the uninitiated, War of the Roses is a third-person competitive action game developed by Fatshark Studios. You can choose your class, customize your character, and become a foot soldier in a Middle Ages battlefield. Matches take the form of Team Deathmatch or Conquest, which is your traditional capture-and-hold. This game is about customizing your loadouts and playing your class effectively to reach the top of the leaderboard. Therein lies the Call of Duty comparison.
During my time with the game, I found Conquest to be the most fun but each mode has its own charms and provide a satisfying gameplay experience. If you’re wondering why I glossed over the campaign, that’s because there isn’t any. This is a multiplayer game through and through, unless you count the bot-based tutorial, in which case you’ve missed the point entirely.
You begin the game as a Footman, sword and shield in hand and some lowly armor that will get you killed about as quickly as you crest a hill or dart from behind cover. New classes, weapons, armor, and customizations can be purchased with gold earned from performance in matches. When I started, I was dismayed at how punishing these early rounds can be. After spending some time, however, it’s pretty apparent that Fatshark expects you to take your lumps and learn to play well. War of the Roses is a game of skill, so beyond those starter hours, smart play often trumps smart loadouts.
Thankfully, playing in matches, win or lose, is a lot of fun. There are four classes to choose from and they have a huge impact on gameplay. War of the Roses takes its combat cues from the excellent Mount and Blade series. When wielding cold steel, your sword arm mimics your mouse movements. Defensive maneuvers – block and parry – are controlled with the right mouse button. Each fight is an exercise in check and counter-check. Reaction times matter, as does your aim. When ranged, the game has a lot more in common with a first-person shooter. As a longbowman, the way you time your shots counts. Drawing the arrow takes a good couple seconds and the longer you hold it the more unsteady you become. As a crossbowman, you’re incredibly powerful but reloading takes time and leaves you defenseless. Quickscopers beware!
Numbers fly blue or red depending on whether you’ve hit armor or flesh, so there’s a distinct advantage to wearing heavy armaments. You have the ability to bandage wounds but unless you’re facing an archer, you’ll more likely be downed and facing execution. Executions are brutal and satisfying but leave you vulnerable for the duration. From one swordsman to another, it’s well worth the risk.
While the game definitely earns its cost of entry, balance issues become more of a problem the longer you play. I mentioned that wearing heavy armor gives an advantage. Unfortunately there isn’t much downside to counter that. In bad matches, this tends to negate a lot of the intricacy built into the game. You can customize weapons, choose different armors, and select perks – but all that means little when armor class is so high. And when players feel shoehorned, well, you can expect to see a lot of plate armor on that battlefield.
Mounts are another problem. While the idea is neat and fitting with the times, teams that have them versus teams that don’t have leverage. An organized attack or strategic archery can help even the odds but most players aren’t on VOIP to coordinate such tactics, so they don’t happen very often.
Thankfully, fixes to almost all of these issues are likely. Having had experience with them for some time, I can say that Fatshark has a proven track record of listening and responding to their community. If their pre-launch support keeps up now that the game is out, players have nothing to worry about.
The game performed well and looked great(if not cutting edge). The expected graphics options are all accounted for but, strangely, the game defaulted to a non-native resolution and the lowest possible settings on my rig. Minor annoyance aside, sound in the game was great, and I found that it really drew me into the experience.
Overall, I would have no problem recommending this game to anyone who has raised an eyebrow in interest. There are issues, sure, but the gameplay experience delivers. More importantly, War of the Roses is offering something you simply can’t get anywhere else. That’s well worth a little patience while balance gets tweaked about. If you’re willing to put in the time to overcome the steep skill curve, the game returns a satisfyingly visceral experience that is more than worth your $30. Call of Duty in medieval times? Maybe, but to heck with that other game. War of the Roses holds its own.