War of the Roses: The Kotaku Review

Despite the blockbusters out this week, and other more than worthy time-killers like Retro City Rampage, the game I've spent most time with lately is a multiplayer PC game called War of the Roses.

Developed by Fatshark, and published by Paradox, it's a team-based multiplayer title that onlookers will say reminds them of a third-person Battlefield, while more experienced PC gamers will say it looks a lot like Mount & Blade.

The latter are closer to the mark here. While there are varying game modes like conquest and deathmatch, as well as things like perks and upgrades, it feels more like a M&B game, from the clunky animations to the wonderful way in which actual, impromptu pitched melee battles can spring up in a field or courtyard at any moment.

The main draw of WotR is that, while being a team multiplayer combat game, most classes are purely melee-based, meaning the developers had—like its strangely timely competitor, Chivalry—to think of a way to make hand-to-hand combat fun. Which history shows is a lot harder than it sounds.

War of the Roses: The Kotaku Review
WHY: War of the Roses takes multiplayer "shooters" back in time, to a period when anyone could join a game and kill somebody, not just the elite.

War of the Roses

Developer: Fatshark
Platforms: PC
Released: Oct. 2

Type of game: Third-Person Multiplayer "Shooter"

What I played: Over a week's worth of game time, including every mode, map and class.


My Two Favorite Things

  • It may not be the perfect way to simulate multiplayer melee combat, but it works.
  • Neat combat mechanics bring a dash of strategy to every engagement.


My Two Least-Favorite Things

  • There aren't enough players on the map to really do this style of game justice.
  • Can be a bit janky with its animations and spawn points.


Made-to-Order-Back-of-Box-Quotes

  • "They're Lancasters, not Lannisters." — Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com
  • "'Tis better to have stabbed and died than to have hid on a roof with a sniper rifle like a coward." — Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com

War of the Roses accomplishes this by first slowing down the pace of the game, and then by letting players engage in charged attacks that swing a sword or axe in the direction they move the mouse. A simple idea, but one that's strangely practical here, with a limited number of swings designed to work in a rock-paper-scissors fashion with your target's shield and facing direction.

It...works. It's not ideal, in that there are a lot of air swings and circle-dances as people exchange blows, but once a number of players join in a fight this becomes strangely enjoyable, as 6-12 people hack at each other madly. You rarely feel like you're being punished for not getting it right, either, as the game seems to err on the side of the defender when registering hits (even giving you a handy "bell-ringing" effect when you're hit with a glancing blow).

As a result, most people I've run into over the past two weeks have been using the melee classes, some even upgrading to the admittedly badass (and overpowered) mounted warriors. Which is fine for them, but I can't stop using the ranged classes.

There are two available, the crossbowman and the longbowman. Both make excellent uses of what are essentially mini-game mechanics every time you fire them: the longbowman has to time a shot to coincide with a moving meter, while the crossbowman can reload much faster with good timing on a circular pop-up.

Sounds simple, but like Gears of Wars' reload mechanic, it makes what used to be a mundane act strangely compelling, especially the archer's attack, since better timing is rewarded with more damage.

All classes have one thing in common, though, and that's the game's guilty pleasure, the "execution". Basically a fatality move, it involves moving over to a downed enemy, hitting "E" and... watching as you straddle them (or, morbidly, as someone straddles you) and either smash their skulls in or stab them like a pin cushion until they stop moving. I'm sure it stops being gratifying at some point. I'm just not there yet.

As you'd expect, given the amount of research done for the game, WotR makes a lot of concessions towards historical accuracy. If you want to get across a map you have to jog, there'll be no sprinting in all that armour. If you want to line up a shot with your longbow, you'd better be quick, because holding back all that tension is hard work, so you can only do it for a few seconds. Even the different types of armour react differently to the game's varying weapons, adding to the aforementioned rock-paper-scissors strategy in that archers and knights should be targeting different opponents.

Veterans of these kinds of games should know that while sharing the third-person viewpoint and "big battle" nature of Mount & Blade, it's sadly lacking in the scale of TaleWorlds' series, with player counts topping out at 64. Disappointing for those looking for massive battles, then, but I think War of the Roses makes up for this with a level of polish you don't get from M&B.

If you like the idea of multiplayer shooters, though, but are sick of the steep learning curve and instant deaths, you should definitely give War of the Roses a shot. The gruelling nature of its combat means even the greenest rookie can wade into a battle and pick up a few kills, and with upgrade unlocks only taking a few hours' play, there's plenty of incentive to stick with it in the short-term.