Battling its way through beta and arising from the muddy fields of England surprisingly polished and unscathed, Fat Shark’s War of the Roses may no longer be known as Project Postman but it still delivers something brutal and rather brilliant.
For me, each match began with frantic clicking and fevered excitement as I desperately tried to select the white rose. Which side you’re on doesn’t affect the game in any tangible way, but as a Yorkshireman I could only fight for the (filthy) Lancastrians with much umbrage. The excitement of this arbitrary selection is retained, and indeed heightened, once you get into the battles themselves and the pace is surprisingly and satisfyingly quick.
This pace can, at times, lead to frustration as attack spamming can undermine the strategic depth built into the combat system. Parrying and patiently delivering well timed and placed attacks can overcome some of the spammers, but those who have truly dedicated themselves to this non-craft can become somewhat of a bane. However, the combat system is still incredibly accomplished, and for those that have played any of the Mount & Blade series instantly recognisable despite its slightly different feel.
For those of you unfamiliar with the system, it revolves around using your mouse to dictate the direction of your swing. For example, left clicking and dragging your mouse to the left will ready a fore-handed swing from the right to the left. The longer you hold it the more powerful the attack will be, but telegraphing the direction of your attack makes the prospect of it being parried all the more likely. This allows for some engaging, skilled close-quarter combat that in many ways defines the game, however, another aspect of the game is less up close but gets just as personal.
Those, like myself, that like hiding in bushes secretly sizing up the people around them while shooting off a few bolts, will find most of their time occupied with one of the two long-range options: the slow to reload but incredibly powerful crossbow or the quicker, tougher to accurately aim bows. These ranged attacks are handled extremely well, with the crossbows active reload mechanic lending a weight of authenticity to the device and the tension of the bowstring being aptly represented by the shaking of the archer’s arms. More impressively, the hit detection is precise enough to allow, and reward, shots that manage to miss the targets armour – the slit in their helmets are particularly devastating.
Regardless of the weapon you wield the game will reward you with visceral animations should you ‘execute’ one of your ‘knocked down’ foes. Somewhat akin to the finishing moves of Gears of War, these executions take time and put you at risk, but come with a substantial XP bonus. As visually impressive as they are, I would gladly see them taken out of the game; People not only steal other’s executions, even to the extent of damaging their team mates in order to stop their animation completing, but many become so fixated with executing people that they will endanger themselves and, more frustratingly for someone like myself who has evolved past the execution-centric stage, their team.
Similarly, the Battlefield-esq squad spawning doesn’t fit in with the authenticity much of the game works so hard to accomplish. Getting swarmed by people who have materialised from the ether in the midst of a tense and skilled one-on-one duel is disheartening, and the minor frustration of spawning back at one of the ‘base spawns’ and having a short trek back to the action would certainly be worth it. In fact, it would make self/team preservation even more important, heighten the use of the revival mechanic and make death costly to more than just your K/D spread.
On the whole, the game is quite impressive visually with enough detail in the characters clothing and equipment to do justice to the extensive customisation options. Walking on water like it’s concrete is somewhat disconcerting, but it is a small price to pay for the character animations and varied and fairly picturesque vistas. There are only a handful of maps, and only ‘Team Deathmatch’ and ‘Conquest’ (which has the teams fighting over territories within the map), but the game somehow manages to grant you many different experiences and sustains itself well.
I was excited by the prospect of the game as soon as it was revealed, I could barely drag myself away from the beta and now that it has been released I am once again armour-clad and somewhat enamoured. Its price is notably, and rather disappointingly, more appropriate at $25 than it is at £25, but this discrepancy is the only thing holding me back from giving War of the Roses an unyielding recommendation.