After years of mediocre RPGs and second-rate detective titles, Spiders Studio finally began to realise its potential in 2019 with GreedFall. A genuinely good role-playing game with rich world building and solid combat, it was proof the French team had the capabilities to produce something special. Three years and a genre change later, the developer returns with Steelrising. It represents yet another step-up for the team. However, one too many technical flaws get in the way of what should be a quality title.
Rather than a sprawling RPG with many characters to meet and a vast world to explore, Steelrising is a Souls-like through and through. It retains the storytelling and choices of past Spiders Studio games — there are multiple endings to unlock based on your decisions — but it's about as grounded in reality as any other Dark Souls experience.
Set during the French Revolution of the late 1700s, King Louis XVI's army has been replaced with legions of automatons. These robotic menaces roam the streets of Paris, flushing out and eliminating any attempts of an overthrow. You, a customisable automaton named Aegis, leave your post as the queen's bodyguard to try and put a stop to the king's tyranny.
There's one thing you can't take away from Steelrising, and that's its ambition. Substituting the real-life events of the French Revolution for mechanical soldiers takes some daring, and the outcome is a truly unique setting in the gaming sphere. While you may recognise a few famous French landmarks throughout the roughly 12-hour campaign, the war-torn streets and the perils that patrol them are alien. Animated candelabras pose as boss fights, trumpet players turn their tunes into damage, and gigantic jars with heads lead packs of metal dogs.
An unorthodox approach to storytelling, setting, and enemy design indeed, but it works. The game will forever be set apart from any other Souls-like attempting to replicate the FromSoftware formula. Spiders Studio commits to its mechanical take on the French Revolution, accounting for every facet to make sure it fits the alternate take on history. If anything, the developer should be commended for that.
Where it has to count for any Souls-like, though, is in the combat. Steelrising is most like Elden Ring, with performable combos on the ground and a jump button for vertical velocity. Restricted by the standard stamina bar, you'll work with the energy you've got to block, dodge, and attack enemies from the ground or up in the air. The controls are responsive and your attacks feel weighty — particularly when you stagger a combatant and send them crashing to the floor.
Really good weapon variety guarantees you'll find the right tool for your style of play, with two equipable at any one time from seven different classes. This greatly expands your capabilities since Aegis can have her main weapon in one slot, but then a projectile-based instrument in the second that deals damage from afar and acts upon elemental weaknesses. Quickly switching between the two is vital for defeating bosses, and your loadout can then be peppered with the usual bombs and potions. It all comes together to create a mobile combat system with a surprising amount of possibilities and combinations.
You'll already be used to everything the title has to offer if you're familiar with the genre: time your dodges correctly, retreat at the right time to recover stamina, and don't get too greedy. Bonfires are named Vestals and the currency dropped by enemies can be used to upgrade your stats or buy new items. You know, it's a Souls-like.
What it does a little differently, though, is actually make your character and weapon upgrades count. We could really feel Aegis growing in strength as we progressed, whether that's by boosting her attack power, strapping on extra armour, or handing her more health. Whereas in a Dark Souls game it can sometimes feel like you're just increasing stats for the sake of it — particularly when you reach a high level — Steelrising makes every enhancement count. It's satisfying to notice enemies dying to fewer hits.
This elevates the combat system; it's one you actively want to engage with for sheer enjoyment. As Aegis grows in power, so too does your confidence and potential to employ more powerful moves and chain attacks together to down an enemy quickly. When everything is firing on all cylinders, the game feels great to play.
Structurally, Steelrising spans eight locations across France, including Saint-Cloud, Versailles, and Luxembourg. These areas open up as you progress through the story, bringing optional side quests with them. They're all split off from one another; you can't treat the title like an open world and seamlessly travel between them all. In fact, every district is really quite linear.
While there are secrets to uncover and small optional areas to find, there's only ever one way to go really. The game is always pushing you forward to the next main objective, with shortcuts back to Vestals unlocked along the way. There is a certain degree of freedom once the entire level has been opened up — this is the best time to complete side quests, for example — but invisible walls will always hold you back from veering off the beaten path.
A bit of variety can be sourced from the abilities you'll unlock throughout the campaign. A slow-motion dash, grappling hook, and a powerful kick add some light platforming to exploration. And while you can only ever use them when the game deems one necessary, they're fun to use. They play a small role in combat, too: they deal a little bit of damage and help with the build-up of elemental weaknesses.
Letting the entire package down, however, is what's going on under the hood. Our playthrough was consistently marred by minor visual and technical bugs. Enemy health bars would randomly disappear, interactive prompts wouldn’t work, and texture pop-in is extremely common. Audio would also cut out entirely during many dialogue scenes, meaning you'd have no idea what's going on without subtitles. Furthermore, the game alerts you to its point of no return before heading into the final area. It says it will create a separate save file so you can return to other areas and access any future content. That second save was never generated.
The game is perfectly playable in its current state and a day one patch has been lined up for launch, but we can't guarantee the update will fix all of the flaws we encountered. Generally, closing the PS5 app and restarting fixed whatever problem there was, but it's disappointing to see a darn good game be let down by its technical shortcomings.
It's not much of a looker, either. We never expected Steelrising to be pushing the PS5 to its limits, but the title looks distinctly last-gen with poor character models and dull environments. Not once were we impressed by its visual splendour. Perhaps most puzzling of all, though, is the game is exclusive to current-gen systems. Without a PS4 version holding it back, you'd like to think Spiders Studio would invest in making its title shine. It hasn't, however, and without any adaptive trigger or haptic feedback support to speak of, the release feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.
Steelrising is Spiders Studio's best game to date, but one too many bugs and tech issues hold it back from greatness. Its combat system remains engaging and enjoyable throughout, and the unique, mechanical take on the French Revolution means it'll live longer in the memory than previous FromSoftware tributes. It's one for the genre fanatics for now, but six months down the line, Steelrising may be in tip-top shape. It's more than worth playing at that point.