By Nathan Grayson on October 3rd, 2012 at 11:00 am.
I’ve been playing a bit of War of the Roses lately, and it’s… interesting. I’ve told friends, family, and one very confused flower shop owner that it’s “deeply flawed and disappointingly barebones,” so it seems only proper that I reiterate that sentiment here. There is, however, tremendous fun to be had in the heat of battle – even if it’s fairly short-lived and clunky at this point. One thing that really sticks out, though, is War of the Roses’ death mechanic. In short, getting killed doesn’t actually, well, kill you. Instead, you’re often left bleeding out on the battlefield, waiting for either an enemy to finish the job or some kind soul on your team to use whatever lost-to-time medieval medicine allowed knights to recover from having their spines severed in three seconds. Not only do the mechanic’s nuances create some tremendously silly moments, they also run parallel to many of the game’s ups-and-downs. So let’s explore that via the eyes of a living, breathing, constantly dying pun: my own Tyrion Lancaster.
Tyrion Lancaster is a simple sort. Unlike his namesake, he is good at precisely one thing: stabbing. He stabs and stabs and stabs with his hulking two-handed cleaver until someone stabs him harder, and then he dies and tries again. Sometimes he runs at his opponents – blade aloft in a manner he imagines to be like a shark fin, but it’s really about as threatening as a single stampeding emu – and that doesn’t usually end well. He is, however, admirably consistent in his goals and dreams, and – in that respect – I think he’s a role model we can all look up to. So anyway, let’s derive a series of cheap laughs from his suffering.
Double-killed with one shield - Executions tend to take a few seconds, so they can be interrupted… pretty much no matter where they are in the process of unfolding. Tyrion learned this the hard way when a well-meaning ally saved him from certain death (certain, because he’d already had a shield quite forcefully inserted into his trachea) shortly after the nick of time. Unfortunately, Tyrion’s friend proved less immune to completely unblocked steel-cleaving broadsword strokes than he’d probably hoped, so he went down too. Then, seconds later, our mutual foe went through the entire, exceedingly gruesome execution process again – trachea-smashing included. Tyrion died twice that day, but – like the Phoenix and/or Batman of legend – he rose again. He also adamantly refused to learn anything from the experience.
A lance to the everything – Horsemen are a bit overpowered in War of the Roses right now, and you can’t gain access to mounts until you’ve played for a solid three-or-four hours, at least. Admittedly, many XP-based perks are simply sidegrades, but a few constitute full-on upgrades – which is a big problem. Tyrion discovered this in his trademark fashion roughly seven billion times, with horsemen circling chaotic brawls like armored, lance-flailing vultures who were shaped like people and weren’t actually vultures at all. He’d be minding his own business – stabbing away and having quite a satisfying time of it – when a horselord from the Great Wastes outside Tyrion’s stabbing range would break a lance on his back/head/torso/funny bone. Admittedly, it was wonderful fun when Tyrion gained a steed of his own, but for a time, cavalry was Tyrion’s greatest nemesis.
Trying to joust… without a horse – Eventually, he decided he wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. Well, OK, standing is actually exactly what he was going to do, because he didn’t own a horse yet. But Tyrion’s not so good with words, so you’ll have to bear with him on that part. At any rate, a rider charged him. He charged back, sword aloft in his trademark emu-shark stance. Mercifully, the rider actually missed on the first go-round – probably because he was too busy laughing in disbelief to the point of near-suffocation. The second time, though, Tyrion wasn’t nearly so lucky. But, just as the lance found its home and Tyrion flopped into a quivering heap, the game of team deathmatch ended. “You win!”
An arrow to the wrist – I don’t even understand how this happened. Admittedly, arrows can pretty reliably get one-shot kills when aimed well, but Tyrion was fresh out of wherever instantly reincarnating medieval warriors briefly go, and he practically had a spring in his step. Then an arrow sailed throw his wrist, and his suddenly frail physiology evidently decided it’d had enough.
Spawning off a building – War of the Roses is kind of glitchy. Meanwhile, spawning occurs mainly through a squad system, wherein you essentially fall right on top of allies. Sometimes those allies are, themselves, atop buildings. You can probably see where this is going.
A highly disorganized bloodlust mob – This is the other side effect of War of the Roses’ squad spawn system. Instead of clearing out slowly but surely, battles just keep repopulating. The end result? Gigantic hordes with no semblance of organization. Combat itself is still laden with a surprising amount of split-second strategy, but it’s like an orchestra of supremely talented musicians sans a conductor. Everyone just kind of does their own thing. Tyrion’s thing is stabbing. When faced with more than two foes, though, he doesn’t last particularly long.
Existentialism – Dying in War of the Roses is weird. You lay there – centimeters away from Death’s door – just sort of watching total madness unfold around you. You were part of it once, but it seems like such a long time ago. Granted, after a few seconds, you can surrender, which will send you straight into respawn mode without an execution or revival preceding it. That’s the practical thing to do. I mean, thanks to the squad system, odds are that you’ll spawn very close to where you died. But a lot of the time, Tyrion refused to grovel. Maybe it was stubborn pride. Maybe it was a desire to see his fellow man risk life and limb to help him out of the blood-thick mud. Maybe he was secretly fascinated by the brief post-execution window during which he could still see his executioner loitering near his corpse, mundanely brushing himself off and applying bandages as though graceless, bone-crunching death was the most mundane thing in the world. Whatever it was, though, it probably involved stabbing.
Pretty much all of those at once – This whole process was just amazing. Tyrion lived by the sword until, predictably, he died by a very large number of swords in about 30 seconds – at which point an ally helpfully revived him. Then he almost instantly took an arrow straight to the face, which put him down for the count again. At this point, no less than two horses proceeded to run him over while he rolled on the ground holding his gaping head wound. He held out hope, however, that someone would revive him again. Eventually, someone came along and executed him instead. It was really inspiring up until that point, though.
While winning – This moment pretty much epitomized War of the Roses at its finest. Sure, combat’s a bit clunky, but when you wrap your head around the fact that it’s about men trapped in giant tin cans trying to bash right through said mobile steel prisons, it makes a lot more sense. And though camera jankiness ensures that even masters occasionally succumb to frustratingly out-of-control deaths, trading blows with an evenly matched opponent feels magical. Telegraphed attacks lead to last-second blocks and dodges, and thick armor provides just enough of a safety cushion to encourage stupidly risky counters, parries, and the occasional tackle. So Tyrion and one particularly middling foe locked blades and battled back-and-forth – up and down a hill, through masses of other foot soldiers – for what felt like ages. And then, in an instant, it was over. Both swung, and both fell. At the same time. Then they both got run over by a horse.