Blooming Marvellous: Hands-On With War Of The Roses

Armour amour.
The development army of War Of The Roses is about to sally for from the castle of commercial release. Dan went hands on with it, versus the assembled might of the British press. Here’s how he fared.

Dear though they are unto us, Paradox Interactive has a wonderful way of taking pre-release games out the back and quietly finishing them with a hatchet, before pushing their corpses into the river. They’re happy to admit that they’ve started killing games in development a lot more in the last year – and have been totally open about their strained relationship with the Magna Mundi team.

Hence we shouldn’t be disappointed or surprised when the great promise of that War of the Roses cinematic trailer I first wrote about oh-so-long ago won’t be entirely fulfilled. There is no story here. You don’t get to strangle the Princes in the Tower or bury Richard III in the car park. There is no campaign. This is purely multiplayer.

Despite that absence, you won’t miss it. As, first, there is a single-player section, called Battlegrounds – it’s much like Team Fortress’ bot modes, used for training players in all the many and varied weapons of the time, and for introducing the maps to you. And you will need training, because being good in the War of the Roses is skilful – but you either learn fast or die a lot. Perhaps both.

You get four pre-crafted starting classes to play around with, which unlock gradually: a middle-armoured footman with sword and shield unlocks first, and is definitely the Soldier of WOTR; they’re shouldn’t be doing the vast majority of damage, but they should tank it for everyone else, and they’re the class that dominated our play sessions, as they’re absolute sods to get past. Next you get a longbowman, for rapid fire and agility, and the much slower-firing, tougher crossbowman, for penetrating armour. Finally, you get a foot knight, a damage dealer who should win any slashing fights – and who comes with a large poleaxe, for taking down other armoured types.

As you play you level up and win gold – mainly by performing kills and executions, meaning players often gamble in combat with pursuing injured enemies and executing enemies already lying on the ground. (I’ve seen several battles lost because an effective unit of troops were split up by the distractions of easy pickings, getting picked off while the oh-so-slow execution animations played out.) You unlock new kit and perks by spending gold and levelling up – and you get enough from each session to make crafting custom classes something you can do from the very beginning of the game, though it takes a long time before they get the power of the starting classes.

So, after just a few sessions of footman hordes charging each other, I’d already unlocked a custom class, and equipped him with some nice kit – but it would take a lot more sessions to give him as many skills as the starting four classes, who come with ten perks to start with. Despite that, I could already see how playing with those starting classes shapes what you want to do with your custom heroes. I wanted an Agincourt-style longbowman, so I gave him a Longbowman perk and a Eagle Eyed perk, allowing him to reload longbows faster and zoom in on enemies. He was substantially weaker than the starting archer, but as long as I hid him, he became an effective sniper. You’re only allowed two perks from each of the five categories, and there’s up to ten perks in each category, so you can come up with all sorts of daft combinations.

On top of that, as we’ve explained earlier, in War of the Roses a helmet isn’t just a helmet and a bow isn’t just a bow. You’ll have a Hunting Bow or Longbow, that you’ve customised to have different arrow heads and shafts (selectable before each mission from a large array) and different construction. A sword will have a different build, pommel, edge, grip and style of fighting. Your helmets can have all sorts of extra attachments – as well as ridiculous crests to make you stand out on the battlefield. I spaffed a tremendous amount of gold early in the game to give my archer a heavy helmet, with a great fan crest on it that was much bigger than his head – then realised that this didn’t exactly segue with my desire to make him a stealthy-stealthy sniper. Cue many humiliating stabbings from vengeful pin-cushioned footmen who could see my giant brightly-coloured head across an entire map.

So you can see that there’s just a huge array of kit which mainly makes minor differences – but it’s obvious this game, like Team Fortress, is about finding that subtly-different load-out that works for you; it’s also like Planetside, in that higher level characters aren’t that more powerful than the starting classes, but more flexible. A foot knight might have high survivability with his armour – but he’s going to go down to a lighter-armoured footman if he doesn’t have a way of getting past his enemy’s shield, so he might carry a bastard sword for soft targets, a double-headed hammer for bashing armour and a fast ballock (yes, that is named after male genitalia) knife, to keep every eventuality covered.

You need that variety of weapons because the combat can be surprisingly skilful, even in the midst of a melee. With a crowd of just ten men bashing away at each other and friendly fire definitely on, every blow and shot should be taken with greater care. Footmen advance with their shields, archers strain as they wait for the perfect shot, crossbowmen reload frantically (there’s a nice active reload system for them)…

…And knights lower their lances, spur their steeds and run down the peasantry.

One roving knight, well ridden with a well-aimed lance, is a match for a group of footmen, especially at this stage where the beta players are still learning the game. Yet one good archer can take down a knight’s horse, and one good footknight (with his visor closed) can be indomitable against a group of archers. The more powerful weapons have a certain finesse to them. I died more than once as a footknight when dagger-wielding archers got inside the range of my poleaxe, which has a tiny (but hugely damaging) killing zone at its end; lances are handled similarly. Given that every melee weapon can be swung in four ways (left, right, overhead, and to stab), and given that the game warns you of incoming blows early enough to parry them, combat can often be about attrition and numbers.

What isn’t great, at the start, is working out how close you are to karking it. There’s blood spatter on the screen and your soldier definitely seems battered, but it’s only when the ‘bleeding out’ warning appears that you start to panic. Up until that point, you feel like you can win any melee, unless you’re totally outnumbered. So many times playing the game, I’ve seen a single soldier beat the odds, through luck or skill, and take down tougher enemies or multiple opponents, by parrying intelligently rather than just slashing away. You really can’t let your guard down and you can’t get over-confident – yet you do.

But when you start bleeding, you know you have to kill all your immediate enemies in ten seconds or run, otherwise you’ll just topple over. As every class takes a while to start moving at speed (more so if they’re wearing heavy armour pieces) running is rarely an option, unless you’re in a group. It’s better to survive as long as you can, in the hope of the (metaphorical and literal) cavalry arriving, but bleeding stops that. So during our play sessions, I gradually saw a shift from small one-on-one melees or archery duels, to everyone piling into one massed fight, with footmen and knights at the front, archers and crossbowmen at the back, and the rare knights charging up when the melee was underway.

Under these circumstances, executions and bleed-outs only tended to happen when the whole of our force was defeated (and, as players can form squads and spawn on their squad leaders, wipes became rarer), or when players got isolated. This in turn meant there was much more time for reviving fallen allies, and bandaging yourself or others on the run, as the lines of battle moved and your teammates covered for you.

The seven maps available at the moment provide significantly difference theatres for stabby-stabby executions and maybe even some combat; the jousting field is obviously better for cavalry than the narrow lanes of a medieval town, but almost every other class works on any of the maps.

I played with twenty people in Team Deathmatch, and it felt like a nasty Medieval skirmish – with the maximum 64 players and Conquest mode (which we didn’t get to try), the battlefield might as well be carpeted in the dying. This is delightfully grim simulation of a pointlessly bloody part of English history; if Paradox ride down the minor bugs, this is going to be a multiplayer storm.

War Of The Roses is released on October 2nd.


  1. Zanchito says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t this then just a simplified, prettyfied Mount & Blade?

    • theleif says:

      The combat seems more advanced than M&B, so unless you mean it’s less complex because it lacks a campaign, I’d say no.

      • Zanchito says:

        That’s exactly what I was meaning, thank you. :)

      • rapier17 says:

        Well the animations are stiff, the melee doesn’t play out very well, the ‘perk’ & weapon customisation lends itself to some horrifically powerful options which are hard to counter (you could two-hit kill a man in plate by thrusting the head of an axe into their plated belly), last time I played it if you had a ping of 60 and your opponent had a ping over 125+ there was a good chance their attacks would go through your parries/shield, most of the melee is a ‘get the fastest weapon, pick milanese fighting style and spam like mad’ fest – to be honest the only place where the game really shines is in it’s archery which is a lot of fun and really well done and the hitboxes/way armour works is great too. Rest of it is frankly not that brilliant (coming from an ex-Alpha & Beta tester).

        • Reapy says:

          Have to +1 this. Still time to straighten things out, and they’ve made some pretty good decisions imho along the way to fix up systems, but you can’t really tweak forever sometimes. It’s possible there will be a lot completed between now and release, so will have to wait for final judgment.

          Still, got it on pre-order, and play to give it a shot into release… but my interests are rapidly being directed towards chivalry, medieval warfare, whos beta is already pretty damn fun.

        • Bishop says:

          The problems with hit detection and latency made it unplayable for me.

    • pakoito says:

      It is M&B combat Callofdutified.

    • Arathian says:

      Tis also a clunkier Mount and Blade.

      Sorry…but it is true. I played a lot of WoTR and it isn’t near the smoothness of M&B, especially when you install the crpg mod.

      Maybe they will fix it in the future…but ough, oh my, was it clunky.

    • MajesticXII says:

      I have to agree with pakolito and Arathian

      M&B is miles ahead (for now at least)

      maybe if they fix the clunkyness and the abrupt animations the combat will begin to make sense

      I was looking forward to play the beta , then i got a key late at night and i didn’t sleep just to try it.
      Hugely disappointed with the combat mechanics :(

      • pakoito says:

        I didn’t say it in a bad way.

        • Arathian says:

          You didn’t say codification in a bad way….?

          Yeah, that is…well

          • pakoito says:

            If I understood previews correctly, it has loadouts and perks. I know CoD wasn’t the first one to do it, but it’s the most recognizable.

        • MajesticXII says:

          We must live in different worlds my friend :)

  2. mondomau says:

    Argh! It’s too much.

    – Guild Wars 2
    – Torchlight 2
    – Borderlands 2
    – FTL
    – XCOM

    Welp. Have to quit my job.

    • pakoito says:

      – Natural Selection 2.

    • Vorphalack says:

      Add in Dota 2 and Planetside 2. This is the Year of the Sequel.

      • Stochastic says:

        It seems like every year is the year of the sequel. At least these sequels are well worth playing!

      • S Jay says:

        HL 3?

        • Vorphalack says:

          Will only happen if Valve decide to launch their new wearable computing as a games platform, with HL3 the exclusive launch title, only playable while wearing Gordan Freeman HEV suit and replica glasses.

      • Carra says:

        Last year was the year of the sequel too.
        -The Witcher 2
        -Portal 2
        -Elder Scrolls 4
        -Deus Ex x
        -Dragon Age 2
        -Mass Effect 3

        It seems that only indie games are originals these days, all the rest are sequels.

    • Master_of_None says:

      My List:
      Crusader Kings 2
      Guild Wars 2
      Wasteland 2

      I was formerly very skeptical that War of the Roses would be “better enough” than Mount & Blade, but you have convinced me to give it a try (assuming they work out the bugs).

      Also, video games are not even my primary hobby, so… definitely need to quit the job.

    • mondomau says:

      Shut up! You’re making it worse!

  3. Zanchito says:

    That’s exactly and 100% the same list I have. Not a single game more, not a single game less! (Including NS2)

  4. Snargelfargen says:

    Bummer, I’d really been looking forward to this. An rpg with Mount & Blade inspired combat and a real historic setting would have been amazing.

    Edit: ok the above just describes mount & blade, but to be more specific, I was hoping for something with more polish and a focused story. Walled garden instead of open world and so on.

    • sinister agent says:

      On the plus side, if this is a success, it’ll pave the way for more games in that vein – at present, it’s probably too easy for publishers to just say “no, there’s already Mount and Blade for those people, they won’t buy another one.”.

  5. Williz says:

    Yesss, I have been waiting for this. Now I shall go pre-order and make Ser Gregor!

  6. reggiep says:

    Sounds really cool, and the fact that so many other games are going to be available within a month’s time means I’ll have no qualms about picking this game up in a deal. Should also give time to work out the bugs.

  7. Physicaque says:

    Can someone please tell me whether there are castle sieges?

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      No, there are no sieges, sorry. To be honest, I don’t think the scale of the battles is quite large enough to support that – it’s mostly about melee.

      • Physicaque says:

        Ok, thank you.

        • syntax says:

          You should look into Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. It has castle sieges and town pillages built into the MP. Really fun to play, too.

      • f1x says:

        Sounds like a lost opportunity, sieges would be awesome

        so it is basically just brawling around?

      • Bungle says:

        32v32 seems big enough to me, provided there are respawns.

  8. SexualHarassmentPanda says:

    I enjoyed playing this game during beta, but I really disliked the canned finishing moves and resurrection mechanics. If you deliver an axe to someones head, they don’t die like they should. They just crumple over and you have to risk gettings axed yourself to spend the 3-4 seconds executing them without control of your character, lest they be revive by a teammate. The mechanic was just done in such a heavy handed way that it gets old and repetitive.

    Besides this it is a pretty decent game, but I still feel like M&B controls better and doesn’t force you to face stab every single person you kill.

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      I liked that element, especially in the team deathmatch – it added a tactical element to the battles. There are insta-kills, but they’re restricted to highly skilful things, like headshots from the poleaxe and the crossbow.

  9. Mattressi says:

    I’m still waiting for someone who was good at Warband to review WotR. I don’t mean any insult by that, but there were quite a few people who were extremely good at Warband multiplayer and, when dueling each other, could spend minutes without ever landing a blow, simply because their reactions were faster than the game’s animations (and nowadays, most players still playing it are like this, probably because of a combination of mostly old guard sticking around and anyone else having 1000+ hours into it).

    What I’m worried about with WotR, is that the combat looks VERY slow; especially when compared to Warband. I worry that the Warband veterans simply won’t be able to have fun in WotR, since they will easily block all of the extremely slow swings. No one will die or even get hurt and everyone will leave. The Australian Warband community is small nowadays and, as I said, it’s really only good players who play now (not because crap players left, but because everyone has played for so long). If WotR’s combat speed can’t be increased, they likely won’t get it. Then again, that might be good – perhaps no one plays Warband multiplayer because it’s so bloody impossible/time consuming to become as good as the average player is.

    • Arathian says:


      I am one of these veterans (1300 hours for warband….oh my, isn’t that pretty?) and I find it incredible easy to just block everything until the weapon breaks….which actually takes a bloody lot.

      They should either make the weapons break easier (and annoy the crap out of us) or, hopefully, speed up the combat a little bit.

      I am not saying everyone should move like a ninja, of course, but some increase is definitevely the way to go.

      • Mattressi says:

        Damn, that sounds bad. I’ve got roughly the same number of hours in Warband as you (I’m not sure whether to be proud or ashamed to admit it…) and if that’s how it is, I worry that the Aus community will quickly leave WotR quickly. Either that, or, as is the case in many Warband matches, it will descend into a ranged-fest.

      • Malagate says:

        I’m also a Warbands veteran who has been playing the beta of War of the Roses, at first I did find it confusing but I can see where WotR will not be like the Warbands block & chamber block, mainly because of the perks. Hard to just wail on a shield bearer when he can bash you with it, with a different perk even strikes can be parried and countered without a shield (not to mention weapon breaker, shield breaker, weapons with different speeds and reaches…I have seen two handed swords spammed quickly before…).

        Of course that’s just the beta, I wouldn’t draw any big conclusions until we get our teeth in to the full version. I just feel that it isn’t as clear cut as it is in Warbands and With fire and sword, given time it may be however (the perfect combo of perks and weapons that can’t be beat maybe…?).

        • Mattressi says:

          That would be great! I always thought that, despite loving Warband to death, it would benefit from a slightly different combat mechanic – something that mixes it up a bit. As it was, a skilled player could indefinitely defend themselves against another good player, even if the first player was playing an archer with no skill points in melee and with the worst sword (yes, I played cRPG a lot). Something that could break this rhythm would be great.

  10. DogKiller says:

    Does the archer come with a free dysentery perk? My enthusiasm for this game seems to diminish the more I see it. Maybe it’ll turn out to be really good or something, but respawning horses and lances…

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      No bowel-action for the archer, sorry. When you lose your horse, there’s a cooldown until you can whistle for a new one.

      • DogKiller says:

        Fair enough. I’m guessing that despite the obvious similarity, Mount and Blade and WoTR have been aimed at different audiences. M&B is more niche, while this is maybe trying to be more mainstream with its appeal, even though it’s a different theme to your standard military shooter. I’m a sucker for the Medieval period, so I’ve still got my fingers crossed that I’ll find something in it that I really like.

  11. razgon says:

    Its such a shame, because the potential was there, but they just missed the boat. With no singleplayer and no modding, the game is just another COD wanna clone, this time in Medieval times instead of a gun-toting era. There really isn’t much to do other than grind xp and gold to unlock the biggest weapons which are supremely unbalanced.

    The original promise of leveling sideways, instead of getting better armor and weapons through leveling is thrown out the window, as is the single player campaign. Leveling is all about getting the best armor, perks and weapons.

    And its a shame, because it had such promise!

  12. SaveTheSharks says:

    Ack, those round shields look completely wrong. In the 15th century shields should be the classic high mediaeval flat top and pointy bottom shape. Round shields went out with the saxons.

    • DogKiller says:

      I thought they’d mostly done away with shields by then anyway. Full plate was effective enough on its own, and the lesser soldiers fought with polearms and bows.

      • Mattressi says:

        Yeah, most of the pictures I’ve seen drawn at the time don’t show any shields at all, or show knights with small heater-type shield, which almost seem like their sole purpose is to display heraldry/colours prominently. Clearly the game doesn’t convey this.

        If you hate that, though, you’ll die when you see they have a Scottish claymore with quatrefoils in there! I thought I also saw some distinctly Viking-style swords.

  13. derbefrier says:

    I picked this up for 20 bucks off GMG a week or so ago and i think its pretty fun. I never played mount and blade(tried it, didn’t like it) but the combat seems ok. I am not sure how i feel about the combat yet, it might just be my lack of experience but having to move your mouse in the direction you wanna swing seems cool but it annoys me that this can sometimes screw me over by moving my camera to a position were i cant see whats going on. I hope this is something that just requires getting used too cause its very annoying sometimes.

    • Mattressi says:

      If it’s like M&B, then it shouldn’t matter how far you move your mouse – you should be able to make the slightest movement in order to set the swing/block direction. Once you get used to it, your screen will barely move when you swing/block.

    • Malagate says:

      You should check the options, you can change it to be either mouse movement or keyboard input that controls which way you swing.

      Also Mattressi is correct, tiny movements are enough to control which way you will swing & block, I’m more annoyed that I can’t look in 360 degrees without turning (like you can in M&B, but I abused that mercilessly anyway).

      • Mattressi says:

        That’s true, but I think key-based blocking can really gimp you. It’s easier to learn, but it makes you much less versatile as a player, since you can’t strafe around while fighting. When you get to higher skill levels, footwork is one of the most important things. This in in M&B of course – it might be very different in WotR.

  14. Jockie says:

    I didn’t really get on with the beta, it feels like something with great potential, but severely limited its ambition to make MP Team Death Match the core focus (kind of like Lead & Gold).

    I adore the WoTR setting too, it’d make for a great backdrop for a proper game, beyond just the skins used by two teams.

  15. wodin says:

    There is another sword and shield era game being developed aswell..similar thing but looks far better than this game to be honest..trouble is I’ve forgotten it’s name…

    I think it may have a kickstarter not sure…anyone help me remember the name?