It's a bold play, releasing a Soulslike in the year of Elden Ring. Let me rephrase that, actually. It's a bold play releasing a Soulslike in any year, let alone the year of Elden Ring. You could snap open any twelve month span like a bulrush and watch many thousands of little Soulslikes disperse into the atmosphere, with only a select few really making an impact.
Steelrising is one of these Soulslike seeds hoping to sink into our screens, sprout, and take root not only in the innards of our Panasonics, but our minds too. From what I've seen, it stands a chance of survival in a saturated land.
Steelrising is in development by Spiders, the same folks who brought us GreedFall (an RPG that Astrid (RPS in peace) thought was mediocre at best in her review). Thankfully, Steelrising is leaving all the GreedFalling to the recently teased GreedFall 2, and is more focused on delivering an action RPG that's less chitter chatter and more automatons giving each other a batter.
The game's set during the French Revolution of 1789 but puts a robotic spin on history: King Louis XVI has a mechanical army that's suppressed the revolution with blood and bolts. You play as Aegis, a republican automaton designed specifically to win the robot war and wrest Paris from the royalists' cold, unfeeling hands. And at a recent journo event in Paris, I watched a dev play through roughly 20 minutes of the game. He showed off some exploration, combat, character customisation, and the game's approach to storytelling, all in a quickfire blast around a re-imagined Paris.
And before I properly dive into what I saw, I want to emphasise that the game's a Soulslike, plain and simple. You duel tough enemies from a third-person perspective and consume the equivalent of an Estus Flask to top up your health bar. Defeat enemies and they'll drop the equivalent of Souls, which you'll lose if you die. Bosses gatekeep areas. There aren't bonfire checkpoints, but there are chairs that spring out of the earth and assemble themselves. Weapons and items have cryptic descriptions. But it's the way it builds on this formula that makes Steelrising one to watch.
I want to emphasise that the game's a Soulslike, plain and simple... But it's the way it builds on this formula that makes Steelrising one to watch.
As the preview starts, the dev pilots Aegis as they traverse a Louvre that's seen better days. It's patrolled by menacing robots with blades for kneecaps and clubs for wrists. Houses are ablaze and fences lie warped. And the balconies the French so adore? Our Aegis uses them as alternate paths. The devs shows how Aegis can grapple (love a grapple hook) up to these spots, then leap across rooftops with jumps and mid-air dashes. He explains that there's an element of metroidvania to exploration, as you'll acquire these movement abilities from fallen bosses and use them on paths you've already tread to access new areas or open up shortcuts.
And throughout the demo, as Aegis takes on whirring mechanical baddies, it's clear that Spiders want to separate Steelrising from Souls and other Soulslikes with depth. You can choose to fight with simplistic ground attacks like your usual suspects, or you can leap in the air and strike from above with a mixture of smacks and the very same air dashes you use to clamber about. It doesn't look like you'll be able to pull off Devil May Cry hang times and combo multipliers, but the options impress. My only worry is that combat did look a touch janky, somehow - but hey, that's something I can only judge properly when I go hands-on.
Depth also extends to stamina management, which has taken a leaf right out of Nioh's scroll. In Nioh you're able to recover lost Ki (stamina) with a well-timed button press, helping you stay in the fight for longer. Well, in Steelrising you can do the same, albeit with a penalty for using it too much in quick succession. If you mash, you suffer from a short bout of frostbite that'll rob you of stamina for a bit and make you all sluggish. It seemed a fair system, especially as it only punishes you for being overzealous and rewards smart play.
As for being all frosty, the dev explained that there are three elements in the game: fire, ice, and electricity, all of which can help you gain an advantage over your enemies. The dev chucked fire and ice bombs at enemies with Aegis' off-hand, which set them alight and inflicted damage over time, or froze them solid and created a brief window for some uninterrupted bruising before they thawed. Electricity only popped up briefly in a climactic fight with a robo-knight whose second phase triggered some more shocking antics. Unfortunately, I couldn't ascertain exactly what its effect had on Aegis, but it's probably like, a slow or something, if my past experience with games is anything to go by.
Again, Spiders aren't messing about when it comes to the game's customisation options. In a brief whizz through of Aegis' inventory, I saw loads of weapons you could mix and match and duel-wield and upgrade. Easily the coolest were these massive metal fans that blended bin lid energy with the elegance of ballet. In fact, every piece of armour looked cool. Not only did Paris ooze style, Aegis and her arsenal were just as beautifully designed. Fans of fashion-souls likely won't be disappointed with the aesthetic combos on offer here.
With all the options, I asked whether Spiders did indeed take inspiration from Nioh as an example of a Soulslike that's managed to cement itself as more than a pretender. The dev shook his head and laughed, and told me that, yes, he and a few members of the team were fans, but by no means were they aiming to make something as dense as Nioh. Where Nioh focuses on complex loot systems and combos up to your eyeballs, Steelrising is a lot trimmer. There's depth, but it's easily managed.
And not only is the game's loot and combat manageable, its length is too. The obvious comparison is Elden Ring, a cracking game, but a long one that veers into exhausting territory if the demands of a job or family or Love Island mean you can only chip away at it for a couple of hours each evening. I asked whether we could expect the same from Steelrising, and Spiders told me that it'll take roughly 15 to 20 hours to complete. That's not just music to my ears, that's Tinchy Stryder's No.1 blaring out of the hi-fi system at 3am before the lights turn on.
Yes, there's a chance Spiders could be having us on like FromSoft's "Elden Ring is only 30 hours long" ruse. But I like to think they aren't. That's mainly down to the "Assist mode" they showed off, which aims to make the game far more approachable for those who'd prefer a less taxing time. For instance, you can totally turn off the stamina management penalty if you'd like. Tweak damage numbers or make it so you don't lose your equivalent of Souls whenever you die. It's nice to see that this is a Soulslike tailored for everyone, not just 'hardcore' stress seekers.
From what I saw, Steelrising looks like great fun for Soulslikers and those after a Souls experience they can tailor to their liking. What I'd love to do is go hands-on, as I need to know how it feels in the hand, you know? All the signs point to a good game, but whether it's a joy to move and attack and explore remains a mystery. Stay tuned.