Thursday Review: War of the Roses

War of the Roses is by no means a new game, but it’s one that I only finally got around to playing after getting it as a gift. It’s a multiplayer-only medieval combat game with a heavy focus on action and which takes place in the English civil war between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. It is, to a degree, historically accurate, though the fact that it’s an action-oriented video game means that it’s not exactly going to be winning any prizes for realism.

My first thought when I played War of the Roses is how incredibly unbalanced it is at lower levels (or for free-to-play players), where only a few preset character classes were available. Some of this is undeserved, since the game is pretty unabashedly skill/luck based, with the luck mostly coming into play when latency is an issue.  However, the inability to tailor the game at the early levels to your personal preferred playstyle is a failing, especially when one considers the fact that the game actually has pretty good ranged combat.

As far as the execution goes, War of the Roses pretty unabashedly takes a large part of its style from Mount & Blade; it’s got third-person view, the same (albeit with minor changes) aiming system, and a lot of similarities. It may not look like Mount & Blade, but it feels like a Mount & Blade with a lot of the cavalry elements removed.

That’s not to say that there isn’t cavalry, and one of my favorite things about War of the Roses is its diverse play-styles. Being a crossbowman feels different from being an archer which feels different from using a sword on foot which feels different from using a lance on horseback. This is one of the best parts of War of the Roses, because otherwise it wouldn’t be all that good a game, but with the addition of some very different but smoothly integrated skill sets you can have a game that’s fun for anyone.

There are four game modes, of which the team deathmatch is basically pointless, because people running around and getting into fights happens in any game mode and is significantly improved by adding the focal points that are objectives. I haven’t tried out the Pitched Battle mode, but it sounds interesting, especially given the fact that the game has a system of revivals, executions, and insta-kills to keep the “you can’t respawn” thing interesting. Conquest and Assault are, respectively, a basic point-capture and objective-based mode, and are really where the game shines most, since it raises tactical decisions (“If the knight is always having to stay on point, should I play a crossbowman and pick him off from afar?”) and gives a lot more flavor than just running around and brawling.

The community, however, has several good people but a whole lot of horrible people. As any free-to-play game on Steam runs into, a lot of the players coming in aren’t very nice and aren’t afraid to show it, but the fact that the game is run pretty much entirely on centralized dedicated servers means that there’s basically no moderator up-time to speak of. I’ve only run into problems with hackers once, but I definitely wouldn’t let a kid play this game both on account of its gritty violence but also the fact that the community is like a hybrid of Call of Duty and Source mod players, which is something I could have lived without.

Game design wise, some interesting decisions are made. It’s good that the developers thought to reward people highly for reviving people, but it’s to the point where good play is often overlooked for the sake of the 200 points for executing someone (more than you get for just knocking them down) or reviving someone for 300 points in the middle of a heated battle, and while a reward is given for capturing points there is no reward for defending them, leading to teams often playing off point due to the fact that there’s no short-term gain for it.

So, in summary, War of the Roses is a game with a lot of dubious decisions, including a pay-to-customize feature that can use real money, though in-game currency is pretty generous past the very early game, but it’s generally solid from a game design perspective. Unfortunately, the developers really shot themselves in the foot when it came to building good community by restricting servers to a single hosting service and hosting several (as far as I can tell entirely unmoderated) official servers, and ignoring such concepts as clan play and private dedicated servers means that there’s no strong community sources for a good, moderated, gaming experience.

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