Review by JessofBlades

"For the glory of York! (or Lancaster if you prefer)"

War of the Roses
For the glory of the house of York! (Or Lancaster, if you prefer)

War of the Roses is a new third person, team-based multiplayer game from Fatshark and Paradox Interactive, which casts you into the middle of the English Civil War between the two opposing factions of House Plantaget, the Lancasters and the Yorks. Though you start out as a simple footman, with experience earned through blood and sweat, you will unlock more base classes, and then the ability to forge your own hero.

Outside of the backdrop, there is none to speak of. Of course, there is a rich, detailed story there, but the developers have left that to history books and Wikipedia pages for you to peruse at your leisure after you have had your fill of mortal combat.

Anyone familiar with the Mount & Blade series will feel right at home on the corpse-strewn battlefields of England, as the combat is almost exactly the same, but improved upon. Striking and parrying are done by moving the mouse in a cardinal direction along with a mouse button to select where you are aiming your block (RMB) or your strike (LMB) – up is an overhead strike, down is a piercing attack, and left and right are slashing attacks – and releasing the button will release your blow upon your intended victim. Archery uses a similar technique, readying and aiming your arrow or crossbow bolt via the right mouse, and loosing with the left. Crossbows have a neat minigame to speed up the longer reload times, as well.

With both styles of combat, you will have to take note of your range and where you are striking. With certain weapons like swords, it's much easier to land a hit as the weapon has more surface area. Using polearms or axes or maces, you will have to make sure you're hitting with the head of the weapon, or else you will just hit them with the shaft of the weapon or miss entirely. Needless to say, that's not going to win the war. Weapons can also be interrupted by the environment, so if you are fighting in close quarters, slashing attacks may be impossible, and switching to thrusts and overhead attacks – or even your dagger - will be your best bet, as a savvy opponent will take the opening to strike as you're recovering from a missed attack. As for aiming your blows, each kind of armor has its weaknesses to exploit. Light armor is easily rendered asunder, but opponents can dodge you quickly – a long range main weapon is efficient. Medium armor is strong up front, weak in the back as well as at their unprotected arms and legs. Heavy may look like an impenetrable fortress, but piercing attacks to the body or a good hit with a blunt weapon will take them down… and as a bonus, heavy helmets have the worst visibility when their visor is down, so it often is up – take the time to line up a blow to the face, and they'll be down in no time. This balance is great, as it allows every type of character to be able to stand their ground against an opponent who may seem to be overpowered, and vice versa.

Once you have unlocked a custom character, you can choose between the different kinds of helmets and armors, and also customize your arsenal as well as select perks to mold into any class you like. Some perks will give you access to different equipment like bows or shields, or enable you to use horses. Others will grant bonuses like a faster running speed, the ability to bandage oneself or your teammates faster, or to ignore status effects like bleeding. As for weapons, there is a variety ranging from massive warhammers and lances to longswords and daggers. You can choose styles for melee weapons which will increase damage or speed, as well as the materials and grinds on them, which affect the weapons health rating or its effectiveness against different types of armor. A low health material could lighten the weight of the weapon and give you a faster swing, but if it breaks, you had better have a backup weapon... For ranged weapons you're choose the type of projectile and for crossbows, the firing mechanism. Do you load out with armor piercing to overcome any type of armor? Or maybe you prefer the slow but extremely deadly windlass for your crossbow? With these options, you can easily make your character a slow but deadly spearman, or a lithe yet fragile crossbowman, or anything in between. Another small but nice way to further distinguish yourself among your peers is by buying and using armor paints and creating your very own coat of arms. There's a nice bit of variety for the armor paints, though there could be a bit more variety in the heraldry. Though it is appropriately humiliating to be killed by someone from the House of Rubber Duckyton.

Right now, there are only two game modes, Team Deathmatch and Conquest. Team Deathmatch is exactly what it sounds like, Reds versus Whites duking it out on the field of battle until time runs out or the kill total is reached. Conquest is basically a Control Point mode; the team that captures all the zones wins. The developers have stated plans to add new modes, but in the meantime, deathmatch never ceases to entertain, though your experience with Conquest will vary depending on your team's willingness to hold points instead of acting like they're playing TD instead. The game does try to help players remember they're playing with a team, as the experience and gold rewards for reviving a team member are greater than executing an enemy, as well as XP for every time you aid a bleeding teammate. Less glamorous, maybe, but you both benefit from it.

There aren't too many maps available at launch, but each one has its own feel; you'll visit rainy forests, fight in farmlands, deserted towns, cities, and my personal favorite, the London Tournament grounds. Each has its share of tight spots perfect for ambushes, open areas for cavalry to joust or cut down unsuspecting ground forces, and some nice verticality to the levels for archers to find nice sniping spots.

The game does have its fair share of bugs and balance issues at the moment that will hopefully be ironed out in the next few weeks. When spawning, you may find yourself outside the map, under the map, or spawning in the air and falling immediately to your death. Hits that show all physical signs of hitting do no damage. And as for the balance, they will probably have to try and do something with spawn camping, especially with the ability to spawn on your squad leader instead of back at one of your base camps, since as long as they survive and sit in the opposing spawn point, the team is free to attack the other team as soon as they respawn. Also there is a problem with CTD's and graphical errors, but they should be remedied soon.

It's not in the realm of a game like Battlefield 3, but the game is definitely a nice looking game if you are around the recommended specs, with the options PC gamers expect, SSAO, AA, and others. The textures on your gear and the environment are well detailed, with a few exceptions like the Scottish sword, and the draw distance is very nice, allowing you to pinpoint enemy archers from across the map for 100+ yard headshots. I had the opportunity to try it out with NVIDIA 3D Vision, and while it isn't officially supported, it works really well with it, and made those kills all the more satisfying.

There is no music on the battlefield outside the screams of your foes and the clashing of weapons, and it is a mixed bag. The voice work is fine, whether it is the sounds of a commander issuing orders to his men, or the yells of combat; horses sound very horsey, too. The sounds of weapon hits should probably get a little work, as they sound a bit canned or muted. A sword hitting a shield doesn't sound as viscous as it should; instead, it sounds more like a half-enthused drummer clashing their drumsticks together. The hits to flesh sound more natural, however.

As stated earlier, there's plenty of fun to be had on the current maps, and hopefully by the time you've discovered all the secrets on them, and unlocked all the weapons, armor paints, and perks, there will be new content available. Outside of the Mount & Blade games and the upcoming Chivalry, you won't find many more medieval combat games, and the game is definitely solid, and will only get better as the kinks get patched out.

War of the Roses is a worthy title for any gamer that enjoys the time period or is just looking for something new to try in the team based arena that doesn't involve guns. With the dev team committed to providing plenty of post-launch content, from new perks and weapons, to new maps and game modes, you can look forward to the game improving and evolving as time passes.

Final Score: 8/10, -1 for bugs, -1 for lack of game modes

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/10/12

Game Release: War of the Roses (US, 10/02/12)

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