I’ve been a sucker for medieval motifs, for chivalry and knights and steel-bound martial combat since I got my first Lego box-set at the age of 6; King Arthur and his loyal Squire, both on horseback. And let me tell you, they were the shit and had awesome adventures, and every time I think about how wonderful those days were in my life, and how I now spend my days doing meaningless editing and data-entry, it takes me that much closer to ripping off my shirt, donning my horned helment and rampaging down the streets screaming that the time of Vikings has once again resurfaced.
Luckily I’m now able to experience that love again by way of War of the Roses. The easiest way to describe WotR would be like a medieval COD in third-person. You have a few starting classes with certain buffs, armaments and defensive gear, and you go on to unlock slots for your own personalised class, purchasing and equipping the weapons and abilities that you want. For my money, though, I think the levels of personalisation you can get to in WotR is like thirteen orgies better than the gloved handjob of COD. WotR lets you choose your weapon, and then what it’s hilt is like, and then how the blade is sharpened, and then the fighting style you are wielding it with. And that’s just the weapons.
Unfortunately, despite the myriad of ways you can equip your soldier, the different horses and emblems you can take on, and the thousands of ways you can buff them, the game is supremely unbalanced. The heaviest armour in the game makes characters borderline invulnerable, and no matter how much you hack and slash at these players who are basically human locomotives, or shoot at them with the heaviest, most ‘IMMA PIERCE YA HEART’ crossbows, it takes a concentrated and drawn out effort to take them down. The only disadvantage to those players is a slight reduction in speed and jumping height, and even then they bypass this by choosing a buff which lets you sprint and knock down your opponents.
The best, and the most frustrating part of WotR is the combat. You hold the left mouse button to attack, and a meter shows you how hard you are hitting. Depending on the way you moved the mouse before clicking will determine in what way you are actually hitting them, whether overhead, from the side, or performing a piercing attack. When being faced with someone swinging at you, a prompt in the form of a red bar will appear, allowing you some time to press the right mouse button to try and block in that direction. With a shield, I successfully managed to hold off three attacks simultaneously until the damn thing shattered into a million pieces after a solid minute of continual blocking and running backwards.
While one-on-one this combat system is kind of fun, in an all out melee it’s just boring, especially when you consider than not only are there better mechanics already in place for third-person online combat (Dark Souls, for instance), and that despite it being third-person, it’s bloody impossible to actually tell how far and how you’re going to swing your weapon. At best, the excitement is restricted to not knowing who the hell is actually going to land a blow first, and at worst, it’s like trying to control a particularly slow drunk with tongs made out of tofu.
Dying comes in a few forms. You can get hit enough times and start to bleed out, in which case you can press B to bandage your wounds; you can get downed into a vulnerable state, in which case you can either wait for someone to heal you or plead your way to a respawn (literally plea, you get on your knees and everything, it’s kind of pathetic to watch), or while vulnerable, have another player come over and brutally murder you; and you can also get straight killed by a headshot.
Funnily enough, the ranged combat is more refined than the melee. The game switches into first-person when you aim to fire, with bows having a tension meter to show how far and strong your arrow will fly, and crossbows requiring you to crank the bolt into place. This involves a little minigame where you are able to cut down the time it takes to reload by clicking a gear into place. However, this element of the game suffers for a few reasons, first and foremost, because you can never tell the trajectory of your shots.
As unrealistic as it is in modern shooters to actually see your bullet flying, it’s a great way to gauge where you’re actually shooting. WotR, on the other hand, feels mostly like you’re just taking pot-shots, even when you think you’ve finally gotten a handle on how the mechanics work. Secondly, the crossbow does nowhere near enough damage to compensate for its cumbersome weight and slow loading times. If anything, it should, at the very least, automatically cause bleeding, no matter how much corrugated iron someone has taped around their torso.
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