War of the Roses really sets out to do one basic thing, and it does that rather well. Paradox Interactive has decided to approach online multiplayer with a medieval twist, and the result is this PC title that delivers an experience that is entertaining, but also somewhat limited.
So for instance there is no single player or story mode outside of the tutorial which was more frustrating than helpful. It does a okay if not great job of teaching you some class mechanics, but you die a lot in the process as you are given very little information about how the game or its objectives play out. The training begins by giving you a bow and arrow and then saying to kill a handful of opponents. If you live long enough, you get told which hotkey allows you to crouch. If you are expecting War of the Roses to hold your hand, you will wind up disappointed because you will die quite a bit.
So what do you get with War of the Roses besides training? Basically the online experience you would get from a Call of Duty or Battlefield game, but your guns and rocket launchers are replaced with shields, swords, crossbows and more. The diversity in the medieval weaponry is actually quite good, and the various types of weapons do handle very differently, which is refreshing.
In a typical online shooter, your weapons have variety as well, but in areas such as accuracy, range and maybe damage done. You still pull the same button when firing. Here Paradox does a good job of sprinkling in different mechanics depending on your weapon of choice. Hold down one mouse button to draw back the string on your longbow and as you take aim, press the other button to let your arrow fly. Even then, there are other variables you have to take into consideration such as how long you can leave the bowstring drawn, what the optimal moment is to release your arrow for maximum damage and how far away your target is as your arrow will lose height over distance.
Crossbows are similar in that they are ranged weapons, but the combination of bow and arrow is actually relatively quick to fire and drawn a new arrow whereas the crossbow requires a fairly slow process of loading the bolt and cranking the weapon. The result is a more powerful projectile that does not require quite as much coordination in timing your release, but if you are in the middle of a fray, you probably do not have time to load up a second bolt until things settle down.
Melee has not been forgotten, however. You can wield powerful two-handed swords and polearms that do considerable damage and often negate armor more easily than smaller weapons, but they have a much more limited blocking ability than units who use a sword with a shield. Armor is definitely a factor here as better, heavier armor does a much better job of protecting you. Using a shield improves your chances of surviving ranged attacks. Some classes have helmets with visors that can be lowered. This helps to protect your face from arrows and sword swipes, but also limits your field of vision.
That is not to say everything is balanced perfectly. If you buy a horse you can run around slamming your mount into all of the foot soldiers at will, making quite the nuisance out of yourself. If one team has quite a bit more cavalry than the other, I usually see the victory going to the team with mounts. Also, armor is one of those things where I think encumbrance could have played a larger role in combat. While having thicker, heavier armor does seem to slow you down some, the difference is not enough. I found that my more heavily armored characters simply lived much longer and they did not feel as though they were significantly slower than their more sparsely protected counterparts on the field.
The combat definitely takes some getting used to. Whather it is the method of firing an arrow or loading a crossbow or learning how to juggle your sword and shield (again using both of the mouse buttons to manipulate your two arms), there are pluses and minuses to each mechanic. Probably the most awkward part of melee combat is that to attack, you actually have to not only press the button to swing, but also move your mouse. This creates a sort of swiping motion that guides your swing. This is not terribly intuitive, though you learn to adapt to it in time. I tried to find some sort of controller support for the game, but did not discover any. Personally, I am among those who prefer controllers for my shooters over using the mouse and keyboard combination and I was hoping that would improve the experience for me.
Teams can get as large as 32 versus 32, and the action is pretty frantic when you start. Skirmishes can erupt anywhere, and sometimes you might be the unfortunate person who wanders into a pack of enemies, simply hoping to do some damage before you go down, and in other instances you can be a part of a cluster where four or five people from one team are against similar numbers from the other. When an enemey falls, you have an opportunity to execute them – and this never gets old for me. If an ally falls, you can rush to their aid to try and help them get to their feet. There is an element of risk versus reward here as well. The execution sequences are viciously entertaining, but pulling them off or helping a comrade to his feet yield experience for you. It also leaves you vulnerable to attack for a couple of precious seconds if there is an enemy nearby.
There are tonnes of servers running this game, and the maps are generally designed very well, but there are only two gameplay modes. I already mentioned that there was no single player component, and the online consists of team deathmatch and a king of the hill/rally point system like you see in the Battlefield games. Both are enjoyable, but they can get a bit repetitive. I find myself hoping that down the road Paradox may add some other objective based modes to help vary things up.
Luckily, I am a sucker for customisation and War of the Roses has plenty of that for the player. For one, you can create your own crest, and while it is all done off of prepared images, colours and patterns, they come together nicely to give you quite a bit of control over how you want it to look. Better than that, as you gain experience you also gain levels and unlock new pre-constructed classes. The real fun however, starts when you unlock custom classes. You can then use your hard earned coins to unlock different kinds of weapons, armour, perks and more that you can then apply to your character. There are tonnes of options here, and while they are not all created equal to one another, they do provide players with an opportunity to develop a character that really fits their playing style.
The sounds, music and graphics are adequate but not spectacular, and it would have been nice to see more options on customizing your visual experience. My primary machine handled the game fine on higher settings, but my laptop required that I drop down to very basic settings without much flexibility to tweak what I would have dialed up or down. Considering how many players are hosted at any given time, and that the nature of the melee combat encourages large clusters of people to crowd around one another, I was pleased at how smooth things ran even during moments of sheer chaos involving one to two dozen combatants without any notable slowdown.
– Nick H