War of the Roses (WotR) is an upcoming third person multiplayer action game that takes place in 15th century England. The game pits two Houses, Lancaster and York, against each other in bloody battles where steel shows no mercy. Being a melee focused multiplayer game, the game does not seem to have any more of a story than the historical backdrop provides.
We have been given access to a well rounded Beta build. The game has 4 customizable character classes; Footman, Crossbowman, Longbowman and Footknight. Each classes weapons, armor and perks can be changed from a wide variety of different options. You have swords, maces, bows and such for the weapons, armors and shields with different materials and perks that give your character some extra boost on the battlefield. The weapons and armor are historically correct, which is a definitive plus.
Once you've selected the gear you want to use, it's time to enter battle. The press beta had only one playable map but the finished version will feature 7 historically inspired battlegrounds. The map looked very authentic with a river flowing through a small, 15th century village, fields and small hills here and there, even a bonfire to burn the occassional witch. The game modes are traditional affair but seem limited at present. There is Team Deathmatch, which should be familiar to everyone who's ever played an online game, and Conquest, which has two teams battling over the control of points of interest around the map.
The controls are simple but WotR throws a few twists in your basic deathmatch formula; the angle of the swing and the fact that swords and other medieval weapons are usually long. You can keep the left mouse button pressed before swinging a sword to gather some power to it but this can leave you exposed to another enemies swing. While charging your strike, you can change the angle of the swing to hit a specific part of an enemy and/or possibly bypassing his defenses or make a jab.
The ranged combat in WotR is also done with great care. The crossbow for example is a deadly weapon but it has to be reloaded after each shot and it takes time, leaving you open for an attack. The accuracy of ranged weapons is realistic but once you get the hang of it, you'll get some easy kills with a hit to the throat or other unprotected parts.
The selection of armor is also crucial. Should I go for heavy armor that can deflect arrows or a lighter one that doesn't slow me down? Either way you go, the game takes that in account when it calculates damage dealt. Some armor might even be impenetrable depending on the weapon. The game feels like an action RPG dressed up as Call of Duty. You collect experience for everything you do in the game.
When you receive enough damage, your character starts to bleed. Go on bleeding long enough and you'll die. Luckily you can apply bandages to yourself. Applying a bandage takes time and you can't do anything while applying it. This presents another interesting strategic choice: should I go hide and bandage myself or use the rest of my strength to kill an enemy bowman? Sometimes the game feels like a strategy game; you're constantly weighing up your choices, deciding the best course of action.
If someone kills you, this will happen a lot, your character passes out. You can immediately submit your character to death or wait for your team mate to revive you. This is risky though, since while you're waiting to be revived, an enemy can finish you with an execution. The execution moves are gruesome and in-your-face and once completed they force a killed player back to a re-spawn point and cost the side a life ticket. But again, these finishing moves take time to accomplish. You can be sure that when a player goes down, the whole other team is swarming up on the unconscious character, trying to execute him.
Talking about executions, the animations in the game are superb. Every slash and jab, characters trying to run around with heavy armor and, most importantly, the bloody executions. As I said; when an enemy goes down, you can execute him. These are very brutal manoeuvres (especially when you're the one receiving an execution) and grant you the most XP. The first time I executed an enemy, my jaw dropped. The camera moved to a side-view, my character kicked the unconscious player to his back, sat on his belly and started jabbing him on his throat and face. Bloody brilliant.
The graphics are pretty impressive, even in the beta. The game doesn't support any advanced graphical effects in it's current state but I did not miss any SSAO or MSAA while playing it. The graphics do a great job of relaying the feel of a medieval battleground with grim, dark graphics and occasional rain. The armor and characters are made with a great attention to detail and you can even edit your crest to show the world your newly created crest on your shield (I made the flag of Finland).
The sounds are also excellent, with steel hitting steel, wood cracking when you hit a wooden shield. It's almost like you're really in a 15th century battlefield. Much cannot be said for the music though, since in the Press beta version there weren't any (at least I didn't notice any).
The game feels suprisingly complete and polished even now. The battles are very enjoyable, especially when I played with Felix on the same team. I must say the game although fairly hard hitting actually has a slightly slower pace to it than the traditional fast twitch MMO shooters out there. But that is certainly not to say that the game has less to master. The slower pace provides more time to think and more time to be vulnerable to enemy arrows and cavalry.
Keep your eye on this one. Currently the release is set for sometime this month (August 2012, for all you people reading this in the future) and I'm getting this for sure. Strategic battles, choice of armor and the need to think about the materials used in them is a welcome breeze in the multiplayer genre that's filled AK47's and snipers killing you from across the map. Later this year, you might feel the steel of TM punching through your armor. Until then, I'm enjoying the beta.