War of the Roses review

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Craig Pearson at

I have an armed badger on my head. He’s a mocking crest that I added to my helmet to stand out in battle, so that the last thing opponents would see when they died was a wobbling, poleaxe-wielding melinae of doom. I call him my badger of dishonour.

War of the Roses, Fatshark’s third-person multiplayer knight lark, is a funny, well-crafted, limited little game where you fight for the right to make your knight look as imposing, or as ridiculous, as you can.

You begin as a footman for the houses York or Lancaster, fighting conquest or team deathmatch versions of the battles that split the Plantagenets. They’re fought in fields and villages, with swords, axes and longstaffs. It’s mostly melee, with bows for those who can’t do without crosshairs.

Horses for the whinny.

The sword-wielding, shield-toting everyman of the war, the footman, introduces you to a game of slow, tactical battles in the mud. Sword blows are primed for power and angled according to a pre-strike mouse swing. They can be blocked with a shield, or parried with a blade and countered if you’re swift enough.

The action sits somewhere between the loose lunges of Skyrim and the deft deliverance of Dark Messiah: slightly spammy, but with moments of lovingly captured brutality and emergent silliness. When I was defeated in one fight, as the enemy stood over me to perform his execution he was killed. I was revived and given the honour of executing him instead, which I took. Then I took an arrow in the knee (really) and hit the ground again.

Each hit brings XP and gold (executions and revivals drop huge amounts). It’s generous: you’ll easily have enough to unlock other roles and plenty of perks and armour within a day’s play. Even though the predefined knights are well-balanced, the custom knight is something to aim for.

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a- bleurghk!

Building your own means tweaking everything. A tweaked crossbowman doesn’t just carry a bow. He has a steel-spanned, push-levered crossbow fitted with armour-piercing arrows. A sword can be made of different steels and grinds, and you can add one of three fighting styles. While the weapons are balanced with negatives (slower, weaker), selecting from the pile of perks could speed up your reload, add more arrows, or let you see enemy and friendly health.

Some concerns did rust up my armour: there’s no minimap, which meant some wandering to find the fights during team deathmatch, and it can be tough figuring out how much life you have left in you. There is no singleplayer, just bot-based training skirmishes. And with such easily bought perks, you’ll see everything War of the Roses has to offer in the first day – by day two, you’re no longer in unlock heaven, and the battlegrounds will already feel familiar. But it’s a nice change of pace to our current gun culture.

When you're down, you can either respawn or hope to be revived.


Verdict

77

A slight but fun third-person medieval melee game. It’s definitely different, but needs more bulking out.