In days long past, the shape of the world was forged by blades of iron and steel. Great battles waged by the knights of the realm, loyal banner-men of their chosen king. Men who didn’t fear death yet knew many of their brethren would fall to the enemy in each and every instance of combat.
War of the Roses: Kingmaker, developed by Fat Shark Interactive, wonderfully recreates these battles in almost every aspect. The sense of scale and chaos of the combat are second to none, even when compared to its higher-profile analogues. The sheer life or death consequence of each and every action the player executes easily sets this game apart.
The visual style and tone of War of the Roses: Kingmaker changes with each map. The game’s ability to create a unique feel with each area of combat is really quite liberating for a mutliplayer-based game, to say the least. The castles, forts and villages are all some of the best digital representations out there. The lighting engine brings a sterling realism to these backdrops and is definitely the reason each map stands on its own. Whether invading a castle at dusk amidst intense snowfall or defending a small fortification located in a field of waving grass bathed in sunlight, the WOTRK level design is unified in the fact that each map, though unique, is equally gorgeous.
The characters, for the most part, are equally as pleasing as the backgrounds. All of the armor and weapons shine just right as the player weaves through light and shadow. Although some of the armaments are not quite my taste, luckily there is plenty of choice in the game when it comes to this aspect. The animations that go along with the characters are extremely well done, but every now and then, depending on the player’s proximity to structures, they will flat out break. This usually occurs during healing or executions, but the actual fighting has very few hiccups. Swords clang off of one another when two warriors swing simultaneously, and the characters react based on the stance and origin of the swing. Since the game is so heavily based on skill, the animations basically have to be spot on for the concept of the gameplay to even be possible. Most of the time you only see the cracks in the convincing recreation of medieval combat Fat Shark has put together when the game is loading.
The shouts of fellow warriors can be distinctly heard in direct relation to the various combat triggers. Whether it’s the beckon call to steel yourself, the glorious chants of victory over a fallen foe or the forlorn screams of a wounded soldier begging to be spared, War of the Roses Kingmaker delivers on the voice-over front in spades.
The music of WOTRK is equally immersive. The score is laden with an epic classical touch that spans from pounding drums to sorrowful strings. The music usually only kicks in during the beginning of a battle or when an objective is achieved. Rest assured that no matter when you hear the lyrical battle call, it’s extremely difficult to avoid charging headlong into the nearest group of enemies while yelling into your headset with a British accent.
Jangling armor, braying horses, whizzing arrows, the glorious sound of a wooden shield splintering beneath your trusty blade – it’s all here. Topnotch effects design is very rare these days in most AAA titles, and I for one never take it for granted. One of gaming’s most under-appreciated facets is the effect of sound on gameplay as a reactant. Hearing a nearby bow stretch to full strength, or the footsteps of a heavily armoured opponent approaching from behind, is just as harrowing and essential to the gameplay as it sounds. I can’t explain how good it feels to hear the tear of fabric coming from behind a corner or tree, and rushing to find an unfortunate enemy struggling to bandage his wounds as quickly as possible.
The fighting system is the real star of War of the Roses: Kingmaker. After all, if the combat is rubbish, then the pain-staking recreation Fat Shark has given us would be all for not. Whether you are playing with a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad, the action is visceral and responsive. By pressing the ready attack button, and then a corresponding direction, the player character will wind up an attack that will originate from the input direction. Simply put, players have four directional attacks at their disposal, so combat, most of the time, can be dissected into a wonderful game of paper, rock, scissors. One mistake can be all it takes.
I commend Fat Shark for not falling into the multiplayer trap in which unlocks and experience points determine the victors in battle. Even if you are using the default character classes, you are just as deadly as the most decadent knight on the battlefield. War of the Roses is the most skill-based multiplayer game I have played in years, which, pun totally intended, is a bit of a double-edged sword. The skill system allows any XP level to be competitive, but it also will quickly let you know if you are just not very good at video games. It is truly a game for gamers, not for casual players. If you can imagine it, WOTRK has a lot in common with the first-person shooters of the late 1990s. Timing is everything.
The third-person view is adjustable to a point, which allows the player to have a good sense of immediate awareness that can be essential. When playing as an archer, drawing the bow will put the player in a first-person perspective, which is definitely a trade off but helps to maintain balance between ranged and melee.
The archery system is definitely worth calling out. By drawing back the bow you must align two ticks on the cross-hair to ensure you have the most power and accuracy, but failing to time this correctly will result in the arrow being less damaging or inaccurate, depending on whether the shot was held too long or not long enough. This adds a truly skillful aspect to the archer class and does a lot to prevent ranged griefing.
The sheer amount of fighting styles contained in War of the Roses is staggering to say the least, and anyone willing to take the plunge will no doubt find the perfect weapon to suit their particular play style after a few matches.
In short, one’s play time in War of the Roses will vary. The game provides enough maps, modes, weapons and unlocks to lure even the most seasoned warrior back for another round. Currently I have around 40 hours in the game so far, and I can assure you, it will remain in my recently played list for quite some time.
Recently, it was announced that War of the Roses is officially a free-to-play title on Steam, and I can think of no reason that you shouldn’t give it go. Kingmaker is now the premium package and will give the player access to all the games modes, an extra starting class and faster gold and XP gain. Kingmaker is currently $20 on Steam, and just in case you are a savvy consumer, it goes on sale often.
Being that it is now free to play, there is no excuse not to give War of the Roses a shot if you are remotely interested. The game has given me some of my most epic and triumphant moments in gaming and is truly one of the best multiplayer options on Steam. It isn’t a perfect game, but what it gets right far outweighs the negatives. Being an entirely skill-based game, it definitely isn’t for everyone. But it already has everything an interested player could want, and I assume Fat Shark will continue to produce the excellent free updates, which will increase the options even further.
No doubt some will say there is a similar title available that is better. But I have played both extensively, and trust me it’s not, not by a long shot.
If you want to see this game in action, be sure to check out the Rundown.
- Developer: Fat Shark
- Publisher: Paradox
- Platforms: PC
- Release: 3-21-2013
- Time Stamp: 7-24-2013