War of the Roses

By: Elliot Metson

Published: October 25, 2012 Posted in: Review

As I looked down upon the body of a weakened archer, I was given an irrefusable proposition: ‘Press E to execute.’

My footman, undoubtedly filled with glee at my decision, stood over the Lancastrian’s body, raised his shield with both hands and brought it down through the archer’s neck like a guillotine.

At first I was startled, I had that open-mouthed expression that tends to only happen during moments of spontaneous coolness, then I was laughing.

“What the FUCK! I just DECAPITATED a guy with a SHIELD!”

War of the Roses - Shield guillotine

It had taken me an hour, but from this point onwards I knew I’d found my first reason to keep playing War of the Roses. I’d plodded my way through a murky, fragmented tutorial which, for whatever reason, chooses to explain different aspects of each class across different levels. So in one level you’ll be learning about crossbowmen, but only in a later level will you be learning the trick about making them reload bolts quicker. Why not give us one class per level and teach us all the basics about them there and then?

Crappy tutorial aside, when you start off with the full game War of the Roses does a good job in making you not feel like a complete novice compared to the people who’ve obviously played for much longer than you. It might even do this a bit too well, because after a few minutes in my first match I’d already executed a few people who were playing higher ranked classes than myself. This balancing (or imbalancing, depending on how you view it) is a result of the footman class starting with every perk available to them, whereas presumably other classes have to earn them honestly through hard work and levelling.

War of the Roses - Clotheslining a guy with a halberd

Having played other classes though, I always found myself wanting to go back to the footman. The balance between attack and defence with the bog standard sword and shield was all I needed, as I found out in my first game. I’m sure classes such as the crossbowman and archer are very rewarding to players willing to put in the effort to learning their nuances such as shot leading and where to position yourself on the map, but those nuances seemed too distant to justify the effort.

One of the things I had to rely on, then, was a very accurate melee combat system which War of the Roses has provided to a large extent. While controls and animations are tight the hit registration, while often decent, is sometimes wayward. On a few occasions I found that my attack had been blocked by an invisible barrier or a stray link of chainmail on a teammate’s armour. It’s a shame those errors stood out to me because melee combat did otherwise feel smooth and rhythmic rather than simply a race to see who could spam Mouse1 as often as possible.

War of the Roses - Being executed

At this point I must admit to the presence of at least one elephant in this room. War of the Roses is currently available for £25 on Steam and it’s absolutely not worth dropping that much money for. You can buy Mount and Blade plus all its expansions for a little more than that, and thanks to being around for four years it will be more refined and have far more depth to it, whether you want to play with friends or want to set up a singleplayer skirmish, something that War of the Roses doesn’t offer at the moment.

The release of War of the Roses also coincides with the release of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare which looks like it’s more fun, the maps look more dynamic compared to WotR’s relatively bland arenas and it seems to have even smoother combat. Perhaps most importantly, it’s also cheaper.

With that in mind, I’m struggling to come up with reasons as to why you should buy War of the Roses while there are better alternatives available at roughly the same price or less. Its idea of creating a Mount and Blade-esque game has been executed well, but its been executed to the point where the games are too similar. If you’re a Mount and Blade player, stick with what you have. Getting into 40-man brawls and using shields as guillotines is fun in a chaotic sort of way, but there’s also a novelty value attached to it. A novelty value that wears thin too quickly to justify the real cost.

Elliot Metson