It takes a lot of courage to quit SteelRising into a heart-like ring. It’s a popular arena that has grown steadily over the past few years as more and more people dive into the genre, known for its intense action, healthy challenge, and creepy, fantastical worlds. If the game can stand out, for example Splash 2 or None series, history has shown that the move was worth it. But for every success story, there are twice as many bombs that cannot be resisted obvious and inevitable comparisons to some of the best games released in the last decade. SteelRising, in my opinion, after a full playthrough and some changes, doesn’t quite make the mark.
Let’s start with what you probably already know. SteelRising is a third-person action game where you go on an adventure through several levels, encountering an environment full of tough enemies before facing a giant boss that poses a serious challenge. You have rechargeable healing items that regenerate at set rest points, as well as various consumables that help in battle. Killing enemies provides currency, which in turn can be used to upgrade your character and weapons. It’s Souls-like. Chances are, if you’re reading this review, you know exactly what Steel Rising is built on.
For what it’s worth, this foundation is pretty solid! Your movement as a French assassin doll in the heat of battle forces you to weave between attacks and make powerful combos with a mix of normal, heavy and special attacks. Apply enough pressure and you can break the enemy’s position, allowing you to land one devastating attack. There are no backstabs here, but instead they are replaced with a universal sneak attack that can be applied to any machine gun. If you’re craving Dark Souls-esque action, this kind of action really gets your brain firing those feel-good signals.
Now SteelRising has flaws here and there with this bread and butter. In two separate playthroughs, it became clear to me that many of the weapons seemed clumsy in combat. Hard and non-liquid. Perhaps this was done on purpose by the Spiders team, given that an unusual addition to the setting of revolutionary France are walking (in your case, talking) animatronics making their way around Paris. But the occasional slow and clunky attack chains on non-uber-massive weaponry cut me off from a few options. However, I found solace in the nimble weapons, which fit nimbly in your hands and sometimes use balletic movements, which was a nice surprise among a very unattractive selection.
On the topic of weapons, I have to mention elemental reactions. Because they also hide a big problem I had with the game. Through the use of weapon skills, you can deal fire, ice, or electricity damage, which, if enough, results in an explosive effect. You can set enemies on fire, dealing continuous burns. You can electrify them for extra damage! The problem comes with ice, as it allows you to freeze both enemies and bosses. Yes, that’s right: if the big bad boss you’re fighting isn’t an ice user, you can freeze him for a few seconds.
It kind of took the sails out of my first pass. Special moves that apply elemental effects use a limited resource called alchemy capsules, a natural way to limit how often the most powerful moves can be used. This isn’t a good thing in my opinion – it punishes me for using some of the coolest aspects of my build and encourages a more conservative approach when first making your way through an area. What if you need to earn your most powerful attacks later?
This way, you can easily save until you reach the boss, at which point you’ll have a stunning surplus of capsules, allowing you to stun most bosses in Steel Rising to death with an ice weapon. If you’re picking this game up, we’d recommend staying away from frozen weapons – they really take the fangs out of an otherwise difficult game.
What about the setting? To be honest, I loved looking at revolutionary Paris, its villages and palaces, docks and alleys. It’s a really immersive environment to navigate, and while you obviously don’t get the variety of scenery you see with high or dark fantasy titles, I never once felt like I was in an overly fictionalized version of Paris. It was like you could destroy the robots and you’d be left with a war-torn France.
It’s the perfect scene to set up some really absurd, extravagant, and – yes, creepy – enemies. That’s why it nearly broke my heart that SteelRising wasn’t pushy enough—not wild enough. The vast majority of enemies you’ll fight are bipedal robot soldiers with an attached sword, gun, or flaming axe. He is largely humanoid and brutish, and even the more elite enemies take a largely simple form. I’d trade the spinning stormtroopers and tall guards with spears and shields found in the later levels for something more exciting like fire or ice spewing stalker snakes, or something as wild as some of the bosses do.
The story of Steel Rising is an interesting slime that flows between different zones and connects a devastated Paris and a fantasy disaster in the style of steampunk. The story unfolds through SteelRising in three forms: the mystery behind the robots that destroyed the city, the rise of political power against King Louis XVI and his roots responsible for the devastation, and the discovery of a deal with your own character. While I obviously won’t spoil these themes, I will say that each has its own elegance and ability to captivate.
The secret behind your character and stopping a great evil was the weirdest of the bunch, with a big twist shown with the finesse of an airport marshal signaling a plane to land. The rebellion itself in France was portrayed among a gaggle of named aristocrats, generals, scholars, and more, which kept me less enthralled than the starving, desperate, doomed citizens locked up in their homes. I did dig the secret of the murderous mechanical men, but on reflection, I’m once again disappointed that the regular enemies weren’t more perverse – there’s a basis to justify it.
A special shout out goes to the approach to your character’s voice. At the beginning of the game, you – as a robot – talk to a robot. It’s clear to me! Although this had the unfortunate effect of making me not care too much for them, making me feel like I was controlling an art store mannequin with a gun and a chain. However, they gradually become more emotional, which culminates in a scene later in the game that managed to regain my interest.
There are a few wonderful caveats to SteelRising’s underwhelming overall experience. Your stamina stat is quickly refreshed thanks to the character’s cooldown system, allowing you to continue your offensive with a heavy dose of icy chills that can freeze you if used haphazardly. It’s a nice variation on the traditional fighting formula that encourages aggression. I also like the compass: an active tool that points you in the direction of main and side quests, but not particularly to items in the area, allowing me to venture across buildings without fear of getting lost. The game also has a side mode, which I’m sure will be greatly appreciated by those who come to games like this for the atmosphere and exciting stories, rather than getting DDTed by Fume Knight over and over again.
When you think about everything in SteelRising together as a whole package, it’s clear that the Spiders’ action RPG debut isn’t a mind-blowing experience that comes out of nowhere. It’s not a trendsetter, and it doesn’t push the boundaries of the Souls subgenre too much. Still, it’s fun in bursts of gameplay. There’s quality here: some great ideas and moments capable of eliciting an audible response from you, in between a lot of middling filler. I hope the Spiders team revisits the genre later, takes what’s good about SteelRising and gives it another go.
The game tickles the part of your brain that big-hitters like Elden Ring and Dark Souls do, even if it does so with less intensity. If you really want a more similar game, or are just looking for a fair-weather kick, pick this one up with moderate expectations.