Let's take a moment to imagine how a game like War of the Roses came to be, the pitch, somewhere deep within the lair of Paradox Interactive, going a little something like this: “So we want to make a medieval combat game. Real authentic-like and super realistic, you know, just like Dynasty Warriors. But we are going to want the team-play of Battlefield…or Star Wars: Battlefront. But we really gotta drive home the realism aspect, like the Total War series; it will be a huge hit.” And then someone at Paradox Interactive looked into the doe-eyed face of developer Fatshark (known for Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2) and said, "SOLD!'" And that greenlight, as it turns out, was a pretty smart move.
With War of the Roses, Fatshark has put together a quirky, off-beat medieval title, and yet somehow, pulled it off with enough familiarity that the average player could sit down with it and not feel completely lost – typically a problem with other Paradox Interactive games like Crusader Kings. What this does is create a pleasant, inviting experience without the frustration that comes with a steep learning curve. In fact, the learning curve of this game is much more manageable than most, as there is a well-written and thorough tutorial in the form of single-player missions. At first, it’s disappointing that the only single-player missions are these tutorials, while the core of gameplay comes in the form of multiplayer maps of mass combat. As your playtime racks up however, the multiplayer becomes more and more enthralling.
The gameplay is just as realistic as it purports: Firing longbows tires you out. Reloading crossbows takes an eternity. Hitting an opponent in the chest plate generally doesn't really do much. Bandaging up your allies makes you very, very vulnerable. Even moving to execute enemies takes a precious amount of time and, rarely, is safe unless there is some serious cover from your allies. Essentially, War of the Roses demands patience, strategy, and GASP!, actual thinking. While this may slow the gameplay down in comparison to say the Adderall-pace of modern shooters like Call of Duty, it makes the affair wholly more rewarding . If your front-line of footmen goes down, the archers generally get routed or slaughtered as well. If your ranged support is on their game, three footmen can ravage an entire squad of enemies.
The psychological effects of certain pieces on the board are also incredibly interesting to note. Plate armor, for instance, stops most long-bowmen’s arrows completely. But generally when a heavy plate juggernaut descends on your team, everyone focuses on him. Similarly, there’s a vulnerability to crossbowmen and archers. Whenever any footman gets them in melee, there seems to be a sadistic moment of glee, which tends to fade as archers rarely travel alone.
On more of a micro-management level, the one-on-one aspects of the game are both difficult and engaging. Every blow matters, and just hitting is no small feat. Hit-boxes for most opponents are the actual character model, rather than a wide, weird birth in other melee action games. And the complexity required to land hits (i.e. waiting for a power gauge to a sweet spot, aiming for the specific area, attacking from the correct angle) pays dividends when you do. Though there is a certain amount of rock/paper/scissors gameplay in different damage and armor types, the dynamic is full of plenty of lateral thinking. The physical size of a weapon itself can hinder armies (warning: do not bring halberds into castles), while little things like swing-speed make massive differences. Now if only the game had a bit more imagination to it…
Sadly, the biggest failing of War of the Roses is its lack of a dedicated story. The historical war itself brings plenty to the the table, and following a story from beginning to end would have contextualized the conflict and softened the learning curve for those stepping into the multiplayer. Still, as a multiplayer focused game, it’s hard to fault Fatshark for that. It’s regrettable, especially for those of us who enjoy getting lost in a historical narrative, but it is not a deal-breaker. Luckily the gameplay does such a bang-up job, especially War of the Roses' Conquest Mode as it was engaging and fun, if only for the nostalgia trip one gets for revisiting Battlefront II mechanics and play-style.
Those looking for a multiplayer experience that requires you to think outside the box may want to give War of the Roses a shot. Players who are well-versed, but tired of the noisy world of online gaming brought by the likes of just about any FPS may also want to pick-up Fatshark's latest title, you just might end up having a whole lot of fun.
Fun Factor: While the repetitiveness might seem crippling at first, the dynamics of gearing and leveling blossom nicely; War of the Roses rewards commitment with fun.
Difficulty: High. This isn’t a game for the casual, Call of Duty bunch. This is a game for gamers.
Length: Functionally infinite. Paradox Interactive is a big fan of game updates and keeping content fresh and, with the interesting dynamics of multiplayer, there’s always another goal to work towards.
On the Negative Side: The learning curve isn't exactly for everyone, such as those with short attention spans or the impatient. If you’re looking for something casual, look elsewhere. The game also could have used more of a narrative given the medieval context.
Bang for Your Buck: Depends on how well you click with the multiplayer component. If you jump in, get immersed and come back for more? Then yes, highly cost effective. But if you’re off-put by War of the Roses' quirkiness, it might rest on your steam shelf for quite some time. But for the price of 29.99, it is definitively worth taking a chance on.