An armored knight sits atop his horse, eyes locked to mine, lance held steady and pointing toward my chest. He charges, and the thunderous clap of hooves fills the field of battle. I could make for the fence. I could flee. A man in heavy armor is a tough enough foe on foot, but on horseback he has an even greater advantage. This day is going too well for the Lancastrians, however; and so I plant my feet in the mud, unsheathe my two-handed sword, and wait. The distance is closed. He misses. I swing my blade. And with a terrible cry, his horse crashes to the ground, its rider displaced and now easier prey.
Moments like these define War of the Roses, a new third-person combat game from the creators of Mount and Blade. Designed for multiplayer battles in mind, War of the Roses could be described—though somewhat inaccurately—as Call of Duty with swords. That said, the game more or less does its own thing beyond offering a competitive multiplayer experience. The game’s battles are structured around pitched melees, in which two or more players attempt to make short work of each other with a huge plethora of realistic medieval weaponry and equipment.
But like Call of Duty, War of the Roses features a large amount of player customization along similar paths. It’s in these menus that I spent a ludicrous amount of time—though not as much as in the game proper. Each match and nearly every action earns players levels and points they can spend on equipment and perks, of which there are plenty. Weapons have different fighting styles, steels, shafts, and other materials to unlock that offer different properties and allow you to shape your playstyle accordingly.
The customization does not end there. In addition to your equipment, there are various perk slots—not unlike Call of Duty—which focus a player's proficiencies in different ways. There are four slots to choose from: Offensive, Defensive, Supporting, Movement and Officer, each with two out of several that can be active at a time. This caused me to keep playing just "one more match" to purchase a different blade for my Scottish sword, to equip the riposte perk for melee combat, or to try the crescent bolts for my crossbow.
War of the Roses has a much greater emphasis on realism compared to other competitive online games. A longbowmen who jumps off a roof, spins about and lets his arrow fly will have little success. Positioning and timing matters. The direction and power of an attack matter. I had to be very aware when, where, and how hard I swung my sword. If I misread my enemy and swung too soon or late, the battle could end with me bleeding or worse.
It's a very robust combat system, and as a result it's not an easy one to master. The game has a deep learning curve, but once I grasped its fundamentals, I was overtaken by a sense of excitement and eagerness which I haven't experienced in some time from other competitive multiplayer game. Every encounter was enormously exciting, whether it was a simple one-on-one duel between foes or a massive melee in the middle of a town square. I would exclaim in joy as I defeated an enemy by letting down my guard, allowing him to see the opening and prepare an attack, but to then lunge my spear into his chest thanks to my weapon's longer reach. "Just one more match" turned into ten.
Another noteworthy feature of battle are the executions. When the player or an enemy is downed, they're not immediately dead – unless a sufficient blow or arrow is taken to the head, of course. For several moments they lay writhing on the ground. If a teammate reaches them, they can be revived, but the outcome is less than ideal if an enemy reaches them first. The poor soldiers will see, in the first-person perspective, the blade plunged into their body or neck before darkness takes them. These executions inspired me to wear the most obnoxious helmet crests I could find, as I wanted my enemies to know by sight the man who killed them.
Visually, the game isn't quite as detailed as its combat, but it does its job well enough. Characters and their equipment are the engine's highlight, as they look impressive and believable, though they suffer from a few stiff animations far too much blood loss when an attack connects. Players can also set their characters apart with customizable emblems to adorn their armors and shields and crests to sit atop their helmets.
I have few complaints to make simply because I haven't found much to complain about. War of the Roses is just plain fun. Its combat is visceral and exciting, and even when I was doing poorly and cursing at my monitor, I couldn't stop playing. There have been the usual amount of beta bugs, which hopefully will be ironed out by release, but the package is solid and one definitely worth checking out.
The wait until the game’s October release is going to be a long one.