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Steelrising Xbox review: Can this steampunk soulslike live up to the real thing?

Fight to free 18th-century France from the wrath of the Clockwork Tyrant in this soulslike.

Steelrising in-game screenshot (embargo until Sept. 7, 2022)
(Image: © Windows Central)

Our Verdict

Despite its flaws, Steelrising will reward those who give it the time. It's fun to explore, with a rewarding combat system and quality-of-life features that'd be welcomed in more soulslikes. While its easier difficulty and rough presentation may drive away some Dark Souls veterans, there's plenty on offer when overlooking its faults.

For

  • + A satisfying combat system with diverse weapons and character builds to play around with
  • + Engaging Metroidvania-esque exploration and backtracking
  • + Welcome quality-of-life features
  • + Surprisingly interesting sidequests that open new areas and detail lore of the world

Against

  • − Graphical and audio glitches and low-budget facial animations break immersion
  • − The difficulty curve lost its luster after the halfway point
  • − The controls can feel clunky at times during combat

We first got hands-on with Steelrising back in June, providing a look into this new soulslike action-RPG from Nacon's Spiders, the developer best known for recent work on GreedFall and The Technomancer. The pitch offered an intriguing twist on the steampunk setting, coupled with a rich combat system brimming with potential. With Steelrising now ready for its console and PC debut, our review explores what the final Xbox Series X|S version of the title has to offer.

As my first foray into the soulslike genre beyond FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series and Elden Ring, I was excited about what the rest of Steelrising had in store. With the full game now here, I can say that it has its fair share of blemishes but remains a satisfying experience for action-RPG fans.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible thanks to a review code provided by Nacon. The publisher did not see the contents of this review before being published.

What I liked about Steelrising

What is Steelrising?

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Steelrising tells the story of an alternative version of the 1789 French Revolution where King Louis XVI crushed the rebellion and oppressed the country with an army of soulless automatons called Automats. Realizing that her husband has gone mad with power, Queen Marie Antoinette decides to send her Automat bodyguard, Aegis, to stop the mad tyrant.

Aegis was an Automat designed initially to be a dancer but was remade into a combat-ready soldier to protect the Queen. Unlike the rest of her kind, Aegis is capable of displaying human emotions, so she can empathize with people, albeit in a limited capacity. Your mission as Aegis is to locate Marie’s missing children, find the Automats’ creator, Eugène de Vaucanson, for a means to shut down the machine army, and bring King Louis XVI to justice.

CategorySteelrising
DeveloperSpiders
PublisherNacon
GenreAction-RPG, soulslike
Install size26.4GB
PlayersSingle-player
Playtime24+ hours
Release dateSept. 8, 2022
PlatformsXbox, PlayStation, PC
Retail price$50
Reviewed onXbox Series X

Exploring the war-torn streets of Paris

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Aegis’ mission will take the player on a dangerous trek through 18th-century France, where the antagonistic Automats have ravaged villages and the capital city of Paris. Exploration can be linear in the beginning, but once you get into the city proper after leaving the starting area, the game opens up with giant sprawling city streets filled with secrets, lore journals, weapons, and armor to discover.

The exploration aspect of Steelrising is reminiscent of the best elements of the Metroidvania genre.

At specific points in the game, you will obtain tools that can help you traverse areas you weren't able at first and make backtracking a breeze. These include a grappling hook to reach high ledges, an air dash to reach faraway platforms, and the ability to kick down walls and gates. This aspect evokes memories of exploration in past Metroidvania hits, including titles like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Players will encounter members of the French Revolution fighting against the Automats, each offering interesting and surprisingly in-depth sidequests. Without getting into spoiler territory, these reveal new locations on the map and reward Aegis with currency to upgrade her stats and further backstory.

Gracefully dismantle the killer Automats

(Image credit: Windows Central)

If you're going to help the revolution liberate Paris, you'll need to take out the enemy Automats. The combat system is like most soulslikes — carefully reading the enemy's attacks to learn when to dodge and counterattack while managing your stamina bar so you don't tire yourself out.

The variety of techniques Aegis has at her disposal is where Steelrising differs. For example, if Aegis runs out of stamina, she can force her body's cooling system to restore it at the risk of freezing herself. This adds an engaging risk versus reward element to combat, adding further depth beyond many titles in the genre. Aegis can also damage and induce status effects like burning, freezing, or taking extra damage from being shocked, using tools from her arsenal.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

In addition to light, heavy, and charge attacks, the weapons you collect also feature unique traits that add spice to battles. Some weapons have built-in shields that block or parry attacks, while others have special moves that require alchemical bullets to perform super damaging, flashy attacks.

Once you have begun focusing on your favorite weapon and playstyle, that's when this game's combat system starts to shine.

There are multiple playstyles and builds you can tailor Aegis' fighting prowess towards by leveling up stats and equipping special perks. You can dance around foes and puncture them with electric claw-gauntlets, freeze and burn them away with alchemy-based firearms, brandish hammers to send them flying with charge attacks, and much more. After focusing on your favorite weapon and playstyle, the game's combat system starts to shine and proves extremely satisfying for those invested.

Steelrising also has a handy feature, dubbed Assist Mode, which can make combat less taxing on newcomers to the soulslike genre. By pausing the game, you can use Assist Mode to adjust the difficulty to your comfort level, toggling options like how much health you lose upon being hit, or not losing currency upon death.

While I personally didn't use Assist Mode as a fan of Dark Souls and Elden Ring, I could still appreciate the option to pause the game. It's a quality-of-life feature that I wish even FromSoftware's flagship titles had, all notorious for lacking a simple pause feature. It's a welcome inclusion that saves you from unnecessary deaths, whether due to real-life interruptions, or simply giving you a break during a tense fight.

What I didn't like about Steelrising

(Image credit: Windows Central)

While I thoroughly enjoyed Steelrising, the final game does face some issues which may sour the experience for some. Many human NPCs you encounter have stiff, robotic facial animations while speaking, which, while not a dealbreaker, don't help the game's most dramatic scenes. It's a jarring contrast, where voice actors turn in grand, emotional performances, let down by characters barely expressing emotions.

For those hoping for a challenge throughout Steelrising, the difficulty curve also starts losing steam in the second half. While the Automats were a formidable foe when facing limited resources, that shifts the further you get into the game. After refining my Strength-based hammer build and stockpiling bombs that could stun-lock enemies and ammunition for special attacks, I was crushing foes left and right with minimal effort. Even late-game bosses, ideally the ultimate test of your skills, fell like dominoes in the later hours.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

This comes from the perspective of someone who spent the last couple of years conquering the Dark Souls trilogy and Elden Ring, games even where having the best gear or build don't guarantee victory. If you're a novice or prefer a slower pace, you will still find gratification in sending Automats to the scrap heap, thanks to Steelrising's expansive combat systems. However, if you're a soulslike veteran craving for nigh-impossible odds to overcome, it doesn't have the same long-term rewards.

I also encountered a noticeable share of odd visual and audio glitches over the course of the review period. Issues ranged from failed animations to missing dialogue, harming vital aspects of both its gameplay and narrative.

The controls can also be a little finicky during combat, including failed inputs when performing heavy charge attacks or locking onto multiple targets. However, these are all issues that could be fixed with subsequent patches shortly after launch.

Should you buy Steelrising?

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Overall, Steelrising can be a fulfilling steampunk adventure with engaging exploration and combat mechanics, exciting weapons to collect, and plenty of character-build variety to keep combat fresh. However, a lack of polish throughout some aspects of the day-one experience won't go unnoticed by players.

If you're a fan of action-RPGs, soulslikes, or games with a steampunk aesthetic, you will have a great time smashing killer clockwork robots. While hardcore gamers looking for the best soulslike games on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S may be disappointed in its lesser difficulty, it is still a fun RPG with unique ideas worth a trip to Paris if you're willing to give it a chance.

Steelrising will be released on Sept. 8, 2022, for Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC via the Epic Games Store, Steam, and Windows.

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Steelrising

Steelrising is a fun action-RPG featuring a deep combat system, a grand steampunk world to explore, and packed with quality-of-life options to entice newcomers to the soulslike genre.

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Alexander Cope is a writer for Windows Central and iMore that has been gaming since the 16-bit era.