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War of the Roses Preview

Developed by fatshark and published by Paradox Interactive

By Jim Zabek, 12 September, 2012

War of the Roses is getting a lot of attention as its release date draws near. Sir Jim Zabek dons his armor and charges into the beta code to discover what the town criers have been talking about.

First-person action games set during the middle ages aren’t exactly clogging gamers’ hard drives but that trend may be about to change. The company to first crack the mold was TaleWorlds with Mount & Blade. Mount & Blade was long in development, but when it finally hit the street it carved out a highly successful niche. Mods quickly sprang up and sequels followed. Clearly gamers had a hankering for some first-personal medieval swordplay.



Starting out as a footman players quickly unlock other classes. Note some of the customization features at the lower left.

Fatshark, a game developer perhaps best known for Lead and Gold, a third-person Old West shooter, has proven its ability to create successful, fun games. Now they have turned their attention to the middle ages and once again it looks like gamers are about to reap the benefits.



Cranking up my crossbow. It can take several seconds, but then is ready at a moment’s notice.

War of the Roses is a first-person action game of swordplay, mounted combat, and archery. There is an RPG element as players gain experience they unlock progressively more interesting classes. Starting as a mere footman they quickly can unlock the crossbowman and archer classes. Over 30 weapons are being built into the game and it appears as though even primitive black powder weapons will make it into the game. Players will have access to light, medium, and heavy armor, and as they play they unlock perks that can range from capturing victory locations more quickly to shield bashing.



CHARGE!!! Here a bunch of us are charging off to kick some butt. This game is so fun I really never cared which side I was on – I was happy to crack heads every time I got on a server.

Servers will host up to 64 players at a time, but I have found even with ten players to a side that battles can get pretty fluid and are a lot of fun. Dodging knights charging in on horseback while dueling with another foot soldier is really enjoyable. Sneaking around as an archer to try and get the drop on an unsuspecting player is also fun, but many has been the time when I had to be wary of being hunted myself.

Gameplay is fairly straight forward: melee weapons are used by left mouse clicking and moving the mouse. This gives weapons the feel of inertia and requires a bit of finesse. Just clicking the left mouse button isn’t enough – the angle and motion used to take a swipe are important in the outcome of an attack. Bows and crossbows are aimed with the right mouse button and released with the left. The aiming reticule is tiny and there is clearly a tradeoff between distance from combat and ability to easily hit a target. Getting too close to the action can force an archer to flee for safety, but being too far away can result in a lot of missed shots. One cool feature bowmen can take advantage of is the headshot (making the game a bit reminiscent of FPS games). Another is the ability to one-shot kill an enemy. Each of these features rewards the player with extra experience and gold, which can be used to upgrade basic classes.



An ally prepares to execute a fallen enemy and pick up some extra XP.

The maps are highly atmospheric and it took me no time to feel right at home in medieval England. Sounds are good – the hoofbeats of a galloping horse signal the approach of power – whether friendly or not, mounted knights command respect and can run down even a wary player who isn’t respectful of their approach.

There is a wound feature so that players can attempt to heal themselves and also assist other players. Conversely a nearby enemy can chose to finish off a severely wounded player and gain extra experience, but the unwary gamer can again become prey himself if he chooses to attempt to finish off another player while enemies are still nearby. The result is dynamic gameplay that is really fun. I have really enjoyed popping into a server for a couple of rounds just to take a break from the day. The gameplay makes it very easy to find an open server, get a quick fix and pop back out again.

Pre-orders are now being taken and a pre-purchase grants players instant access to the Beta so they don’t have to wait. As things look now in the beta it’s definitely worth the time to drop in on the War of the Roses.

Inevitably comparisons are going to be made between War of the Roses and Mount & Blade, fueled by the notion that one of the developers from Fatshark used to work for Telltale Games. The two are different games with different mechanics, but covering the same topic, medieval combat, inevitably there will be a kind of Call of Duty vs Battlefield discussion about the two. Because War of the Roses is still in beta comparisons at this stage are premature – inevitably some things are going to change as the developers work on getting their product finalized.



Heading into battle and looking forward to lopping a few heads.

Regardless of the fact that some things in War of the Roses are still in development I can safely say that it is great fun to play. Slamming another player upside the head with a polearm is a joy that should not be missed. War of the Roses is shaping up to be a great game and gamers who have been on the fence hoping for the best will not be disappointed.

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