You know what’s a great feeling? Picking up a random video game that you’ve never heard of and proceeding to have an absolute blast with it. That is the one-sentence story of my experience with Steelrising, a 2022 action RPG that takes a lot of cues from From Software’s Dark Souls family of games. But there’s so much more that needs to be said about this game!

Right from the get-go, Steelrising establishes a very unique tone, being set in Paris during the French Revolution. Yeah, not a lot of video games have used that particular period of history as a backdrop. But it’s not all aristocrats and baguettes. Steelrising adds a little zazz (and video gamey-ness) to this setting by adding robots. So many robots. The clockwork contraptions make up all the enemies in the game, as well as your main character, Aegis.

Aegis is a lady-like robot that has the unusual ability to think and act of her own volition, unlike the mindless automats that have overrun Paris under the command of King Louis XVI. You’re given a handful of options to customize Aegis’s look (7 each of “skin” colours, hairstyles, and faces) and then get to pick from four starting classes. Which class you pick isn’t really important, it just defines your starting weapon and stat distribution. I picked the “bodyguard” class, which is built for defense and begins the game with a slow-ass hammer weapon.

Now, “slow-ass hammer” is exactly the opposite of the kind of weapon I’d play a Souls game with. I’ve always found that faster is better, but it felt right to play against type here, and I’m glad that I did! While the hammer took some time to really get a feel for, I stuck with it the entire game and never looked back. For the sake of variety and experimentation, I did play around with a few of the other weapon types (claws and chains, mostly), but always gravitated back to my hammer. I didn’t even switch out to either of the alternate hammers I found, because I was so happy with the original one. Which, I should mention, is made up of three metal(?) scrolls on a big stick, and Aegis can inexplicably unfurl said scrolls to use them as a shield. Steelrising is weird like that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Once you get into the game proper, you’re given a short tutorial level that gives you ample time to learn the flow of combat. There is maybe one actual challenging enemy lurking about (who is easily avoidable), two bosses to fight along the way, and plenty of little hidden secrets all over the place. Dedicated explorers will even see areas that are blocked off for the moment, suggesting that you’ll eventually return with new abilities that will let you explore even more of the map.

Oh, and that’s an important point to touch one: Steelrising also has a bit of Metroidvania DNA in it. The game’s world is split up into seven discrete levels, and as you play through them you’ll unlock new traversal abilities that allow you to access new places. Although you are rewarded with all of them fairly early on, so backtracking isn’t quite as big a factor as it could be. But it’s still fun to be able to go back to levels you’ve cleared and explore places you didn’t see the first time around (and some of them are significant). Adding to that is that fact that each of the three traversal abilities has a unique use in combat, which is kind of incredible.

Before I started up Steelrising, I did a little bit of Googling to see what the internet thinks about it. You know, to get an idea whether it would actually be worth my time. Opinions were mixed, and it seems like that largely comes down to the combat system. The first few opinions I read suggested that it’s basic and lacks depth and variety. And it does seem that way at first! But once you’re fully kitted out with all Aegis’ abilities, have a few different weapons to play around with, and have decided what kind of build you want to go for, it seems to me like there’s a pretty good variety available here.

Aegis has access to eight (I think) different types of weapon, each with its own weight, move set, and attributes. As noted above, I played mostly with a hammer that focused on the impact stat, which is great at knocking enemies over and interrupting their attacks. When I messed around with the lighter, faster claws, they turned out to be great at building up immobilization, which stops an enemy in its tracks for a few seconds and opens them up to a critical hit. The chain weapon I played with didn’t really excel at impact or immobilization, but its special move sets it on fire, which builds up the burning status on enemies. I’ll give you three guesses as to what “burning” does, and here are two hints: the “frozen” status effect locks the enemy in place momentarily (like immobilization but without the crit), and “fulmination” status causes the target to take additional damage.

However! Combat is where Steelrising’s first major issue comes up: the dodge. Like most games of this type, Aegis can do a little dash move in combat to quickly evade an enemy’s attack. It also gives some invincibility frames, and much like Dark Souls, using those i-frames to dodge toward an attack is often (but not always!) the best way to get in close for a counterattack. All that said, something is very wonky with the dodge. I found that very, very often, Aegis would randomly turn around and end up dodging the wrong way, usually resulting in her eating a massive hit. I died because of this a lot in my first few hours with the game, to the point where I was almost ready to throw in the towel because of it. I must have subconsciously altered my play style to account for this, as after some time it was no longer an issue. But it is still and issue, and a huge one at that! In fact, I’d say that it’s the second-biggest problem with the game as a whole.

The actual biggest problem with Steelrising is that it is probably the least stable game I’ve played since… I don’t know, Subnautica? During my first playthrough, which took roughly 30 hours, the game must have crashed at least a dozen times. At least. Now, modern video games crash. Outside of Super Mario Bros Wonder, I think that just about every game I’ve played for more than five hours in the last few years has crashed at least once. I pretty much expect every game to crash at least once at this point. But a dozen times? That’s nearly unforgivable, and I wouldn’t blame someone if they were to quit the game because it crashes too often. The weird thing here is that in my experience, those crashes are closely linked to mashing the dash to get around instead of just running like a sane person. Now I don’t know if it actually has anything to do with it, but I’d wager that dashing too much does cause some problems under the hood; it just happened too many times for it to be a coincidence.

I’ve also heard that Steelrising is rife with weird bugs. Like missable side-quests and items, characters that don’t always appear where they’re supposed to, and treasure boxes that simply cannot be unlocked. Most of them aren’t game-breaking and you’d probably never even notice if you’re not going for a 100% clear, and going by what I’ve read, some of the more egregious ones may or may not have been patched out (I didn’t do any thorough testing of my own). There is at least one helpful bug that remains, however, that lets you use a consumable item that gives you experience points (known as anima), quit out to the main menu, and reload your save with both the item and anima intact. It’s a nice bug! Made for quick and easy XP farming on the rare occasion that I felt it was necessary.

I say that XP farming was rare because quite contrary to its categorization as a Souls-like, Steelrising isn’t a particularly difficult game. It’s tough, don’t get me wrong! But quite honestly, if it weren’t for the wonky dodge, I don’t think it would have ever actually brought me to the point of feeling frustrated. Yes, the first few bosses were challenging, but I think that can mostly be chalked up to me still getting a feel for the game. In the second half of the game, I beat most of the bosses on my first try. I even beat the penultimate boss without taking any damage. There are a couple of really annoying regular enemies (the acolytes are heckin’ awful), but really, it’s not all that bad. For me, it was just a matter of levelling up my impact and loot drop stats, which respectively allowed me to knock enemies over more often and collect more healing consumables than I could ever possibly need. It also helped that enemies will sometimes take huge breaks in between attacks, almost as if they’ve forgotten that they’re in combat, which is something that you just don’t see in actual FromSoft games.

Another thing that -to my knowledge- is a unique feature to Steelrising is the “rapid cooling” system. When Aegis’ stamina runs out, you’ll see her overheat a bit, and then you get a short window to mash a button to instantly refill a portion of her stamina. How much is restored depends on your timing, meaning you can pretty much instantly get a full stamina refill if you’re good. It didn’t take terribly long for me to develop a Pavlovian response to the overheating sound, and I became pretty proficient at gaining at least 75% of my stamina back most of the time. Since this could easily become a game-breaking mechanic if left unchecked, there are a couple downsides. Firstly, if you press the button too soon, you’re penalized and Aegis will be unable to attack or dodge for a few seconds. Secondly, every time you use rapid cooling, Aegis’ freeze buildup will skyrocket, which generally means that using it too often will get you completely frozen. So it is somewhat balanced, but I think that the feature is still a big part of why Steelrising is easier than your typical Souls-like.

At this point, I don’t think it’s too hard to see that I had a great time playing Steelrising, despite its rather nasty flaws. To further illustrate this point: near the end of my first playthrough of the game, I made a backup save so that I could reload it after getting the first ending to make getting the second ending much quicker. But I was having such a good time that I opted instead to replay the entire game in New Game+ mode. And then when I was done and had earned my platinum trophy, I hopped back onto the Playstation store and purchased the DLC expansion. Both because I wanted more game to play, and because I wanted to support the developer.

To speak to the DLC a little before I go, it’s… okay. You get a big, new level to explore, a few new weapons to play around with, either 1 or 3 new enemy types to fight, and a new boss. I waffled there a bit because there are technically three new enemies, but they’re effectively the same model with different elemental attributes – just barely more than palette-swaps. The new boss is really cool, though. And difficult! It took me many tries before I was able to best it! There’s obviously a little bit of new story content to drive you through the DLC as well, but honestly I kind of checked out there because it was delivered mostly through long, rambling notes. For what you get, I think that Steelrising’s DLC is a little too expensive at $22 Canadian Dollars. I just don’t see it as substantial enough to be worth a quarter of the base game’s full price. It’s probably more like a $15 kind of package, but again, I didn’t mind paying the premium price since I got the game for free.

So that concludes my review of the PS5 version of Steelrising. It’s a perfectly fun AA title that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but suffers from an unfortunate number of bugs and crashes much too frequently. In this state, it would be hard to recommend without caveats. Despite said caveats, I had a good time and I have no regrets about spending as much time playing it as I did, which was probably 45-50 hours when all was said and done. Will I ever play it again? Not likely. Would I play a sequel? Absolutely! At least… once the first big patch of bugfixes drops.

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