I was recently lucky enough to get some time in with the medieval, third-person, arena combat game War of the Roses, which is incidentally one of my more anticipated games of 2012. My first impression when some gameplay footage showed up a few months ago was that it reminded me of Mount & Blade’s combat component, but with far prettier graphics, and a focus on multiplayer combat, so being a Mount & Blade fan, I was pretty excited when I landed a beta invite.

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If I were to sum up my experience in a sentence, I would say that War of the Roses is a frustratingly challenging game to get to grips with, but on the flip side, it offers an extremely rewarding experience when you do finally get a feel for how things work. In that way, it reminds me of what PC gaming was like when I was much younger, and it’s something I wish we saw more of in current game design.

In the beginning, you will do a lot of swinging and missing, and even more dying. I’ll admit that I did not have a good time with War of the Roses early on. I found the controls clunky, and combat generally quite stifling. But, having said that, I never once shook the compulsion to keep playing. I could tell other players were having a great time, having got the hang of it, and I wanted to be one of them.

You will start out with a lowly footman: the first available class. These early rounds with this basic melee soldier class are the most frustrating, and as mentioned previously, I did a lot of swinging and missing. It took me a while to get a feel for effectively timing attacks: a skill which essentially lies at the core of War of the Roses‘ combat system. It’s all about rhythm and momentum, and once you begin getting a feel for this, things start looking up. But expect to flounder like a fish out of water for the first hour or so in War of the Roses.

At some point I unlocked the crossbowman class. With a collective kill-to-death ratio of about 1:35, I was more than happy to try something different, especially if it meant I could pull back from the front lines and possibly do less dying.

And I was right – you do die less with the crossbowman. However, that’s not to say it’s much easier to use him effectively. Using this powerful ranged weapon requires precision and patience, and reloading is painfully slow, which means that you need to make your shots count. It’s hard enough to actually hit your targets, and then when you do, you’re often rewarded with a frustrating “tink” sound accompanied by a blue number, which indicates that you struck armor. If a yellow number pops up, you know you struck flesh, and you may allow yourself a brief but short-lived sense of satisfaction.

The longbowman on the other hand, does not carry a painfully protracted reloading time, but his bow is also not nearly as accurate as the crossbow. Then there is the footknight: the final class preset. The footknight comes standard with heavier armour than the other classes, but at the expense of a shield. His longsword is a potentially deadly weapon, but the footknight’s blood will often be spilled at the hands of a custom class soldier wielding a polearm, due to the weapon’s devastating reach.

All in all, I was pretty impressed with War of the Roses. The gameplay is challenging to the point of being annoying, but at the same time it can be really rewarding and enjoyable.

War of the Roses drops on October 2nd, and is available for pre-order on Steam right now for $30. Pre-ordering grants you access to the closed beta which is currently underway, and if you own a Mount & Blade game on Steam, you will automatically get 20% off.