War is a profoundly unpleasant thing. At its core it consists of groups of people working together in an organised effort to overcome one another, and the best way to do this is by killing. The weapons they use, whether new or old and no matter how elegant we claim they might be, are designed to disrupt the human body so violently, so dramatically, that it can no longer function, whether this is by trauma, displacement, dismemberment or any other method.
It's such a blunt, naked portrayal of war that influences War of the Roses, which aims to be accurate in not only its modelling of medieval weapons, but also the brutality of those who employed them. The most striking aspect of this multiplayer combat game is also one of its most common sights: that of injured or incapacitated warriors being finished off in a merciless and gruesome fashion.
But these soldiers aren't simply characters in the game, they are players like you and I, and should you find yourself sprawled helpless on the ground, desperate for a teammate to come to your rescue, you may well have to watch as your opponent drives their weapon into your chest, neck or eye. It's best not to think that real Englishmen were doing such things to one other during the country's most vicious civil war.
The game's senior producer, Gordon van Dyke, has drawn upon his previous experience working on the Battlefield series to help put together this multiplayer medieval melee, in which up to 64 players can fight face to face, wielding weapons of the late middle ages.
"We hope it appeals to gamers bored of 'clone' multiplayer games that are released year after year, without really taking them somewhere new and challenging them," he says. "Unlike shooters, which dominate the market and keep you at a distance from your opponent, we bring you up close and intimate with your adversary in a way that hasn't been done on this scale."
And it's in this more intimate combat that the game hopes to demonstrate its historical accuracy, carefully modelling the behaviour of both weapons and armour, even down to small details. "Take for example the angles of plate in a knight's armour," says Gordon. "When he's shot by an arrow indirectly it will have trouble penetrating the plate and could glance off completely.
"This level of detail also extends to melee weapons. The best example is the pollaxe, in which the player will need to be as skilled with it as a real knight might need to be, meaning they'll need to land blows with the head of the weapon rather than the shaft, or it will do minimal damage and bounce off of its target."
This takes a certain knack, too. While aiming a crossbow might feel familiar to any shooter veteran, the melee weapons are controlled by a simple twitch of the mouse determining the direction of a blow. While Gordon says the development team have been influenced by the melee in games like Jedi Knight and Rune, there's even a hint of the combat of Demon's Souls here. It's very much your weapon type, along with the timing and the placement of your blows, that matters, and swinging wildly is only going to get you killed.
Gordon promises "a really cool customisation system" that allows players to cherry-pick their weapons and armour, as well as a single player campaign that'll likely provide some good training since mastering combat requires both skill and patience. War of the Roses is due for release at the end of summer, and it may well present an interesting alternative to the shooters dominating the battlefields of the internet.
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