In 2012, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare released and has since had rave reviews and a steady following. Mordhau, from developers Triternion feels like a fantastic spiritual successor that is complex, reasonably priced, and does not muck around with any kind of loot box or microtransaction garbage that plagues similar releases in the market today.
Breaking You In By Breaking You
Mordhau provides players with a basic tutorial that is straight forward and teaches some of the important, more nuanced forms of combat. It makes you believe that this will be a simple hack-and-slash fight, and by the end you are ready to go out and carve through medieval enemies as though you were playing Skyrim.
This is a feint, executed perfectly by the developers before you then venture forth into your first online match only to be crushed into a pulpy mass of broken bones and shattered dreams. There is no hand holding, and you learn quickly that you are vulnerable and need to quickly pick up how to properly handle yourself against a skilled opponent, which is a big plus for the game.
Three Ways To Fight, So Far
When you queue for an online match, three game modes are presented to you: Frontline, Battle Royal, and Horde. A unique and healthy decision by the developers is apparent in the total lack of a mini map and kill cam after dying, meaning that no matter what mode you choose to play, there is a constant need for situational awareness. Otherwise you may be killed and genuinely have no idea what just happened, as there is no kill cam afterwards to reveal how exactly you went down.
Horde mode involves joining a team of other online players against waves of AI controlled bots that become progressively larger in number and better equipped as time goes on. Dying means you are out until the start of the next wave, and points gained can be spent on armor or weapons at the spawn point.
Battle Royal is exactly what players have come to expect from other games like Fortnite, PUBG, Apex Legends, and so on. You begin unarmed and scramble to find weapons in chests, praying to the gods of RNG for something useful, and slowly pick up the armor and weapons of your fallen enemies to become stronger. One upside is that matches are far shorter in duration that in other games, as everyone begins in a smaller space, and running out of bounds results in an instant death, making each round feel fast-paced and constant.
Frontline is perhaps the most enjoyable mode in the game for a number of reasons. The layout is usually objective-based where two teams of up to 32 players each rush head-on towards each other, fighting for control of key points, working to gain ground and push the other team back to their base and ultimately, to defeat. It feels huge and focused all at once, like a battle scene from a movie.
Unfortunately, like so many other PvP modes in online games, the objectives are often are ignored by players who are too focused on their of K/D ratio. Memories of Arathi Basin from World of Warcraft came to mind when watching teammates fight all around an important objective, but not actually go close enough to activate or take control.
With that in mind, we get into one of the best features of the game: character customization.
Choose Your Fighter
Mordhau shines when it comes to its diversity in characters. When you first take a glimpse at the in-game Armory tab, there a number of default builds available. In this way, Mordhau does a great job of giving players a taste of everything that is available to them. Want to swing massive two-handed weapons as if you were Conan the Barbarian? There are three default characters of varying speeds and armor type ready to go. Want instead to use a shield? There's that too.
There is no real "starting" class that is any easier to play than others, because they each have advantages and disadvantages that a skilled player will exploit to take you down, so it feels subjective. A quick search online will reveal a number of guides. Some say to first pick Raider, or Brigand, because they carry large weapons that do great damage. Another guide describes how to make use of weapons with longer-poke that others, while other people will say to play Protector because of the large shield that makes it easy to stop incoming attacks. This is true, until even the most simple-minded of players throws a kick, leaving you stunned and exposed for a quick death.
Instead, it really does pay to try out everything. Pick a class at random if you like and stick with it for an entire match. Learn how they move and what lies in their tool kit, die often to get a feel for them, and you'll become a better player in no time. This is useful as well because with each match, win or lose, you will gain experience and also gold. Both are necessary to unlock later variants of weapons, such as the crossbow which requires a player to be at least level 4 and pay a one time fee of 500 gold to unlock.
At any point you are also able to create your own character in the Armory, and you are free to pour your allotted points into perks that let you specialize, as well as pick up any armor and weapons you like within that initial point limit. After becoming familiar with the defaults, this is a great place to begin building your very own destroyer of worlds. The video below discusses some of the finer points of character building.
A Word About Archery
It feels slow, awkward, and at the same time well balanced. That might seem counter intuitive, but the slow draw and need to be precise help maintain the main action within close quarters. No one wants to see Legolas flying through the air picking off everyone else in melee range. Playing an archer feels fun, but in these unorganized public matches, too many archers can feel like a similar problem from Team Fortress 2, or Overwatch. One player who is a great sniper might be a wonderful help to the team, but if too many people all think they are the best, when in fact they are mediocre, you will suddenly have a team of archers all being mowed down by an opposing team led by a single Protector.
In addition, the few perks for archers are mainly there to help kill other archers, which is interesting because you are then attempting to curb the support of the other team, and they are trying to do the same to you. It feels apparent that ranged combat is never meant to feel like the primary focus in this game, and that is not a bad thing. If one wants ranged combat, they need simply go play literally any of the other Battle Royal games currently available.
Engineers are fantastically fun to play with. They build and repair defensive structures on the map, can pop up stand-alone defenses, and carry the greatest flavor item in the game, which is the musical lute. This can be immensely helpful in terms of support on Frontline maps, in the same way that Scoundrels too can assist with their unique tools that force choke points to become literal deathtraps of fire for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught inside.
Overall, Mordhau looks primed to continue being a popular game in the future. The diversity of its character specialization and fast-paced combat will always leave players wanting more and able to provide that itch to fight. If the developers can avoid any more server issues like what was experienced at launch, and if only there were some slight improvements to the occasional server disconnects that seem to occur from time to time, this game is likely going to have a bright future.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
A review code of Mordhau was provided to TheGamer for review and coverage. It's available now for PC.