I fondly remember the days when I used to play Dark Messiah of Might and Magic online. No, not the Xbox 360 version, the PC version of course! It was an amazing experience that I easily invested way over 100+ hours playing alone, never mind the extra time spent on the equally fantastic single player experience. What I loved about it was the melee combat system with daggers, staves, swords, and more. Mixed with magic and ranged weapons, it was a great medieval-style combat game.
Fast forward from the days where I was running an ATi X300 and an Intel Pentium 4, to today. There hasn’t been a noteworthy medieval-style melee multiplayer experience, that has managed to bring the same level of finesse and polish as Dark Messiah had back in its day. Sure you had games like Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (still great to play now even) that had a lot more going on in terms of technical combat and moves to perform, but that was 3 years prior. After Messiah’s release in 2006, I haven’t felt anything has come close to capturing that melee combat magic; kicks and all. Until today that is…
Mordhau steps in. For me, this game has come out of nowhere, and as a pleasant surprise at that. I’m sure others have been aware of it for some time, but for me this was something completely out of left field. Something I was entirely unaware of. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the game trending on streaming websites and social media. Very quickly I checked it out, and after watching a few hours of other people playing, I caved. Add this game to my startlingly increasing list of impulsively bought titles this year, which have turned out to be nice surprises.
I was honestly expecting the game to be somewhere along the lines of other similar titles recently such as Kingdom Come: Deliverance or Mount and Blade. The deeper I dug however, I found a more sophisticated system with a lot of intricacies and minutia that really affected how combat played out. In other words, deadly in the right hands. Unfortunately I’m not one of those people. I’m not the sort of person who can beat a game’s system like a dead horse, until I’ve extracted the meta from it. Even when I’m able to do so, it’s rarely in accordance with the way I want to play, so I usually ignore it and play in a way I find more enjoyable.
To summarise as quickly as possible, Mordhau is a war between two opposing forces on a battlefield, where 64 players fight with swords, bows, and other medieval weaponry. Think of it as a Battlefield series game with swords, and you’ve summed it up quite nicely. Whilst there aren’t vehicles, you do have small mobile catapults to manoeuvre around the battlefield, and stationary ballista-style turrets to man. You can also ride horses, which is something I’ll get back to later for not so great reasons…
As far as weapons go, the question to ask isn’t what weapons the game has, but rather what is the game missing? The answer is ‘not a lot’. I’m hard-pressed to think of any major weapons or weapon types that the game lacks, but I’m sure more devout/knowledgeable people on the subject will already be on the forums asking for such absences to be added later. As a regular gamer only interested in the fantastical elements of the time period, I’d say I’m well catered for. Equipment goes into interesting areas too, where you can choose things such as fire grenades and even as outlandish as a lute!
As of writing, a lot of players are opting for the lute for comedic value, and players’ responses have been to team-kill that person into submission, until they choose another character essentially. The same treatment is given to those that choose to man catapults or ballista turrets. Since there is friendly fire in the game (for realism of course!), killing team members is possible. At the very least, you’re able to hit a teammate so that they automatically exit a catapult or ballista turret, which is incredibly annoying when you’re taking that role seriously should you favour its playstyle. My feeling is that players are not happy with people taking on roles which are slower and have less effect on the battle, and ‘encourage’ those players to abandon those roles and get stuck into the fight directly. A shame, and I hope a future update will stop ejecting you from siege weapons if a team member hits you. Being ejected on enemy hits is understandable, but is currently exploited by your team and trolls. They do so only to get you to play the way they’d prefer you to, out of selfishness to don the role themselves, or simply to annoy.
My last complaint before I move on would be the horses. They’re almost unstoppable in their current form, and have turned into the line-up power weapon of the game. Players will camp at stables waiting for the current horse to die, so they can be next in line to ride one. Simply put, you equip a lance, and it’s a 1-hit-kill on anyone that meets the wrong end of your stick. Currently the only viable ways (of which I know of) to deal with them, are to be lucky enough that they ride through a ballista turret’s viewpoint (which is very restricted and whose perspectives are poorly placed on the battlefield), or to be a very good archer. Even should you be a crackshot with the bow, it takes around 4-6 arrows to down them. It feels unfair, and the same person tends to dominate that role in a match, i.e the same player will camp that role for multiple games in a row on both teams. These are all gripes with the players however, and not so much to do with the game. However, it could address these minor problems in future with simple updates and tweaks.
Back to the positives, of which there are aplenty. The combat is by far the highlight of the game, and it shouldn’t have taken me so long in this review to get to it. I cannot possibly explain all of the intricacies of it all, but just know that there are playstyles which you can adopt, and there is not correct way to play. I’ve focused on stabbing with long range weapons such as spears and rapiers, and that has worked out great. I’ve engaged in parries and countering with broad longsword swipes to the skull. I’ve used equipment and daggers to gain a dexterous edge on my foes, with more answers to their defences than they have for mine. When I feel a little more casual and don’t want to think so hard, a bow is a nice casual way of impacting the battles without getting your hands dirty yourself (much to the controversy of the community’s attitude towards this role). My personal favourite however, has been a mix of rapier and bow.
I can’t explain the combat system in detail like I said, or we’d be here forever. However let me lay the groundwork for you. You can parry, which lets you follow up with an attack which will usually land first as the opponent has just been flinched. Getting hit by anything, will also flinch you and cancel any attacks you had wound-up or happening. You can cancel attacks (a fake-out) and morph it into a different attack which will cause the enemy to block at the wrong time, or simply block incorrectly. You can mirror your opponents attack just before it lands, to use your weapon to knock their attack back and strike back with an identical one. You can change your stance/grip of the weapon you have, which will bring about new attacks and elements to your fighting style. All of these things can be done in tandem in a seamless string of combos without pause (so long as you have stamina). That’s without considering small things such as positioning and attack angling, where you can swing into or out of attacks to make them hit earlier or later throwing off your enemies’ timings.
It’s such an intricate system, and I really do love the way it works, despite being terrible at it myself. It’s complicated enough that people who want that level of control have access to it, but people like me can still swing a sword around, and sheer number of players means that I still have a chance to fight someone who hasn’t mastered the game. There’s variety in roles and equipment, and even armour where you can customise not only the aesthetic of your character, but also their protection. Colours can all be changed, level of armour protection, and other such apparel. Armour makes a big difference, but you’ll find yourself running out of points of which to allocate to equipping better weapons or more of them. You have a choice between investing all of your points into power, defence, utility, or a small mixture of all 3. You can’t have it all however.
The gamemodes are simple enough. You can play online, or against A.I. The A.I is hit and miss, where I’ve had my army get stuck on a ledge, unable to join the battle and essentially soft-locking the game until I restart it. It needs updating for sure. Online you have 3 modes currently. The regular skirmish mode which lets you have a 32 vs 32 battle, Battle Royale, and Horde mode. Those last 2 are pretty much what you expect. There’s variations and of course things such as free-for-all deathmatch and team deathmatch, but those are the 3 basic types for matchmaking. There are already niche servers online hosted by players, with things such as formal dueling and other misc gamemodes cropping up, all with unspoken but well-understood rules. One server had us dueling 1 on 1, but didn’t allow you to interrupt other duels occurring around you, and other players must have fully beaten their enemy and registered your interest in starting another duel with them, before you could make your first attack. It reminds me of those Jedi Academy days as well as some other titles, where these small communities are beginning to setup honour system rules.
Map variety is fairly limited, but they more than make up for this in terms of map size and complexity. Castles have siege points that have already been opened-up, and ladders to climb. Walls have hallways to wander through and various pits to drop down into. Mountainous regions have multiple points of entry, and fields are open and wide enough to facilitate large scale battles. I think there was around 8-10 maps total, with a couple being repeats in a different size/arrangement? They’re interesting enough to keep you playing, but I do hope more are added in future, or at least workshop support is strong (the game uses Unreal Engine 4, so may very well allow players to make their own maps). If players could add custom weapons and items to the game later on, I can see a lot of people making Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones mods. Exciting to think about, and would definitely boost the game’s popularity beyond what it already impressively is.
So I highly recommend the game for both casual and experienced players yet again, as I have done with many titles recently. The systems are in place for some really complex and precise combat mechanics, but sheer number of soldiers and tools available to you, mean that you’ll always be able to engage in the battle on some level. Simply learning how to parry (the timing of which is fairly forgiving) will automatically give you an advantage on the field. Take the time to learn to fake-out occasionally and morph attacks afterwards, and you’ll be able to nab yourself a few kills quite regularly. Failing that, chuck a fire bomb into a group fight, and watch everyone burn; enemies and allies alike.
Images Taken From: https://mordhau.com/