Mordheim: City of the Damned Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Originally launched in November 2015 for PC, Mordheim: City of the Damned makes its way towards Playstation 4 and Xbox One a year later. Based on the tabletop game of Mordheim, it is a derivative of the popular Warhammer fantasy games and makes its transition to gaming in the form of a turn-based strategy game. For those familiar, the Warhammer tabletop versions are often thought complex, lengthy and impenetrable for newcomers. Sadly, Mordheim doesn’t do much to sway this impression.
Mordheim is a city within the Empire (a fantasy take on renaissance Germany). Your task is to command a Warband, a group of mercenaries who are there to loot the remnants of the city and battle with rival Warbands over who can get the most stuff. Your Warband is aligned to a faction and over the course of the game it will level up, carry forward both the spoils of war and any injuries along the way.
Why there are so many outcasts fighting for the city of Mordheim, this city of the Damned is unclear - much like everything else in the game, the plot is confusing. Keeping it simple, going round and killing things is pretty much the aim. At this point it should be made clear (although not surprising for anyone with any experience of the games in Games Workshop), Mordheim is immensely hardcore.
As you begin, the game explains that it is best that you try the tutorial. The tutorial is about twenty different episodes however and immediately confused by assuming you have an understanding of how the Games Workshop board version plays. In essence, it is similar to the turn-based strategy games you may have played before (probably closest to Valkyria Chronicles), where you select your faction and make a team out of a number of different warriors and abilities. In the game, you will take it in turns to move and position your characters in such a way that you can kill everything else. Turns are taken in an order, one character for each team.
The name of the game is placement and combat. The maps aren’t hugely detailed and as each character starts in a different place, finding the rest of your team can be a challenge. Once you have found them, moving in groups is significantly to your advantage. The enemy will have a similar numbered group to you, but will almost never think to use that same strategy, instead going at you one at a time. The numbers advantage always works in your favour and is a tried and tested recipe of success here. The character models sadly don’t look much better, and you will be forgiven for thinking you are playing a last generation title.
Your turn ends once you have used up all of your movement points (which seem to be hidden somewhere) and you can engage in combat or ready up for an ambush. Combat is triggered when one enemy enters the combat zone of another, and again, lack of clarity is an issue. You can select to attack, or counter-attack and will keep going until someone moves out of the zone or is downed. There are a vast, vast amount of statistics and characteristics here which affect the success of combat but it’s hard to fully understand them once the action unfolds.
The term action is used loosely, as combat is a fairly ugly back-and-forth affair of limited animation. What is lost in action though is made up in the sheer scale and depth of the campaign. On top of the large number of abilities and stats of each of your squad, there are a far greater number which can be unlocked and magical items to be used. Of course, there’s no telling if this magic is good or bad, so there’s a risk element involved. Serious injuries can play a part too, resulting in time to recover perhaps or permadeath for those unlucky few.
As you become more invested in your team, you’ll want to spend some time customising their appearance as well as their stats. To start with, each of your warriors will look look identical so this customisation will give them a bit more character and will aid you in telling them apart easier. Objects can be found in battles or by completing side quests, but such is the enemy’s desire to rush you, you may find that the game ends before you really get time to explore.
Navigation in the game world is another problem. Characters have a limited amount they can move, but getting caught on scenery is an unexpected limitation. Loading times are also immensely painful and bring hope that you’re about to experience something new and interesting rather than the boring brown and grey world you’ve already spent hours in. Even trying to use the audio to help you doesn’t really. You’ll hear random moans and screams on top of a really depressing soundtrack which may fit the mood but lacks the excitement or terror which should underlie these gruesome warriors and monsters fighting in a wartown city.
Ultimately, the complexity, once mastered makes for a very deep game. However like real Warhammer it’s really only as good as those you play against, which makes for a fairly dull experience against the AI. Fortunately there is a multiplayer mode available whereby you can lift your team from the campaign and drop them into a human vs. human battle. Gone is the rushing straight towards enemies but ambushing and sneaking, positioning and waiting for the time to strike become a key factor. Sadly, the player count seems very low at the moment making the waiting times for games somewhat challenging although rather than matchmaking with randoms you can take on the Warbands of your friends.
For something so detailed, it’s surprising that the core of the game does such a poor job of providing any challenge. The multiplayer element really highlights this and serves as a ‘what could have been’ suggestion from the developers. Perhaps this is why this mode was included, which is typically a hard sell for these types of games, although it does hark back towards how the board game version was played.