Release Date: 29 April, 2019
By Chris Picone, 05 November 2019
I kickstarted Mordhau way back in April 2017. Not sure why, really – first person “shooters” aren’t normally my jam unless they’re story-driven and I particularly dislike spawn-die-repeat shooters. I mean I loved Unreal Tournament and I guess Quake 3 was okay, but that’s about it, and I can’t remember having a good experience with any first person melee game (although I never played Chivalry, which is apparently very similar and very fondly thought of) except maybe Rise of the Triad back in the 90s. When Mordhau released, however, I was instantly hooked. Dropped the play script I was working on, stopped playing the games I was in the middle of, and happily dumped more than 50 precious hours of my life into this delightful game. That might not sound like a lot as I’m a roleplayer, which means I frequently dump 40-100 hours into a game, but for me to spend that long in a shooter is huge.
I must apologise for the incredible delay in posting this review. The game released in April (May, really) and I initially wrote the article on the 6th of July as it took a month before I was able to pull myself away from the game long enough to write about it. I then experienced issues with my web provider, after an “upgrade” to their services prevented me from dumping large bodies of text, effectively shutting my website down until I found a solution in September. By then, the excitement of the game had worn off and frankly I’d forgotten about the review until a few days ago when Triternion released an awesome new map and I’ve started playing again.
None to speak of. Triternion have also consciously made the decision to exclude the game from any real-world or even fantasy world politics: You’re a soldier in a mercenary army aiming to defeat another mercenary army in glorious combat, and that’s enough for me.
Really nice, better than many modern AAA games. The team put a ton of effort into making the maps visually stunning, with a surprising amount of detail for this sort of game, with incredible backdrops. The Camp map, for example, could have simply featured a bit of forest and some sky in the background, but instead they’ve included more of the sprawling battlefield, with artillery periodically shooting overhead at some distant target. The characters look just as good, and there’s a huge range of part-specific costume choices – both practical and cosmetic – to choose from, from the helmet down to the boots.
Everything’s there, everything works. Great intro track, some atmospheric music to set the mood while you’re slashing away at your foes, and a variety of shouts and battle cries only a button push away. Triternion have also recently added a handful of more useful battle commands and prompts for your allies, which is great.
As a rule, I don't enjoy any spawn/die/repeat games, but this one's made in such a way that it feels like you're constantly facing fresh reinforcements as you push into enemy territory, or that you are the reinforcement when they're taking yours.
Melee isn't just hack/slash, there's a lot to consider. Timing is really important, and the direction of your mouse as you hit determines the kind of attack you make at the time. You also have to control your facing, particularly when parrying or trying to counter or feint. You also really have to weigh up speed vs damage, and reach... and longer reach isn't always better, because your weapon doesn't automatically clip. It swings wherever it swings so you have to judge the direction of your attacks and time them right so you aren't hitting your team mates, and you need to swap to shorter weapons in confined spaces as trees/walls/ceilings/etc. will stop your blade. Many weapons also have a secondary mode as well: Some weapons can be thrown, some swords can be held in the mordhau grip, and spears can be held further up the shaft for shorter range but a faster stab.
Archery is actually interesting too. The bow moves with your breathing so it's hard to aim, you need to lead your targets, and you only have so much time to aim before you get tired. Different ranged weapons also act differently - the crossbow doesn't have so much movement, but you are very vulnerable while reloading. Smaller bows don't do quite as much damage or have the range of bigger bows but are quicker to load and you can hold your aim longer.
Maps come with a few communal toys you can have a crack at too - usually a couple of ballistas in your home base, a couple of small catapults and a couple of horses for each side. Recent updates have added to this small but important arsenal, such as ladders which attackers can climb to assault defended positions from vulnerable points but which defenders may knock down. Similarly, piles of rocks can now be found in key locations on castle ramparts and thrown down on your enemies as you defend your position, making high ground even more important. They're just enough to be interesting and add an extra element to the game without being overwhelming.
Mordhau boasts several game modes. Frontline is Mordhau’s flagship mode, which involves two massive sides fighting against each other in an attempt to capture checkpoints, which simultaneously push the enemy back while also pushing your own spawn point forward. Some frontline maps have objectives which must be completed before checkpoints can be unlocked, such as blowing up defensive emplacements or pushing a ram wagon up to the enemy’s gates, which adds another layer of challenge to the game. Teams score points for possessing checkpoints, and lose points for every character death on their own side. This goes back and forth until one of two victory conditions are met; either one side dominates and captures the enemy’s stronghold, or one team runs out of points, leaving the other team the victor. Triternion have recently introduced another new mode, invasion, which is similar to frontline except that it’s a more pure attacker versus defender mode, where the game progresses in stages as objectives are completed rather than through checkpoints.
There are also battle royale, horde, skirmish, death match, and duelling modes. Death matches are just free-for-all fights where you compete for the most kills at the end of each round. Team death matches are essentially front line without the checkpoints and objectives. Skirmishes not only involve no checkpoints or objectives, but also no spawning, so the “last man standing” wins. All of these are great options when you’re keen to go swing a sword for a while but you’re looking for a change of pace. Duelling is a little different. Triternion are slowly working on supporting this mode in a more official way, but for the most part duelling maps are simply open maps and the rules of each engagement come down to gentleman’s agreements. Duelling is a fantastic way to hone your skills or challenge your skills against some really difficult opponents without being interrupted, if you think you’ve got the goods. In a game with such nuanced combat as Mordhau, this can actually be really exciting. Battle Royale and horde are novelty modes, very different to the core game. Battle Royale sees you playing in a free-for-all death match just like battle royale, except that you don’t start with any equipment, instead having to find what you can scattered around the map or looted from the corpses of your enemies. Horde mode is more like a zombie horde-style game, where you attempt to fight off waves of enemies that get harder each round, starting with the clichéd peasants armed with pitchforks, and eventually turning into massive swarms of well-trained and –equipped soldiers, and even the odd ogre. You gain cash with each kill, which you can use to purchase better weapons and armour to increase your chances of survival.
Fun Factor / Replayability
I found that the challenge of simply attempting to master the nuances of Mordhau’s combat system made the game inherently replayable. I must have spent hours and hours when I first started playing not really worried about winning or losing or what was happening on the map, but just trying to work out how to swing my sword so that players other than me were dying. The changing meta also served to keep the game interesting as players worked out ways to exploit various weapons until they were eventually nerfed or more effective weapons discovered, leading to constant change in the way you played the game.
A shortage of maps has always been this game’s biggest issue. The game initially released with only four maps which, although of incredible quality and highly immersive and replayable in their own right, eventually became monotonous. A range of game modes help to keep things exciting, but eventually even the novelty of the battle royale, horde, and skirmish modes do wear away.
Triternion did release a few duel maps, which at least gave those who really wanted to master their craft somewhere to go but even the challenge of duelling diminished when you eventually stopped sucking at the game. Triternion also released a few other, smaller maps, but these were only available to play in some of the novelty game modes. Unfortunately, maps of the incredible quality found in Mordhau take time to make. The pay-off is, of course, the quality of the maps when they do eventually release, such as the new Feitoria map, which is absolutely amazing.
Before I get to my verdict, a quick friendly warning: Do not judge Mordhau by the trailers, gameplay videos, or community content. Those mediums are unable to convey the subtleties of combat or the mind-blowing depth of the maps, you really need to just try the game yourself. I backed Mordhau on a whim, and am extremely grateful that I did because I would never have purchased it based on the videos getting around today. Mordhau is a masterpiece, I would argue the best in its genre so far, and boasts a wide range of personalisation options, game modes, mind-blowing maps, and an incredible combat system. If you were already a fan of Chivalry or other melee games, Mordhau is a must. If, like me, you aren’t normally into those sort of games but enjoy games that are a little more complex than your average shooter and require a little bit of thinking and skill instead of just teenage reflexes, give this one a go.