Available on PC
I, like many others, have spent a large amount of time hunched in a Games Workshop; admiring the astonishing talent of the people who can paint these gorgeous figures and doing my best to learn from them. I never got into playing, though, I never had the time, the army or the people to do it with. So I painted and I painted.
When I discovered videogames I hunted out any and all Games Workshop related videogames that I could; Shadow of the Horned Rat (yes, that one) was my favourite as a wee lad. As I got older though I began to realise that most of the games based on Games Workshop properties, be it Warhammer or otherwise, weren’t really that good. That was, of course, until Dawn of War. Suddenly Games Workshop games were back in demand and this year has seen the full release of two particularly good ones; Vermintide and Mordheim: City of the Damned.
Mordheim first came to us as an Early Access title, and one with a number of issues. The game was unattractive, sluggish, had balance problems and was a little boring but goodness me, how far has this come. Mordheim isn’t just a poster boy for videogames based on Games Workshop IP, but Mordheim is a fantastic example of Early Access done right. This is a product that took promise and turned it into something tangible.
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But enough waxing lyrical, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Mordheim: City of the Damned is a tactical, turn based game set in the Mordheim universe. This is more Valkyria Chronicles style third-person movement than the strict, grid based movement of something like X-Com, which could be an area that many will find their first issue in. Movement feels like it was designed specifically for a controller and, having tested it on my touchpad, on a mouse and using a controller, I can confirm that controller is the most comfortable option.
That’s fine, but for those without a controller the movement might feel a little stilted. Once you’re knee-deep in the game, though, it becomes less of an issue thanks to the slower, more tactical pace. That slower pace really adds weight to the battles; every movement feels precise and heavy, and every action you queue up has a feel hefty feel to it as your disfigured team slashes, dodges and kills their way through this gorgeous world.
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Where this game sets itself apart, and I think almost sets a benchmark in turn based RPGs, is in the permanence. That’s an oft-used word but here it has real significance. You can carry characters with you throughout the entire game and, along the way, they can pick up injuries (both minor and severe) that they wear from that moment on. Losing an eye, or a limb, in a battle adds far more character to your team than any overly long exposition or cutscene can.
Mordheim is brutal. Not just in its depiction of this oppressive world and the battles within in, but also in its difficulty. When I first started the game I poked around in the menus and the camp screen, hired a few henchman, spent some gold and selected, what I thought, was the tutorial mission. One of my team spawned surrounded by enemies and was instantly eviscerated, while the rest of my team walked around cluelessly (I was controlling them) as I tried to become accustomed to the controls. Mere minutes later I was dead. There isn’t a game over screen here; simply “do better next time” as you’re forced to live with the loss.
That won’t sit well with many people, but Mordheim isn’t a game for them. Mordheim respects you as a player and it knows that challenges are what keep us playing.
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Mordheim: City of the Damned is a game that rewards foresight, planning and tactical thought in ways that other games don’t. Even games that offer a similar style of RNG (random number generator) hit mechanics feel as though they stack the odds against you simply to seem difficult. Mordheim, however, is difficult. Your units will get outflanked if you aren’t careful, you’ll target the wrong enemies who have a high dodge chance if you aren’t paying attention and you will lose. Regularly. Well, I did.
There are four warbands for you to choose from; Human Mercenaries and Sisters of Sigmar on the side of The Order, Skaven and Cult of the Possessed on Chaos. That might seem limited, and many people have bemoaned the “lack of choice”, but within these warbands there is massive scope to alter your playstyle and tactics. Choose your weapons, level up your warband as you see fit and take to the battlefield. There will, we’re told, be additional warbands available later on but until then there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.
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Some will have gripes, of course, and they won’t be without merit. As I mentioned the controls will turn some people off, as will the occasional costly “miss” on a hit where you thought you had 95% chance to connect. The placement of units, too, sometimes can cost you an early troop as you have little time react and reposition. The game, too, encourages you to loot enemies and collect Wyrdstone - two things that can extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do once you’ve made contact with the enemy. Even at the end of a fight you should be given an opportunity to scour the battlefield for goodies before being declared victorious.
These gripes, though, are either minimal or fixable. Throughout the course of the game’s Early Access life the developers, Rogue Factor, were exemplary in their customer service and implementation of user ideas - so there’s no reason to assume that that attitude would change now.
I have no experience of the tabletop game on which Mordheim: City of the Damned is based so I can’t speak to its authenticity to the IP. As a gamer I can certainly speak to its quality. Mordheim is a tense, exciting tactical game that rewards players for thinking and planning, and is full of reminders for those times when you didn’t. With a great sense of progression and permanence, a gorgeously realised world and a lot of room to grow I would recommend Mordheim: City of the Damned.