As an enthusiast of medieval arms and armour, I had always wanted to play Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Regrettably, I did not buy the game when it was at its peak. Now, the game is pretty much dead and the only players that are present are ballerina dancers exploiting the combat system. However, there was this single beacon of hope. That beacon was this video by a small channel called “Mordhau” uploaded on the 18th of December, 2015. What I saw was essentially the spiritual successor of Chivalry made in the Unreal Engine. This was the update Chivalry needed to bring its player base back.
Ever since the day I saw that video, I have been waiting. At first, I thought, “Oh it’s just one of those indie Unreal Engine projects that get abandoned a few months later”, but the frequent updates from the developers made me doubt myself. Approximately three and a half years later, we have arrived at 29th of April, 2019, the day Mordhau is finally made available to the public. Since indie games especially indie multiplayer games usually have a rough start, I decided to review this game 2 months later. I do not regret my decision as the hardworking folks at Triternion have been constantly updating the game to fix the problems it had since launch. As of writing this review, only a few days ago, they released a brand new map for the game along with a new weapon. After 44+ hours of playing Mordhau, I have to say I really like this game but there are too many minor annoyances that prevent me from loving it. I have no doubt those problems will be fixed in the coming months.
Mordhau is the first game by the indie developer Triternion. Mordhau, as the developers describe it, “is a multiplayer medieval melee game with a strong emphasis on skill-based combat”. The “skill-based combat” here is important. Mordhau truly is completely dependent on your skill. Everyone in Mordhau is on equal footing. The combat system doesn’t give anyone an advantage over another as opposed to a game like say, For Honor. Not that it’s a bad thing, the two games aim to achieve two vastly different forms of combat, but a low skilled player in For Honor can beat a high skilled player provided the former is using a character which is considerably more powerful. Mordhau’s balancing and combat work very differently when compared to the usual melee games.
The phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” gets thrown around a lot, often times, incorrectly but this phrase is the best way to describe Mordhau’s combat. You can perform three basic moves with your weapon in Mordhau – strikes, thrusts and parry. The strikes are activated on pressing LMB. They are long sweeping slash. You can also direct the slashes using Mordhau’s 240 system which I believe stands for 240 degrees. You can do horizontal, overhead as well as uppercut strikes coming from either the left or right direction. Before you begin your attack, you just have to move the mouse ever so slightly to the direction you want your attack to be coming from. For example, for a left overhead, you have to move your mouse in an 11 O’Clock direction. Thrusts also have directions associated with them but the direction for thrusts makes little difference. Pressing RMB lets you in a short parry window where you can defend against all attacks, provided that you are pointing your camera to the direction of the attack. Parrying while looking up will not defend you against strikes coming from below. All of these actions require stamina.
In addition to these basic moves, there are a lot more advanced moves which you HAVE to learn if you want to win any fights. Feinting lets you cancel an attack while you are in the windup phase. Similar to feinting, there is morph which instead of cancelling the attack changes a thrust to a strike or vice versa. These moves are useful to mess up your opponent’s parry timings. You could also cancel your attacks into a parry. Chambering is similar to parrying where instead of pressing the RMB you press LMB to perform an attack similar to the opponent’s attack, but coming from the mirror direction. Timing this is a lot stricter. This lets you parry your opponent’s attack but also continue with the attack you started. This attack that you start works just like any other basic attack. You could morph it, feint it, cancel it to a parry etc. The opponent also can begin a new attack or counter chamber you. Both of them could enter into a chambering loop. That happens quite often when I chamber rapier thrust spammers. There are countless possibilities of what can happen after you perform a particular move.
The game also lets you kick which is useful against shields. Shields can parry but they can also block as long as you have stamina. I personally am not a big fan of shields as it blocks the view. It also encourages the opponent to kick you which I find hard to evade against. A kick can only be blocked by another kick.
Mordhau also has real-time weapon collisions. Attacks which collide are cancelled.
Similar to Chivalry, you could angle your mouse towards the direction of your swing to connect your attack faster i.e. accelerate your attacks or angle them away from your swing to drag your attacks. However, it is not as exploitable as it was in Chivalry. You cannot do ballerina moves anymore, dragging and accelerating is a strategy not an exploit in Mordhau. Just don’t try to play this with a controller.
In addition to melee weapons, Mordhau also features ranged weapons like bows, crossbows, throwing axes, catapults, ballistae.
The best part of Mordhau’s combat system is the sheer amount of options you have when you are fighting against an opponent. Say, if you begin with a strike, you could feint it to confuse your opponent or morph it or just keep it simple and complete the strike. Maybe your opponent has longer reach or a faster weapon. They may be able to land a hit on you before you could injure them. They may just crouch under your swing or they could do a super risky dodge. Mordhau is inherently a PC game. It is designed for mouse and keyboard controls. It does not have any dodge system (there is one dodge perk but that isn’t really used as a convention dodge). Dodging attack is all done by your footwork and mouse. You can move your character to the side and point your camera upwards so that the character bends backwards to doge overhead attacks or you could point your camera downwards so that the character bends forwards to dodge horizontal attacks. These are all extremely risky moves but let you counterattack an enemy. They are also useful if you have no stamina to parry attacks. When you have no stamina, parrying attacks can send your weapons flying off of your hands but if you know what you are doing, you can grab the weapon while it is in air.
Mordhau is punishing. You will encounter former alpha testers and experts who would kill you in a blink of an eye, but with death, comes practice. After countless embarrassing deaths, I now am able to get a respectable rank on the scoreboard after the end of a match…sometimes. I cannot stress enough the night-and-day difference between my skill when I first began playing it and now. At first, I was not able to get any kills on duel servers but only yesterday for the first time I scored the most kills in a duel match.
Fighting every enemy feels different. Everyone has a different playstyle. It’s all about finding an exploit, an opening, a single misstep that your enemy took before they find an exploit against you. When you do kill an enemy, however, the game rewards you with a bone-crunching sound or the sound of slicing flesh coupled with exaggerated blood and gore. The blood and gore may be unrealistic but out of all games out there, Mordhau probably has the best gore mechanics. When you first start playing the game, don’t give up. You will die and I mean, die a lot before you reach the skill of even an average player.
PROGRESSION, EQUIPMENT, BALANCE
A really well done and informative tutorial gives you all the basics you need to know about Mordhau. It also gives you some gold upon completion which you can spend on building your first character. There are some standard builds the game provides for you at the start, out of which, the knight with the longsword is probably the best for beginners. You should play with these builds for the first few hours and then create your own build on the basis of what you like.
When you create a new character in Mordhau, it gives you an unarmoured and unarmed character with 15 available skill points. All characters in Mordhau start with these 16 points. The points are used to equip your character with perks, head/torso/leg armour parts as well as active items such as weapons or healing items. Better equipment costs more points. This way you just can’t pick the best weapon with the best armour. The fact that everyone is limited to 16 skill points minimises any unfairness. Your skills with the mouse and keyboard dictate your winning chance, not your stats. The equipment and perks just let you specialise your playstyle.
In addition to the head, torso and leg armour pieces, there are many such subparts like the hand, shoulder, waist, arm etc. These, however, are only cosmetic. The main armour parts have only 3 classes: heavy, medium and light. Light costs 1 skill point to equip while heavy costs 3. The game gives you three armour sets each belonging to the different classes for free at the start. Through earning XP, you unlock better armour (both main pieces and subparts) which you could purchase using gold. The only difference between any two armour belonging to the same class is their looks. If you aren’t really much of a fashion guy, then earning gold and XP isn’t going to do you any good but considering how well designed the armours in the game look, I assure you that you will be tempted to buy them. The armour isn’t based in any specific period. It’s all jumbled up from early medieval crude armour to late medieval gothic armour. There is also some fantasy leather armour nothing too out of reality though. There is a large set of armour designs but you could have only so much difference in European armour before everything starts looking more or less the same at least when we are comparing armour of the same class. I would have preferred if there was a little more variety. Persian or Roman armour would have been a welcome addition but then again, it would look weird when Persians are fighting alongside Europeans. Against, yeah that seems plausible, but alongside? Not in a million years. Anyways, it does not matter. It would eventually get mod support. And yes, mods mean we will get lightsabers in Mordhau.
You can choose three active items. These could be melee weapons, bows, bandages, shields etc. Better and heavier weapons cost more points. The Zweihänder costs 10 and Halberd 11. The short sword, on the other hand, costs only 1. Unlike armour, the game doesn’t give you any weapons for free. They are quite cheap but they aren’t free. You could also customise the blade, handle and guard etc of many weapons, purely cosmetic changes which cost gold.
There are a few perks you could choose but frankly, most of them are too specialised or pretty much useless. Some of them are useful like 5 point Bloodlust which heals you on killing an enemy or the 2 point Second Wind which gives you some stamina on hitting an enemy.
Combining all these equipment and perks gives you various builds to choose from with little mechanical difference but in practice, you will realise the big difference in playstyle. For beginners, I would recommend a messer+buckler for deathmatches and maybe a battle axe for team matches. For perks, I would recommend Second Wind in duels. In team matches, forget about perks, just go full armour. Whatever happens, never ever go shield+rapier, only villains do that.
GAME MODES, SERVERS AND MAPS
Mordhau has three main game modes: Frontline – 32v32 player battle, Horde – Start unequipped and fight against increasingly challenging bots to earn gold to buy better weapons to kill them with and Battle Royale – Self-explanatory.
Horde is my least favourite but it’s a good way to earn gold for beginners. Personally, I have only played one Horde match and I got bored before even completing it. Battle Royale would have been fun if only I could survive for more than a few seconds after spawning.
Frontline is where the good stuff’s at. Your 32 player team fights against another 32 player team capturing and defending outposts while completing objectives such as “Break enemy supply” or blowing up enemy towers through kegs or torching their camps. Barely anyone completes the objectives because of how boring they are or maybe they are just too inconsequential. Frontline is pretty addictive but has its fair share of flaws. There are 5 maps for the Frontline mode all of which are not only beautiful to look at but have pretty clever layouts. It gives you several opportunities to flank your enemy or to camp as an archer. There are also catapults, ballistae and horses in strategic spots but quite a few people feel that a lot of the maps are easier for one team. The red team is said to have the advantage in most of the maps except in Mountain Peak where blue has the advantage. Some are speculating that these maps could be meant for a different siege game mode that is in the making where one team defends while the other offends.
What’s most appealing about Frontline is its chaos. Everyone will be fighting everyone. You will find yourself being this close to ending the enemy but then out of nowhere a horseman will stab you with his lance, or someone will throw a firebomb at you. There was this one time where someone planted spikes in front of the enemy spawn point and then threw smoke bombs. Everyone who spawned just ran into the spikes blinded by the smoke.
In addition to these three game modes, the server browser shows unofficial servers which support additional game modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch and skirmish. Skirmish works very much like team deathmatch except instead of the player respawning after death, players respawn after all the players of a team has died. Most of the unofficial servers host either frontline or deathmatches. Deathmatches are my favourite as they’re a great place for duels. In fact, most of the deathmatches are duel servers. There will be the occasional troll who would interrupt a duel and turn it into an FFA, nothing a vote kick can’t solve. For some reason, unofficial servers do not support battle royale.
Ever since its release, Mordhau has been plagued by server issues. Official servers are pretty bad. They are either always full or have a really bad case of ping. This is especially true for SEA players. I barely ever found any unofficial servers with low ping. Most of them have above 150ms ping. When I am really lucky I find servers in the range of 80-100ms. Always use the server browser if you live in SEA.
Currently, the servers are a lot better than before when I was bound to play in 200ms ping which is unacceptable for a game of this genre. Nevertheless, from the perspective of someone who plays in India, good servers are hard to come by. The best time to play Mordhau in India is before noon or late afternoon. Keep in mind this may subject to change.
One thing that defines multiplayer games even more so than its mechanics is its community. Mordhau being an indie game lacks the censorship that most AAA multiplayer games employ. Several people claim that the community is quite toxic. However, I just don’t see that as a valid criticism. The devs let you mute anyone in the server. If you’re experiencing any sort of toxicity in the chat, you could just mute them. My interaction with the community has been largely positive. There may be the occasional racist trolls but I just couldn’t care less. The only harm they can cause is in the chat menu. If it bothers me that much I could just mute them. It’s that simple. Anyway, the ones who aren’t trolls are very helpful. The Mordhau community is surprisingly friendly towards newcomers and try to help as much as they can.
There are also several humorous moments I have shared with the community. There would always be that one person who plays the Megalovania in the lute and that other person besides them dancing to the tune. One troll would always try to kill the lute player but a knight in shining armour would try to prevent it while everyone is chastising the catapult player who “accidentally” killed a bunch of his own teammates. Mordhau also has several humorous voiced insults: “Thy defence hath more holes than thy mother’s Swiss cheese”.
The developers themselves have put several jokes in the game. You could wait for the horses to defecate, then grab the turd to throw it at opponents. Or you could unscrew your pommel to “end them rightly”. If PUBG is your thing, then grab a frying pan and start hitting people with it.
GRAPHICS AND PERFORMANCE
Since it’s a game made in Unreal Engine, it is expected that Mordhau would have good visuals. For a multiplayer game made by such a small team, Mordhau is really beautiful to look at. I personally feel Unreal indie games have this weird visual style that kind of gives off a low budget vibe. They have a very distracting motion blur, overly colourful lighting and janky animations. Fortunately, this isn’t present in Mordhau. I only wish the game performed well. It was tested on a GTX 980, i5-8600k, 8GB RAM @2600Mhz, I was unable to receive 60 fps in high settings (not ultra) with cloth physics turned off in the Camp map. Camp seems to be terribly optimised, it would drop down to 40 fps in certain instances and then shoot back up after a while. The rest of the map gave me 60 fps with some rare dips to 40 for a second.
My experience with Mordhau has been largely positive. It has an addictive and a rewarding skill-based combat system, a great community and beautiful graphics. If you have the patience to master the combat, if you are willing to sit through countless deaths, I’d say go for it. It only costs $29.99 or ₹699 on Steam and it doesn’t have any pay to win mechanics, the gameplay prevents it from ever having one. If you live in the Indian subcontinent, then you may want to wait for a month or two so that the servers are improved. Mordhau is a great game but due to the server issues, I am unable to give it more than a 7/10.