Review – Mordhau
Mordhau was a bit of a surprise for me, not that I didn’t know about the game before release (I had a friend who was obsessed with it), but because I initially wrote it off as “just another medieval hack ‘n’ slash game.” Well, at its core it’s still a medieval hack ‘n’ slash game and it will immediately remind you of Chivalry, War of the Roses, and even Mount and Blade (minus the campaign). Fortunately, the level of polish and depth makes Mordhau stand out from the rest and feels like a real step up in the genre. Strap on some chain mail, unsheathe your claymore, and let’s get into it.
Mordhau is a first and third person multiplayer medieval hack ‘n’ slash game with up to sixty-four player matches. While there is no campaign, there is an offline mode to play against AI or play a horde mode with a couple of friends. There is also a Battle Royale mode and of course your traditional multiplayer modes like Team Death Match. However, the mode you’ll find yourself mostly playing is the Frontline mode which pits two teams of thirty-two against each other for an all out war.
The gameplay is accessible in a way where it doesn’t require much skill to understand the basic requirements of attacking. Using the mouse in different directions will dictate how you swing your sword. For example: pulling the mouse to the right will have you do a right side sweep, pulling the mouse down will have you swing in an upward arc. The right mouse button is block if you have a shield, or parry if you don’t have one. Parrying only requires you to block as soon as an attack is about to land. Swinging, blocking, and parrying are simple enough to get you in and fighting battles and with some teamwork, you’ll definitely get kills.
However, once you go 1v1 with someone who is familiar with the combat, you’ll quickly realize that those three things are not enough. You’ll need to start practicing deeper techniques and peppering in additional moves and stances to get the leg up. Otherwise battles could last forever with just standard strikes and parries. You’ll need to trick your enemy to try and parry at the wrong time, leaving them open for a quick counter attack. There are a few ways to do this and one of my favorites is a simple cancel attack. Wind up a wide swing and at the last moment cancel the attack, this will bait your enemy into parrying and you follow up with a quick attack. Another move is to transition a slash into a stab or a stab into a slash. This one is much easier to pull off, but a bit more predictable due to the animations during.
Sword strikes also have ways of outsmarting your opponent, but these are much harder to pull off. You can block any attack thrown at you by connecting an opposite swing in mid air. But Chambering is a great way to do a complete reversal on an attack. This requires you to do the opposite attack of your opponent moments before it hits you. This allows you to block their attack and still follow up with your swing without stopping. This is much easier said than done, but it is extremely satisfying to pull off. Other techniques like Riposte, are simpler where you just follow up with an attack immediately after a parry.
Realistic physics also play a role in combat where environments will deflect your attacks. This will either work for you or against you, but understanding the types of attacks you have will help you. If you’re surrounded by walls, maybe only use thrust attacks, overhead attacks, under attacks, or kick your opponent out of there. These type of physics also apply to shields. Which means, even if the shield is on your back, it will still deflect sword, arrow, and item attacks. If you’re stuck with an arrow or throwing axe in your arm or chest, you’ll likely be able to see it and pull it out of you and store it for yourself.
Outside of actual combat maneuvers there are techniques in sword swinging called “Accels and Drags.” What this means is when you swing your sword, depending on how you turn your body, you can accelerate the time before your sword hits your target or you drag it to connect later. For example, doing a right to left attack, the attack begins on the right side of your body. So turning your body to the left putting your enemy on the right of your body will make your attack land sooner. This accelerates your attack to catch your enemy off guard. The same applies to drags. You will want to place your enemy on the opposite side of your starting swing so you don’t connect until the end. These techniques will often times be the key to throwing off an opponents timing with their parries.
Take all of these moves and techniques and now apply them to the myriad of different types of weapons in Mordhau. All of the weapons can use these same techniques, but each one will have different speed stats, ranges, and power. There are also alternate ways to use each weapon. Smaller swords and axes you may be able to throw, while a long sword you can flip upside down to strike with your hilt to do additional damage to armored enemies. It will take a long time to master all the moves alone, but also understanding how to defend against each weapon will require dedication, especially against multiple opponents with different weapons. The learning of all this is where I really enjoy Mordhau, even though it is still fun to hop in and wild slash.
While these techniques and moves are fun to pull off in fights, unfortunately the best mode in Mordhau rarely offers you moments like these. In the large Frontline wars there are so many players that often times you’ll be in an engagement and a teammate on either side will walk in with a sneak kill. Obviously, this is how real fights and wars would go down, but it can get frustrating since these fights just become a brawl. In smaller battle modes you will see teammates actually stand back and let a duel play out, but Frontline is just a hectic war.
The other game modes like Battle Royale and Horde are fine, but the Battle Royale you can tell was a bit of an after thought add-on. All the functionality of a BR is still there; random spawn, no armor or weapons, chests with items, shrinking map, and last one standing wins. However, the maps are not large and the player count is fairly low. You’re on the same few maps that you play the other modes on, but with an enclosing boundary, so matches don’t actually last all that long. It just doesn’t feel fully fleshed out, but I respect the effort in adding it. The horde mode, though, feels much more at home with this game. Holding back enemy AI, slicing heads and limbs, getting into sword fights, using pinch points and fire bombs; Horde is a perfect fit for the game especially since there are classes to add a strategic variety.
There are nine classes which range from various sword and mace classes with different side arms, power, range, and speed. A Footman wields a spear, Scoundrels use traps, Huntsman use bows, and Engineers can build barricades and play music on their lutes. Your best bet is to go through a couple matches with each class to get a feel for how each weapon and build work, and then create your own. After playing with all classes you’ll have a proper idea of your play style, what weapons you prefer, speed in strikes, and what side arms you’d like to have.
There is a nice balance in how Mordhau manages custom classes and that is by having a total of sixteen action points to spend. Helmet, chest, and leg armor will all count towards your sixteen. Depending on what kind of armor you pick it will range from one point to three points. Primary weapons, secondary weapons, and equipment will all factor into the total as well. The higher the point cost, typically the stronger the weapon, armor, or equipment. This gives you full freedom to create a custom character you want, but not allow you to be super over powered. If you want that extremely powerful Executioner Sword, you may need to remove all of your equipment items. If you want to be a fast and agile player, don’t equip heavy armors.
I still believe there needs to be additional balancing since some weapons seem a bit too big and powerful and are still able to swing fairly fast. For instance, when in a battle, it seems the Executioner Sword (very powerful sword) swings just as fast as my mid-low range Long Sword. The other player is able to parry and riposte just as quickly as I can and I have a sword that should be much lighter and faster. Other than a few problems like this, Mordhau is pretty well balanced and the classes make for interesting battles and coordinating Horde mode teams.
The visuals for the most part look fantastic. Utilizing the Unreal Engine 4, up close textures of armor and weapons look great. However, environments up close can look a bit lower resolution and muddy, and player faces and hands look pretty bad. In the class creator you can customize how your character looks, but unfortunately you won’t be able to get close to your look or even someone who is decent looking. There are some instances where the visuals will grab you and draw you in, especially during fights. Some maps look better due to some nice lighting effects, but once it all becomes a cluster of gore and limbs being chopped you aren’t too invested in the way the map looks. All and all, Mordhau looks great.
The sound design is unfortunately a bit hit and miss. The general sounds of combat like swords clashing, horses running, shields blocking and battle cries are all well done. There is a pretty humorous selection of preset dialogue lines you can choose from during your gameplay and all of these are finely made. Depending on how you customized your character’s voice, you can sound like a chipmunk or a giant, which enhances the lines further. Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of a good soundtrack. When you’re playing the Frontline mode and your team is making the last push (or making your last stand) it would be great if the music roused to meet the epic last struggle of the match. However, it remains the same tone throughout the matches and never rises to the occasion.
Mordhau is an excellent new installment to the medieval hack ‘n’ slash genre, and while many will call it “Chivalry 2″, I feel it stands out on its own with its deep combat mechanics. There is a lot of fun to be had here, and while its not perfect, and I do hope some new maps come soon, it is one of the best of its genre. It is important to note that there were some big server issues at launch, but I wanted to give it some time and now the servers and matchmaking work perfectly. If you’re at all a fan of medieval fighting and enjoy large multiplayer games, I recommend picking up Mordhau.
Mordhau looks great with the Unreal Engine 4 providing some great looking environments. However, some up close textures and faces look pretty bad.
The hack ‘n’ slash combat is easy to jump in and start swinging, but will take some time to master. Some weapons may need re-balancing.
Swords clashing, catapults crashing, soldiers yelling and dying, and other general sounds are great. The soundtrack could have had some more intensity to it when final pushes happen.
Combat is fun and frantic, and while there is depth, big battles mostly turn into a flailing free for all. There is a good handful of standard multiplayer modes, and also Battle Royale and a Horde mode.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Mordhau is available now on PC.
A copy of Mordhau was provided by the publisher.