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Mordheim: City of the Damned Review

By David Haughton

I am the leader of a warband prowling Mordheim.

Things aren’t going well for me; the Sisters of Sigmar are a bunch of badass battle nuns with big hammers and a bigger lust for smashing my poor Skaven warbands’ faces in. Something they’ve been doing very well so far this mission. But I’ve still got an ace up my sleeve: my two most powerful warriors are lying in wait to ambush their leader and secure my victory by forcing them to rout. I finish my turn, congratulating myself for my cunning. A sister comes out from an unexpected angle and charges in. With one mighty swing she puts down my assassin and causes my warband to flee. Words come out of my mouth unbidden, “Nibbles! Noooooooooooooooo!”

Mordheim: City of the Damned sees you leading a warband through the devastated streets of the city of Mordheim in search of precious wyrdstone, fragments of a fallen comet that devastated the city. Each day you must manage your warband then send them out on missions to gather wyrdstones and loot. Your warband sponsor will expect shipments every so often; fail too many shipments and it’s game over. Permanently. Sort of. There is a lot to cover and, frankly, there will be things I miss. So let’s start with the first half of the game: warband management.

Upon starting the game you are asked to start a new warband. You can choose from four different factions: human mercenaries, Sisters and Skaven, and the chaos-worshipping Cult of the Possessed. Each have their own set of spells, skills and warriors. I only managed to get a good playthrough of the Skaven, so the majority of my impressions will be from their perspective. I felt bad killing so many of them in Vermintide so it’s only fair I give them a chance for revenge against the filthy man things.

Mordheim: City of the Damned gives you a multitude of menus to choose from off the bat. You can go to the shop and buy or sell equipment. You’ve got the campaign map to select your mission for the day. You can take your warband online in a match against a fellow human. The warband management screen is where the majority of pre-mission action takes place. From here you hire new warriors, which are split up into leaders, heroes, impressive and henchmen. You pay for any medical treatment required and their wages after a mission. Each member of your warband has a multitude of stats that can be increased upon levelling up, a selection of skills – both active and passive – to train them in, equipment to manage, a range of customisation options including letting you rename each member and give them a biography. Your warband itself levels up which allows you to hire better soldiers, such as Chaos Spawn or Rat Ogres, and take more of the hapless buggers on missions.

The missions themselves are turn based combat skirmishes done in a third person perspective. Each day you can choose one of several different missions. You’re given a rough idea of how much loot and wyrdstone is to be found and a difficulty level for each; so far, so XCOM. Deployment is different for each mission: sometimes you’re scattered around the city playing defensively, sometimes each warband is clustered around their cart. Little differences like this really help keep the game fresh. If a warrior is dropped to zero health, they become “out of action” and are removed from combat. At the end of the mission they will return to your warband with some form of injury, or won’t return at all, but in my 12 hours of game time I’ve yet to reach whatever threshold is required to have a warrior die. Every so often, your sponsor will ask for a shipment of wyrdstone to be delivered, and doing so will secure you funding to continue your pillaging. If you send them more than requested, or to any of the other factions requesting it, you’ll gain reputation with them and with that comes additional bonuses. If you consistently fail to deliver on time, the game is over and your warband is disbanded. You’ll only be able to access them again for online exhibition matches. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can use active warbands online, but any results are permanent just as if it was a single player mission.

As for the battle itself, each warrior has a pool of strategy points (SP) and offence points (OP). SP is used to move your warriors about and perform certain actions like apply a poison or check for traps. Rather uniquely, instead of moving in a grid, your units are given full 360 degree freedom of movement around the battlefield and can backtrack as much as they wish. There are, of course, limitations to this. Performing an action or getting caught in an ambush will lock in the movement you have done already, but I love the freedom of movement and I’m rather pleased Rogue Factor chose to do it this way. They city is littered with traps so running into one will totally be your own fault as opposed to a grid not letting you get around it. Attacking someone is as simple as entering their area of control which is represented by a red circle around them. You can also charge, get a bonus from moving into the circle from a different height, preform special attacks. Then there are stances, dodge, parry, ambush, overwatch, not forgetting the initiative ladder. And side objectives. And I’ve not even mentioned the story missions and all the extra stuff that comes with that.  The amount of options available, even in the early game, can be utterly overwhelming. There is, thankfully, a very comprehensive tutorial which I highly recommend you look at before attempting anything.

The most important question is, with so much on offer in Mordheim, does it all come together and work? I’m going to say yes. Despite all the complexity on the surface, I didn’t struggle too much getting to grips with the basics. On the management side of things, the menus themselves are easy enough to navigate, and pretty much every piece of information you would need is presented in easy enough to grasp format. On the combat side of things, I found it mechanically satisfying and the balance dances the very fine line of fair yet challenging. However, this level of difficulty is more inherent to the mechanics itself than the AI outsmarting you. They would often bumble into obvious traps or attack full health opponents and ignore those near dead. The game does get easier over time if only because of the veteran system: as you play the game, you will achieve several small challenges which allow you to unlock permanent bonuses that apply to all your warbands. This does almost encourage you to grind out a few early warbands just to unlock them which doesn’t feel intended, but does help you get to grips with some hands on experience; you’re not worried about keeping warriors alive if you plan on throwing the warband away afterwards meaning you can take more risks.

Graphically, Mordheim: City of the Damned isn’t going to tax anything with even some moderate power but its art direction is spot on. Combine that with a soundtrack that takes notes from the Dark Souls musical school of impending doom, and the mood is set rather well. I’ll also give a shout out to the voice acting which is pretty damn good across the board with the top spot going to whoever voiced Fylch, the Skaven assassin. He just completely owns the role on an Andy Serkis level. Unfortunately, the combat portion of the game is rather silent save the usual grunting and groaning.

Mordheim  is a cruel game. Just as willing to give as it is to take away. Thankfully, Nibbles came back to the warband with just a slight bout of amnesia and will be ready to slay filthy man-things again in a few days. The “Followers of the Great Cheese” wouldn’t be the same without him. Squeekums isn’t my best warrior but a fine leader and can dodge anything thrown at him. Fluffy and Little Tooth are my tanky powerhouses. Gnitz is the new guy and hasn’t got a nickname yet; he tends to be used as a wyrdstone mule.  Cheesit is a useless piece of shit that refuses to die no matter how many suicide missions I send him on. But Nibbles is my guy, with twice as many kills to his name as the next Skaven. The sheer fact that you can name the little bastards mean you will eventually attach some form of personality to them. Rogue Factor have utterly nailed it when it comes to getting invested in your warband. Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat will see you giving the new guy who landed that lucky last minute strike better equipment and a new name.

People are likely wondering if it matches closely to the tabletop game. Sadly, I’ve never had the chance to play it – I can barely get a game of Fantasy Battles nevermind specialist games. My poor Bretonians are only out of their box to be used as 40k Rough Riders – so I couldn’t comment on that. But it does have a distinctly tabletop feel to it and, if you listen to Steam reviews, it’s a close translation of the tabletop game.

In terms of complaints, I only have minor ones. There’s a few small graphical and physics bugs, the differences between skills could be more obvious, three of the four factions being humans isn’t exactly thrilling, a tutorial campaign of sorts wouldn’t have been a bad thing, the Empire Mercs look like a bunch of gormless twats, that sort of thing.

Mordheim: City of the Damned is a superbly well-crafted game that fully achieves what it sets out to do. The best, and most quotable, comparison I can make to sum it up would be XCOM by way of Dark Souls. It’s satisfying to play and it’ll give you wonderful stories with hours of gameplay. What more can you ask for? Now if you excuse me, I’m going to try and work up the nerve to take Squeekums and co into an online match.

Mordheim: City of the Damned is available on PC.

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