Prepare for the battle of your life in Mordheim – City of the Damned, out now on consoles and PC. Our Review:
If you’d have told the Games Workshop obsessed 15-year-old me that I would one day be playing a Mordheim video game, I’d have laughed. Mordheim was never that popular in my Games Workshop in the first place, even though a few friends and I played it weekly. It was relegated to the table in the back, behind the giant Warhammer and 40K set ups. But here we are, in the year 2016, and Mordheim: City of the Damned, developed by Rogue Factor and Published by Focus Home, is thriving on PC and has launched on PS4 and Xbox One. And aside from some niggling frustrations, it’s really bloody good.
Mordheim City of the Damned is a fantasy turn based strategy game set in the titular city, the most dangerous city in the Warhammer universe. A “Warp Stone” has fallen from the stars, creating something called “Wyrdstone” which has wreaked havoc with Mordheim’s population, twisting and mutating them, and, if wyrdstone is used properly, can grant incredible power. All of the commotion has attracted war bands from all over the Warhammer world looking for fame and glory who now fight for control over the Wyrdstone.
When you first start the game you are given the choice between 4 different warbands, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and unique abilities. There is the Cult of the Possessed, worshipers of chaos, a team of mutants and misfits that rely heavily on their leader and heroes. There’s the Skaven, a species of giant rat that move fast but lack stopping power. The there’s the Sisters of Sigma, an all woman cult of melee mad warriors. These ladies lumber across the battlefield but will almost always win in a one-on-one scrap. Finally, we have the Human Mercenaries. These are the most balanced team, jacks of all skills, masters of none. There are also 2 other teams, the Witch Hunters and the Undead, both available now as DLC.
Once you’ve chosen a team, you’re thrust into a myriad of screens clad with numbers, facts and figures with a bare bones tutorial to guide you through setting up your warband. The tutorial does an adequate job of explaining what each screen is but doesn’t really go into how to use each screen properly. It can take a little while to get accustomed to everything on screen, what it represents and how best to use it.
After hiring the member of your warband, you can get straight into the action. The campaign is a collection of skirmishes where most of the time, you will be attempting to kill off an opposing warband while collecting as much wyrdstone as possible. You see, you need the Wyrdstone to send to your sponsor who is demanding regular shipments of it. Fail to meet the demands of your sponsor and they will punish you. Deliver on time and you get paid which means you can in turn, pay your warband. As you progress, the Wyrdstone demands increase, as does the threat that awaits you in each skirmish. There a a number of different conditions which are randomly chosen which could have your war band start spread out across the map, grouped into pairs or clustered together. The same applies to the warband you’re about to face off against.
The tabletop Mordheim game had a complex rule set that was chock full of nuances that, I will admit, I never truly understood when I was playing it regularly all those years ago. Thankfully, City of the Damned does not require you to know each subtlety to the rule set, instead, representing them in a cluttered but intuitive UI. Rings on the floor represent how far a character can move, their area of attack and more. Percentages displayed on-screen show how likely it is that your attack will hit or your climbing attempt will succeed. There’s no need to compare a units stats against another set of numbers, find the square root, divide it by the mean, carry the one, then roll a dice. The game does all of that for you and the random number generator is quite forgiving. Everything else can be learned over time while playing, such as only being able to attack an opponent if part of the ring at their feet isn’t already covered by the rings of your own warband. Little things like that take experience to know.
Unfortunately, not knowing these little things and having a tutorial that lets go of your hand as soon as you start combat means that the start of the game can be quite daunting and an uphill slog – a slog that might be costly in the long run.
You see, your characters and warband gain experience as they progress through the campaign. As each member of the warband gains experience, they can level up, allowing for their stats to increase. This in turn allows them to fight harder, run further and die less often.
On the other hand, if one of your warband falls during battle, they could be injured, needing a few days on the sideline, permanently injured, decreasing their stats or landing them with a life long negative effect or, at worst, they could die. When a warband member dies, they’re gone for good. Do not pass go. Do not collect £100. Dead. Mordheim is a rarely engrossing real-time strategy game because, Much like you do in the XCOM games, you grow fond of your warband. As they level up and you drag them through impossibly difficult skirmishes, you learn their names and remember their feats. When one of them finally shifts off their mortal coil, it’s a strangely touching moment.
So, in summary, Mordheim isn’t for the faint of heart and it certainly earns its moniker of “City of the Damned”. I restarted the game 3 times after failing, each time with a new faction, until I was happy with the team, how I could play and felt like I had learnt enough to give the campaign a good run for its money. The RPG elements are a hook that keeps you coming back and as you grow fond of your warband, it can change the way you play, being more cautious with your favourites so that you don’t end up losing them forever. I do feel like the tutorial could have done more to ease you in and level out the initial learning curve. Also, while the console version is a decent port of the keyboard system, not everything feels natural, taking some getting used too and during combat, the UI can be showing quite a lot in small text that it’s easy to miss something. But for For me, Mordheim is up there with XCOM 2, The Banner Saga and Invisible Inc as one of the best turn based strategy games on consoles.