With so many genres on offer, there is always going to be some that are more difficult to get the hang of than others. Some games like the Dark Souls series are designed to have a brutal challenge at the core of everything, whilst other games can cause unintentional suffering. As for Mordheim: City of the Damned, which is the latest title I’ve found myself frustrated with, it seems to be unintentional. But is it worth it in the end, or is this a title for hardcore fans of the genre only?
Mordheim: City of the Damned is a third-person, action-strategy, RTS turned RPG title based on the 1999 table top game of the same name. Whilst set in the Warhammer universe, Mordheim: COTD is a more skirmish-oriented derivative of the larger fantasy wargames in the series, and after a successful outing on the PC early access scheme last year, developers Rogue Factor have been hard at work to ensure its swift arrival on home consoles.
Before we get any further in, it’s about now I should tell you that I’m not quite the go to guy when it comes to anything from the Warhammer universe. Sure, like many people I’ve wandered inside a Games Workshop and watched on at all those knowledgeable people with a textbook understanding of the game, painting miniature figurines before using them in all out warfare, but my understanding has always been limited to how cool each of the little characters look. So, when the chance came along to jump into that same universe on the very console I use every day and have a good understanding of, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Whilst the story in Mordheim: COTD certainly isn’t anything to cause confusion, the gameplay isn’t the most welcoming to newcomers of the series.
The story centres on the city of Mordheim, a place the self-indulgent and tremendously wealthy call home. However, after a twin-tailed comet hits and destroys most of the city, the peace comes to an end. Inside the comet was chunks of the invaluable Wyrdstone that has been scattered across the remnants of the city, causing a fight for possession of the potent and destructive element. As the leader of the Warband – the ragtag group of ever-changing individuals including Archers, Bruisers and Pistoliers and Heroes – it’s your job to extract as much Wyrdstone from the ruined streets of Mordheim as possible.
Of course, you’re not going to be the only one looking to get in on the stuff, after all, Wyrdstone is no usual mineral. With its powers capable of healing sickness, and turning base metals into gold, amongst other properties, it was always going to be in high demand.
There are four different factions available to take forward into battle, with a fifth available as DLC. These include the human mercenaries, a group of law abiding priestesses, the mutated rat-like Skaven, and the Chaos bands, with the Witch Hunters available to those willing to part with the extra £7.99 required to attain their services. As with most games that offer a variety of starting choices, each Warband comes with their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as faction specific story missions in separate campaigns.
As for the missions in the game, these are all procedurally generated, thus ensuring players always have something ‘new’ to experience, however it seems the generation pool does have a limit with what it asks you to do. Whilst every mission’s main task is as simple as defeating all remaining enemies, many contain specific side objectives. These can include things such as killing specific individuals or gathering shards of Wyrdstone from the area, or the most common one I ran into – stealing the enemy artefact. However, these are all things you need to make sure you do before finishing a battle as the moment the last enemy drops to your blade… or mace, axe, bow, magic, etc. the match is over with no option to continue to collect resources or dropped – something which has caused me to lose out on bonus objectives several times over.
Whilst missions play a big part of the game, another important aspect is the management of your Warband. After each mission, everyone needs to be paid, and should you have failed to loot enough enemies throughout the missions or spent too much hiring the better options for your Warband then this can certainly become an issue, and a big one at that. Should you fail to pay members of your Warband, you can end up having the equivalent of a strike on your hands, with each of your following crowd refusing to battle. On top of this, should any members of your Warband not make it to the end of the battle, either due to poor placement on the battlefield or the games naturally unbalanced combat mechanics, then you may find yourself forced to restart entirely. Death for each member is permanent with no reviving available, and for those that make it out alive, the injuries attained are just as likely to put a strain on your coin purse as it is to fix death itself.
Whilst the constant punishment for the slightest mistake is certainly something to put a damper on things, the real issue with Mordheim: City of the Damned is the combat. From the moment you enter a game, the entire screen becomes a mass of confusing information and statistics, with much of it proving to be nothing more than a nuisance. At the start of each battle players are required to place each character into a starting position, however, traversing the map can be just as irritating as the combat with the success of climbing and jumping dependant on chance. Combat itself is no better. Each match hides enemies until they are in your line of sight, so combat is often had in one on one situations as you find each of the enemies. With each hit coming down to chance once more, and the actions themselves taking way too long to complete, the combat quickly becomes tiresome and very repetitive.
Another issue with Mordheim is just how frequently missed hits happen, despite often having a 95% hit chance, I found enemies simply dodging my attacks before going on to pull off a hit that would kill off my characters with just a 25% hit chance. This in turn can change a clear win to an easy defeat due to the random damage output of each hit, completely taking away any engagement with the game whatsoever.
During each campaign, players do have the option to dive into one-off skirmish battles to gain extra coins, however, with no real reason to be fighting, it can almost seem like a painful grind. This is due to the long and drawn out combat and with a loss seemingly as easy as heads or tails on the flip of a coin, it can also mean hours of preparation go down the drain for no real need at all.
Of course, for a game that offers such depth as Mordheim: City of the Damned, there is a tutorial section however it certainly isn’t newcomer friendly, with each of these taking up large amounts of time as well, offering no real understandable explanation into the more confusing aspects of gameplay. Unless you already have an extended knowledge of the universe it almost seems a bit pointless.
The last option of play is the online multiplayer offering. This is like the Skirmish battles found in the Campaign, with the option of playing one-off Skirmishes in which your Warband are spared death even after defeat, or playing a full battle to the death like those found in the usual campaign missions. Unfortunately my time with the game limited me to just a few matches due to a lack of players online. Again though, with combat so painfully slow completing a match becomes more of a tedious process with opponents tending to quit when they can see a loss on the horizon.
Overall and Mordheim: City of the Damned, whilst beautifully authentic in appearance, is truly let down by its lack of accessibility to newcomers and chance gameplay. Whilst there is certainly a decent chunk to sink your teeth into for series veterans, with lore plentiful throughout, those looking for an enjoyable turn based combat experience will be left a little disappointed.