Mordheim: City of the Damned (PC)
Developer: Rogue Factor
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: 20th of November, 2015
MSRP: $39.99 USD
The amount of Warhammer games in the past year has been well and truly staggering. For a guy who hasn’t really gotten a chance to grow up with this Games Workshop IP, I’ve felt very intimidated coming into it. However, due to the release of Fatshark’s Vermintide, I was able to jump in to the world and really get to see the diverse and bleak characters, and lore. The next big Warhammer game that was brought to my attention was Mordheim: City of the Damned. And I sure am damned for not having this under my radar any sooner!
Mordheim: City of the Damned is a turn-based strategy game that came out as Early Access back on the 20th of November, 2014. The game is based upon the tabletop variant of the game Mordheim. Playing off of the storyline of the game, a twin-tailed comet smashed into the imperial city of Mordheim. After this catastrophe, the city is plunged in utter chaos with ‘wyrdstone’ strewn all over the city. These stones, house great and terrifying magical properties within them, forcing all the factions to fight amongst themselves to claim them for their own purposes.
There are currently four available factions to choose from, including the Reikland Mercenaries. Who are essentially the Empire’s hired arms, tasked to claim these wyrdstones in the name of the Empire in order to rebuild their city. The Clan Eshin who is one of the four great Skaven clans that consist of assassin ratmen who are collecting the stones for their weaponry and consumption in order to gain even more power for their eventual attack on the surface world. The Sisters of Sigmar are holy clerics who are trying to collect these vile wyrdstones and lock them away from nefarious ne’er-do-wells. Finally, the ne’er-do-wells themselves: The Cult of the Possessed, representatives of the Chaos faction who seek to obtain these wyrdstones in order to appease the Shadowlord with their offerings. While these four are all extremely unique from one another, the developers have gone on to say that there are interests in creating more factions. However, priority is placed on balancing the currently available four factions for the games official launch.
Mordheim is an unforgiving city. It goes to show that the game is just as brutal. In this game of strategy, even if you win, it may not mean you really have won at all. When a unit loses all their health during a skirmish, the character is ‘Out of Action’ for the remainder of the battle. At the end of the battle (win or lose) the character will then have a chance to either recover completely, have minor injuries, lose a limb or even die.
When it comes to combat, at the beginning of each campaign, you may have a chance to deploy your starting forces in the position you’d like them in. After that, you’ll start the turn with an initiative check for all of the combatants on the field. The character with the highest initiative will go first, the second highest goes next and so on. At this point, you’ll have to go around gathering wyrdstones or trying to take down the enemy warband. To take down the enemy warband, you’ll have to kill them all off or kill enough of their high value units to force them to rout. High value units available for all factions include leaders, heroes and ‘impressives’. The rest of the warband are henchmen that supplement these units. Each character will take their turn to move however many action points they have available and perform as many actions as possible in relation to their offensive points before they conclude their turn. Once a battle meets its conclusion, you’ll get to see the losses sustained, loot gained and just how well your units fair from their wounds during battle.
The amount of mechanics laced within each faction are extremely detailed. The mercenaries are extremely versatile and are capable in combat with their swords, shields, axes and long bows. The Skaven are highly mobile and can suck up wyrdstones along the map in a blink of an eye and even take out out-of-position enemy units. The sisters are an impregnable fortress as they tumble through and blitz everything in their path with various buffs and divine magic. The Cult live up to their chaotic alignment with their unholy strength and random mutations that can provide either a boon or hindrance to the situation at hand. With so many variables, every match is unique and can fill players with dread against certain factions or glee as you rip them to shreds.
Before and after battles, you’ll be placed in the warcamp where you can manage your team. By managing your team, I mean, bandaging your wounded crew and being robbed of your precious gold to pay for your warband’s continued services. During this time, you’ll also be able to customize, allocate stat points and train your various warband members on the extensive list of skills and spells. You’ll also get a chance to send shipments of wyrdstone to primary and secondary factions in order to receive faction bonuses including the ability to hire units from other factions and item bonuses. You’ll also access the shop where you can buy from their wares which cycle every so often or sell loot received from enemies during battle.
The team over at Rogue Factor have done an absolutely incredible job with their take on Mordheim; a city, devastated by evil corruption and ruination. The rubble of various buildings, the complete destruction of locations, the darkened skies, every aspect of the environment has been turned upside down to show a beautifully morose city. The green hue that is ever-present in this game is a prevalent theme that represents the central and most important piece of the game: The wyrdstones. With a plethora of different maps to fight in, the environment is always refreshing and doesn’t feel stale. Aside from the environment, the character designs are incredibly on point with the original game. The ability to customize these characters with both color and model changes gives you, the player, a lot of option to feel overly attached to you henchmen. As bad of a mistake as that may be.
When you purchase Mordheim: City of the Damned, you also score the entire sountrack within the game’s files. There are 13 tracks within the game. All of which was composed by Stephane Primeau, Rogue Factor’s residential Sound Designer. The use of heavy drums and horns accompanying the chorus helps to paint the savage war amongst the factions as they clash against one another. The subtle instrumental change for each of the faction’s themes also demonstrates their uniqueness. From the sporadic rhythm and tone of the Chaotic cultists to the slightly eastern-influenced ‘shadow assassin’ Skaven, all the small details shows off Primeau’s capabilities as the Sound Designer on this project.
Aside from the glowing remarks I’ve made, there are some gameplay issues that blemish the game only slightly. I’ve come across small bugs such as enemies instantly glitching through corners of a wall or door way, characters getting caught on invisible walls between the base of a staircase and the floor and sometimes the finicky hitboxes of various intractable objects are sometimes tricky to interact with. I’ve also had some frustration with the way looting corpses work. How, if a corpse is within a circle of another character, it is unobtainable until the character moves out of the way. This is frustrating due to the fact that, if these items are not taken while the body is still on the ground, all weaponry and gear return to the opponent with no risk of being stolen. It would be incredibly silly to not be able to pick up an enemy’s purple-rarity weapon just because an ally’s circle of attack is covering it up.
Another issue I could nitpick on is the way the camera works when it’s the opponents turn. When the controlled enemy is not in sight of an allied unit’s vision, the camera would get locked into position and won’t move anywhere else. This gets silly when having vision is integral to planning. During this time, I find myself opening up the map screen and trying to plan using that. It would be extremely beneficial if at the very least, when an enemy isn’t in sight and you’re waiting on their turn to end, you can cycle through the allied unit’s perspective and plan using that.
My final problem with the game is the deployment system. In many campaigns, a player will have deployment zones all over the map. The only way to select these deployment spots for a character, is to cycle through them using ‘A’ or ‘D’. In a particular level, I was ambushed by Skaven and when the map began, I had over 50 deployment zones all over the field. I wanted to place all of my forces together in one ruined house so they could get together and defend. Because of the inaccessibility to quickly choose a deployment zone, I had to cycle through 25 times in either direction to reach the optimal point to deploy all 8 members of the warband. This became a tedious slog and I’m truly hoping I don’t have to experience that again. I feel the best workaround for this issue would be to allow deployment through the map and clicking on deployment spots.
When it comes to gameplay against AI, there’s no mistaking it. The AI is generally a whole lot dumber than against a human opponent. That said, they’re no slouch. Within the campaign, I’ve had my entire warbound of Sisters of Sigmar wiped completely by a team of Cultists who was able to throw armor piercing and melee damage buffs on their henchmen. It was a lesson I wouldn’t forget about the Cultist. And that’s the beauty of the AI’s ‘simple’ mindset. They play by the books and that’s extremely good practice against a true player enemy warband. That said, once you get use to the AI, you’ll start to understand that they don’t have the capability to be reserved, something that can be easily exploited. Especially in the hands of a smarter player.
Now, the multiplayer component is where I’ve had the most fun. I got wrangled into this game with friends and we’ve set up a tournament between the three of us. The multiplayer’s mode ‘Skirmish’ pits you against players online in a campaign match. Because the nature of the game is so similar to the original tabletop, the game effectively becomes a digital tabletop version of Mordheim between real players. Discussing strategies and throwing them against one another has been an absurdly thrilling time. The only thing to complain about which can’t be the games fault is that, because the enemy warband is controlled by a player, they’ll require more time to think and so character turns can take a while. Due to not having a timer in place, this isn’t really something that can be fixed. Having a timer would hurt the nature of this strategy game too.
Mordheim: City of the Damned is an incredibly enjoyable game despite its bugs and game design choices. The AI’s simple nature lulls players into a foolish level of confidence that will only bite them in them rear. Having a friend to play this with can lead to some heavy rivalry as you try to take down each other’s best units. The game’s got lore oozing out of it and the beautiful environment truly paints the game exactly as it is: A dark, dangerous and breath-taking experience. At least, the last breath is.