There have been plenty of gaming franchises based on properties owned by Games Workshop over the past decade, including the likes of Warhammer 40,000 and Blood Bowl, but there has been little interest ever shown in Mordheim. This tabletop game is similar to the Warhammer series but more focused on smaller skirmishes and includes role-playing elements and a campaign structure. Now Rogue Factor have taken the property and created a tactical role-playing game that was first released for PC last year but has now been ported to Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Mordheim: City of the Damned features turn-based combat in the same way as it is included in games such as XCOM and Massive Chalice. This, combined with the rest of the gameplay, can be a little overwhelming at first simply due to the in-depth nature of everything. Going through the tutorials is a must for anyone who wishes to get a firm grasp of what they need to be doing in and out of combat. Even when you go through the few hours of learning the basics, it doesn’t really prepare you for the mayhem you will encounter once you start playing for real.
The developers have taken a rather unforgiving mentality when designing this game. Many of the features of other entries in this genre allow for players to go back to checkpoints or ratchet down the difficulty. Not Mordheim – here you are simply left to tackle the game in the way that Rogue Factor intended, without any path to making it easier. The fact that the game autosaves after every action also means you cannot just create multiple saves until you get the positive result you wanted.
This unforgiving nature is exemplified by the fact that once a character in your company dies, they are gone forever. Having such a permanent feature included forces you to think carefully about every little thing you do, as it could mean losing a vital warrior who you have invested a huge amount of time in. This compliments the slow pace of the combat and is a good way to ensure that players take their time over their strategy. It also creates a sense of tension and drama that is very rarely present in these types of games as there are genuine consequences.
The combat itself can be frustrating at times but it works relatively well for the most part. Encounters generally focus on melee attacks and are initiated by moving characters closer to the enemy. From here, you can choose whether you want to attack, get into a parry stance or be prepared to dodge any oncoming attack. While the battle system is obviously meant to be slow and methodical, it is hampered with the continuous clicking of setting and the game asking if you are sure you want to do a certain action. It takes you out of the action too often and makes it difficult to fully engage.
The main part of the game is the Warband mode. Here you have to recruit soldiers, level them up, and go out and fight battles in skirmishes against a variety of enemies. These random encounters can range in their objective, though it will often involve just killing all of the enemies and taking their loot back to sell. As you progress throughout the story, you’ll spend a lot of your time doing the same sort of things over and over again without any real spice to mix things up. This lends to a feeling that you are simply going through the motions a lot of the time.
It is also let down by inexcusably long load times that mean the game can seem like even more of a grind than it really is at times as you spend so much time waiting to get into the action. The third-person view also poses problems when you are attempting to move around a level, perhaps indicating that a more top-down perspective might have been more appropriate.
Most disappointing though is the confused and cluttered user interface. It is abundantly clear from the very start that Mordheim was designed for the PC. While the developers have gone to some effort to make it more suitable for playing on home consoles, the UI struggles to be effective when used with a controller rather than a keyboard and mouse. This is a problem of the game being ported across from PC rather than being built from the ground up for consoles, but other titles have managed to get around the issue rather more elegantly than this.
Ultimately, Mordheim: City of the Damned can feel like a slow and tedious grind at times, though, the vast amount of stats and strategic choices do provide a depth not present in most turn-based combat games on consoles. The complexity is what makes or breaks this as an experience. If you want a game that forces you to play methodically and think about every action, this is the perfect title for you. If you prefer a more fast-paced experience that focuses more on action, it would be best to stay away.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes. Mordheim: City of the Damned is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and will launch on Windows PC on November 16.