Mordheim: City of the Damned Review!

by on December 21, 2015


                Mordheim:
City of the Damned was originally a spinoff to the popular tabletop game
Warhammer Fantasy. It was designed to cater the needs of Necromundia and
Warhammer Fantasy fans and somehow it didn’t manage to do either. Mordheim
wasn’t received well by the fans and while it was and still is played, the game
doesn’t show the best of this universe. Nevertheless, in the light of recent
events with the massive overhaul brought by the Age of Sigmar, games like
Mordheim which are based in the classic world might be looked at from a more
positive perspective.
                Rogue’s Factor Mordheim:
City of the Damned is a video game adaption to the tabletop game that comes as
part of the huge wave of Games Workshop licenses that has been spread to
various game developers. This is a title that managed to come out from the now dangerous
process that is known as Steam Early Access with the support of the fans and a
listening ear from the developer.
                After
the crash of the twin tailed comet in Mordheim, the city has become a
battlefield for the warbands that have come from across the world to acquire
the valuable Wyrdstone fragments. Fierce battles take place all over the city
as the warbands risk their lives for glory and riches.
                The
game starts with the player picking from one of the four unique warbands
available. What follows is a number of screens filled with a ton of information
which for those that skipped on the tutorials might be hard to comprehend at
first. Mordheim is one of those games that has you carefully watching over a
huge number of stats, abilities and items for each of the characters recruited
into your warband. It’s a tedious process for a beginner, but gets much
smoother when getting the hold of the game. Customizing your characters is the
second step. When the starting money was spent and the characters are equipped
and ready for combat you can switch to the city’s map and look over the
available missions.
For Sigmar!! (But not his Age!)
                Your
warband can attempt only one mission per in-game day and while this seems
restrictive, the time is an important mechanic behind the singleplayer
component. Your presence in the city of Mordheim is made possible through a
certain benefactor, which is a faction that demands something in return from
you. As the city is full of valuable Wyrdstone fragments from the comet that
crashed nearby, your benefactors as well as the other factions want to get
their hands on these magical stones. So how does time fit into this? No matter
if you fail or succeed a mission, a day must pass until another mission can be
attempted. Doing missions is the only way to get Wyrdstone and the faction
behind your sponsorship is not very patient when waiting for a shipment of the precious
stones. A time limit is set for each shipment to your main faction, failing to
reach the deadline will result in a game over state. When this happens you
won’t be able to use that warband into singleplayer missions, but you will still
be able to play online against other players.
Finding the balance between the mission’s difficulty, the shipment’s
deadlines, the characters’ medical needs and so many other factors is crucial
if you want to advance further into this game and this won’t be an easy task.
Easy missions have priority!
It’s time to pay the debts.
                Mordheim
starts slow, mostly because the beginning is so hard that it takes at least one
failed warband and a good guide to better understand the game. Passing the
threshold from extremely hard to streamlined victories is the best and most
challenging part of the game, but even past that point your warband is never
truly safe. The grinding style gameplay goes through (probably) endless
randomly generated missions that have you facing a skimpy AI which more often
than not fails to take advantage of the map’s layout. This can set you in a
false state of comfort and security which should never be the case with
Mordheim. When you expect it the least the AI can strike with brilliant and
unpredictable ambushes which are so much different than the day to day mindless
fights. In a moment like this, heroes can fall, lose limbs or carry wounds that
will affect them for the rest of their combat lives. The lucky ones get away
with a scratch or a mild amnesia of the nightmare that they went through. But
this just another day with another battle, the dead will be forgotten, the injured
will heal their wounds and the healthy ones are getting ready for the next day,
the next battle. 
Like Skaven aren’t stupid enough!

                For the most part Mordheim
is a cycle of skirmish battles scaled to the player’s warband that can end
through tactical mistakes and miscalculations. The campaign serves as a
narrative distraction from the randomly generated battles. Its story is
forgettable and probably few players will pay attention to it but the
objectives are slightly different than the usual “kill the enemy warband”
which is the never changing main goal in skirmishes. The campaign gives a meaning
to your actions outside of collecting Wyrdstone fragments, but it’s hardly the
focus point of this game.
                Mordheim
is the make your own story kind of game and the bulk content stands in the random
skirmish battles. Tales can be told about the bravery, greediness and
foolishness that happen in the grayish green streets of the city. It’s not an
ideal way of presenting this world, but in all fairness Warhammer has always
been more about war and less about lore, which for all intents and purposes has
been somewhat stuck for years. So accusing the game of lacking a properly
written story with a good presentation feels a little unjust (but still doable).
On the other hand, considering that most of the game is about battles, in many
regards this key aspect of the game severely lacks in quality.
The usual fanatics!
                Right
of the bat the game feels cheap. Its tendency of repeating every aspect of itself
leaves almost no unique elements to set things apart.
The warbands are at the center of the game, being yours or
enemies, their existence is what drives the game’s action forward. But despite
their importance there are little elements that can differentiate them. The
stats and abilities customization is the only factor that matters, but the
concept behind how each unit works tends to repeat from one unique warband to
another. There’s little to no appearance customization and each unit of the
same type looks like the clone of the previous one. But these are probably
complaints for AAA spoiled gamers. The quality really starts to hurt when it
comes to the AI and the character’s behavior.
I’m getting tired of this face.
                The
enemy warbands don’t have any kind of personality. No special builds, tactics
or behaviors are to be expected from them. No team filled with ranged units
barricaded in a building and ready to shoot at everything that moves to take
you by surprise and drop a few of your units before you even know what
happened. They look and play the same with the only surprises coming from the
AI waking up from time to time.
Fighting enemy warbands means nothing more than fighting AIs
in random skirmishes that keep repeating as much as the procedurally generated
landscape. It can get tedious and the only thing that counters the maddening
feeling of doing the same thing over and over again is the thrill that comes
from the game’s hardcore design.

                Fighting
means business in Mordheim and this can’t happen without skilled warriors. Losing
an important member that has been with the warband since the beginning growing
into a fully fledged warrior can be frustrating. This is the ever present
danger that serves as the best tool against monotony keeping the adrenaline
level above the average for each mission. The starting difficulty and the
permanent chance of being defeated are pushing the game over the hardcore edge
that will filter the players trying their luck in the damned city after just a
few hours of gameplay. Mordheim is brutal to such degree that you can lose the
work of 20 hours in a matter of seconds because of poor decisions. The warbands
might not have personalities and the AI doesn’t always deliver, but when it
does it gets seriously dangerous and underestimating can send you to create a
new warband.
                Part of
the thrilling experience is the tactical combat turn based combat which looks a
bit different from the usual XCOM wannabe games, but plays in part the same.
Mordheim combat has you looking at your units from a 3rd person
position and moving them with the standard WASD controls that come with any
action game. But don’t get fooled, this is no action game. The presentation
might be different, but the end result is the same, a game where tactics,
careful planning and taking using each unit’s strengths are the decisive
factors.
                Each
battle starts with a deployment phase, which can be done by the game or
manually completed by the player. The deployment plays an important role into
the evolution of a battle. Depending on the scenario the units won’t always be
deployed close to one another forcing the player into making tactical decisions
that if done wrong could cost the life of one or more units jeopardizing the
entire mission. The deployment is tricky, mostly because of what I’ve mentioned
before and partly because of the control. In order to partially implement a
controller support the developers seem to have forgotten to implement the mouse
cursor wherever is needed. The deployment phase is a victim of this matter
having no mouse support forcing those using mouse and keyboard to slowly go
through each deployment point until they reach the desired one.
Automatic deployment makes things so much easier.
                The deployment is followed by a city exploration phase and the actual battle. It is advised to scout
first with a faster unit as the maps visual keep repeating but their layout does not. The procedural generation feature does a good job at changing the shape of the battlefield with each new battle, providing chock points for ambushes and a lot of room for tactical maneuvers. Because of the unexpected created by the randomized maps it is safer to move as a group while trying to a more advantageous position or scavenging for loot.
                If the initial phases are played right the enemy won’t manage to ambush your warband and their engage
on you should have a minimal to no impact (unless the Sisters of Sigmar get
some crazy hits going). The fate of the fight is dictated by good decision
making and by using each specialized character and their abilities to your
advantage. Surprise tactics can still come in play even when most of the units
are trapped into combat. Disengaging from a fight and attacking a stronger
enemy unit from behind forcing it into morale checks can change the tide. The
battle ends when one of the warbands is exterminated or fails the moral checks
running away in shame.
Power through numbers!
Imagine that a comet hit her in the head.

                Battles
are followed by a report providing information on the experience gained, the
stolen loot, the acquired Wyrdstones and much more. Each battle dictates the
progress of your warband. The Wyrdstones can be sent into shipments to pay the
debts to the benefactor faction or to other factions to get in good with them.
Increasing the reputation with each faction grants progressive bonuses,
including stronger items and better units. The scavenged items can rarely be
used as most of the factions use specific types of weapons, but these items can
be sold and with the gold gained new units can be hired or new items can be
bought from the vendor.
                The
material goods sustain a warband, but most of its combat capabilities come from
the experience gained by each unit after a fight. Leveling grants attribute
and skill points which can be spent on improving each unit’s stats through simple points allocation or paid
training specializing them for certain roles. The paid training offers new passive and active abilities that make a notable difference during
battles. Each different unit in a warband plays a different role and knowing
what that means and customizing these units accordingly will increase their
combat value.
The combat value can and will be affected by wounds which
vary a lot in severity from scratches to severed limbs. The wounds are assigned
based on the damage sustained during a fight, but units that are knocked out
during battles have a higher risking of being severely wounded and can even die
after combat.
                The
process of the battles and their implications go past the battlefield itself
and the players should always take this into account. The mechanism of
maintaining and using a warband is complex and even when having the hold of it
the randomness that comes with this type of games can unexpectedly change
things. So, always be prepared for the worst.
The tanky leader.
Charging is the way to go!
                Mordheim
has some interesting features and good mechanics behind it. But for every good
feature there is at least one that doesn’t work so well constantly reminding of
the low production value.
                The
main problem comes from the shortness of content which the developers tried but
didn’t succeed in hiding. It starts with having four out of the six warbands
available in the core tabletop game and continues with a lot of content that is
striking through similarity.
                The
maps are procedurally generated, yet, more often than not they look alike. For
a game using the technology of randomizing its visual assets, Mordheim has a
really small number of unique visual assets to work with. But this is just the
tip of the iceberg. In a game where customization of the characters is key
there is little to no customization when it comes to these characters visuals.
Every type of unit looks the same as every type of armor and weapon looks the
same and while looting something new and powerful could be exciting, part of
that excitement dies when the new hammer looks like the older hammer. In an era
when games sell cosmetic items in exchange for real money, there’s little
cosmetic about Mordheim City of the Damned and that’s a turnoff more than some
would care to admit. This game is the reimagining of a tabletop game that
is not only known for its tactical gameplay but also for the ability of the
players to customize the look of their units to their liking, conditioned by
their painting skills.
Sadly they all look the same…
                The
graphics are what one should expect from a game with a limited budget. The
texture quality could and should be higher than this, but the artistic
direction is spot on recreating the architectural grandeur of a city from the
Warhammer universe even if it is in ruins. The green grayish pallet with a
little brown here and there might be upsetting for some, but this is how many
envision this bleak universe and I found it in ton with the lore and extremely atmospheric. There are no
reflections, no enhanced lighting or extremely detailed shadows, which might be
alright for an isometric camera, but a 3rd person game could use all
of these. The animation don’t help either, they are stiff and mechanical, lacking the fluidity that could make the combat moments more visually entertaining.
                The
graphics might not be up to the PC standards of today, but the visuals are
appealing and I don’t see them as a turnoff as this wasn’t the main focus of
the game anyway.

One of the rarer structures in the randomized streets of Mordheim.
That clueless face is justified!
                What really bothers me it’s another spring off coming from the low production value: the sound design. The music is ok and the sound effects are decent even if they lack variety, but everything
kind of stop here. I was expecting voice acted warbands taunting each other
with units invoking their gods and commenting on the actions. It would have
been befitting for this type of game, but sadly as many other elements of
Mordheim, this was only partially explored.

                Drawing
a line after everything I’ve said above and this game wouldn’t come out too
good and that isn’t exactly accurate. Behind the wall of shortcomings resides a
tactical and thrilling gameplay so addictive that it kept me hooked for hours,
even after my dragged on failed attempt with my first warband. As an enthusiast of Warhammer 40k, I’ve never fully realized how much I enjoy the Fantasy
setting and Mordheim helped me see this.
                For all
the hours I’ve put into this game I’m still not sure if I can recommend it. Its
price tag is getting dangerously close to that of AAA titles, but without the
high production value that comes with this type of game. Mordheim is visibly crippled
by its lack of production value at every step. It’s clunky, lacking unique content and in desperate need of an AI that can keep up. Overcoming all these issues
can be hard. In return it can easily offer dozens of hours of challenging battles, tactical ingenuity and detailed characters development. Factoring in the multiplayer which provides the most
intense experience and the replay value that comes with this type of games and there is already a lot of value in Mordheim: City of the Damned.
                For the
fans of the tabletop games it is great to see a new game in their favorite
universe. The fans of tactical turn based games will find it as a good
distraction until XCOM 2 comes out. And for the rest of the players it is
probably safer to wait for a sale. As for me, it’s an enjoyable game with
extremely high potential delivered in a tin crackling shell that constantly
undermines Mordheim’s best qualities.

(This
article is based on a press copy of the game provided by the developer.)
Pros:
+ Great setting
+ Complex character development
+ Tactical combat
+ Addictive
+ Unforgiving
+ Atmospheric
+ Stays true to the universe and lore
+ The multiple campaigns add up to the replay value 
Cons:
– Average production value
– Mouse support isn’t fully implemented
– The battle UI is hard to navigate and has some issues
– Lacks visual variety
– Long loading screens
– AI can be awkwardly dumb
– Various bugs
Nodrim

Comments

in that it cant be recommended. Nor do i think its poor design, or execution. I like the art styling, yes a few things coulda had a bit of polish but fact is i wish there were more games like this, that more people supported them than stupid Final Fantasy or Skyrim so they dont die in obscurity. There hasnt been a turnbase arena battle game like this since Gladius on ogxbox and that had a 92/100 on metacritic and this out performs, out details, and outplays that in everyway. Even XCOM2 was getting 92 and 93/100 and this is in every way as good if not better, the combat for a turnbase is superb, well balanced, brutal. Its its own Mordheim sim and there needs be more like this, the game mechanics, and execution is mint. Over these hyped up affairs like Skyrim (anything Beseda really theyre been cashing in on reskin same engine, models and lame AI for years) Final Fantasy, Fallout etc for years its crud. The battle mechanics are true to the tabletop true turnbase RPG experience. Better than Divinity or Wasteland or Sword Coast Legend and better than Dragon Age franchise. As an ex D&D, Star Wars and James Bond table top RPG gamer, this is true bliss. I hope they stick around for a follow up with a bit more cash for polish but as is i cant put it down its brilliant)

I don't care about metacritic. It's a pretty bad system for rating games in today's gaming industry.

Mordheim lacks in many aspects and not only because of the license limitation. The level design is not varied enough. The RNG could be extreme. The graphics, animations and general polishing of the game aren't at a high quality. But more importantly, I wrote this review after the game was released and there were more problems back then than there are today.

You are comparing the combat system of a dedicated combat game with fully fledged RPGs which are, for the most part, focused on story, choices & consequences, character progression and other features, features that Mordheim barely has or lacks completely.

I try to write reviews as objective as possible. I like the Warhammer universe and I liked Mordheim as a video game, but I can't overlook problems just because of that. My job is to point these problems and help the readers take informed decision when buying a game and maybe open a few eyes to the artistic and imperfect aspects of video games. I'm open to criticism as long as it is grounded in argument not for subjective reasons.