Mordheim: City of the Damned (Xbox One) review
- Lots of ways to customise your team, with equipment, stats and skills all making a difference
- The penalties for losing are harsh, but make winning very satisfying
Not So Much?
- Progress is slow - the turn-based combat sessions can take a while, and it will take a lot of sessions for your team to get near the best rewards
- The game is not one of the prettiest around, with dull palettes for the city often leaving you checking the map to confirm your surroundings
You would need to pay me a lot of money to handle dangerous materials that risk causing mutations or death… and that financial impetus is basically your character’s motivation in Mordheim: City of the Damned. Unfortunately, you’re not the only one getting paid to head in.
Mordheim was originally released in 1999 as a board game by Games Workshop, the creator of the Warhammer franchise and set in the same world. However, the game was discontinued only a few years later, although had gained enough of a following to continue with fanmade homebrew variants, before being released for PC late in 2015 and now a year later on the current generation of consoles.
While the game shares the same setting as the Warhammer titles, it is set several hundred years earlier than most of the other games, set in the ruins of the Mordheim after its hedonism and decadence was interrupted by a meteor strike. This impact has also left fragments of Wyrdstone around the ruins – also known in the setting as Warpstone, essentially being solidified Chaos and highly prized by various factions who are willing to send in teams of mercenaries such as your yourself.
Where Warhammer is about large scale conflicts between armies, Mordheim focuses on small scale clashes between these mercenary teams, with an upper limit of ten mercenaries being fieldable at a time. As such, you’re also required to become more focused on the micro-management of individual team members, with your leader taking in various types of hero and henchmen you have geared and – their survival and experience permitting – trained.
The core of the game is spent in a series of fully 3D battle maps; buildings can have multiple floors, line of sight will limit who your team can see, and so on. It’s not the prettiest game you’ll see on the current generation of consoles either; not ugly, but more functional than gorgeous. Similarly, the environments are largely composed using dull palettes, which is fitting for the setting but can also leave areas looking samey. This can make them a touch confusing to navigate, although an area map is available at all times, on which you can place your own waypoints (and having occasionally gotten disoriented swapping between the two views, I’d recommend doing so!).
Each unit is controlled by spending a limited amount of strategy points (used mainly for moving, as well as taking up defensive stances and using some equipment) and offensive points (used for attacking, special abilities, offensive stances and so on), taking turns decided by the value of their individual initiative. Winning is ultimately down to one side either being completely annihilated or – far more likely – suffering morale failure and retreating after losing several parts of their team… but naturally it’s not quite as simple as that.
There are a lot of factors to consider. Before heading into battle, you form your team, equip them with purchased (or looted) gear, adjust their stats according to experience gains, train skills, and generally tweak how they will handle. If you want a team of heavy armoured, great axe wielding brutes, soaking hits to take the enemy down? Fine. But you could also gear them in light clothing, hoping they can dodge incoming attacks, with other ranged team members clambering onto rooftops hoping to snipe a few targets… and that’s fine too. Finding a way of playing that fits is key, as is not getting attached to your team.
There is a deliberate focus on this being a more hardcore experience. The game auto-saves after pretty much every action, meaning whenever you’ve done anything in or out of combat, you will be living with that choice. And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, every time one of your team is taken down there is a risk of them suffering an injury, ranging from cuts and bruises, through more serious results like losing a limb, to death. There is a big incentive to keep your team standing, in the knowledge that at times you won’t.
If that all feels a little to harsh, it is slightly balanced thanks to a legacy system, with certain in-game goals granting points towards perks such as cost reductions or the chance for weaponsmiths to send you free gear. These are unlocked for all warbands you create, so after an early team ends up too injured and poor to pay its way, your next team can start from a stronger position.
If there is one main criticism to make, it’s one of pace. Each combat session can take more than half an hour – closer to an hour is common – and it will take a lot of missions to be gearing your team and levelling their skills. Simply put, progression is slow – like the carrot dangled in front of the proverbial donkey, you can regularly see things ahead of you waiting for you to reach them, but it’ll be hours of playing time before they feel within reach… if your team survive.
This may not be off putting, of course – if you are looking for a game to enjoy over a long period, maybe giving it an hour or two a day to get a couple of fights cleared, knowing that there is more ahead still to get might be exactly the incentive you need.
It’s a game that had a slow burn effect on me. The first few hours were spent hoping the team didn’t get too badly roughed up, where even my victories had serious casualties for me to deal with, and I couldn’t decide if I was just being masochistic going in for another session. Even having played the tutorials, introducing the four core factions as well as basic game mechanics for engaging or disengaging enemies, there felt like a lot I still wasn’t grasping. Then, after a few sessions I realised I was considering my team composition while out and about, and thinking in terms of correcting strategy failures for the next session. When you see your team strategy coming together and routing an enemy warband with no losses, it is a great feeling, the exact opposite of seeing your hero brought back home just in time to die of his injuries. It’s a slow game to establish itself, but when it does, it really does.
Mordheim: City of the Damned is not a game that welcomes you to play so much as challenges you to. It makes a point of being punishing to failure, and the pace of gameplay means that decisions made may turn out to be the wrong ones hours later… or a sense of progression can be wiped out through a bad loss (or pyrrhic victory). But it does have a hook, a curious compulsion to face the harsh penalties for failing and still keep trying regardless.
Family Fiends Findings?
- Rated Mature (17+) by the ESRB for Violence and Blood; and has a 16+ age rating from PEGI for “Realistic looking violence”