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Mordheim: City of the Damned (PlayStation 4) Review

By Josh Di Falco 09.11.2016

Review for Mordheim: City of the Damned on PlayStation 4

Based on the tabletop board game released in 1999, Rogue Factor's first take on the fantasy series arrives on console, nearly a year since its PC iteration. Mordheim: City of the Damned centres around the titular city, which has been left in ruins due to a comet. In its wake, the scattered Wyrdstone are prized by the various warbands across the world, as they arrive at Mordheim to battle each other over the mystical, yet powerful fragments. Displayed as a third-person game, this turn-based strategy title contains mild elements of RPG that are part of the micromanagement portion of the game. This is a tale of two halves, in this latest video game adaptation in the expanding Warhammer Fantasy series.

The console version contains five playable warbands: the Human Mercenaries of the Empire, the rat-like Skaven, Sisters of Sigmar, the Cult of the Possessed and The Witch Hunters. The warbands vary in difficulty due to their different strengths and weaknesses. The Mercenaries is suitable for newcomers to the game, due to their balanced nature of strength, speed and endurance. The Skaven is also worth a shot for newcomers due to their increased speed and high dodge rate. However, the Sisters of Sigma, the Cult of the Possessed and the Witch Hunters require a bit of mastery in the core gameplay and an advanced knowledge of how the system works, before attempting a campaign as them.

Before digging into the meat of the game, Mordheim: City of the Damned features a very handy tutorial that consists of four battle-missions that do a grand job at explaining the complex fighting system. There is a lot of information, and while trying to retain it all can be difficult at first, the tutorial missions are a fantastic way to get all the controls down to pat. In addition to the four playable areas, the tutorial consists of highly detailed guides that do as best a job at explaining the various menus that control the second half of the game. While it may appear extremely daunting and cumbersome, it really is worth breaking through that initial grind in order to understand the mechanics of the game, because under this bonnet is a gaming engine that is extremely fun and equally difficult to play.

As previously mentioned, Mordheim: City of the Damned is a tale of two halves. Upon selecting a warband to play as, it is time to assemble a ragtag group of fighters. With the leader of the group already chosen, a hero and a various assortment of ranged or melee henchman join the group for a small fee. Warband members are bought, and upon completing missions; need to be paid for their services. In the early stages, only a small team can be assembled; however, as the team progress through the campaign and level up, more spots unlock thus allowing more fighters to join the team and increasing the warband. In addition to the main team, there are also the reserves, where resting or injured fighters sit on the sidelines, until a spot in the warband opens up for them to join the war party.

Purchasing these warband members is the initiating phase of making an emotional connection to the team. Upon buying the members, they can be outfitted in clothing, while their names and biography can be adjusted to the player's liking, in order to add that personal touch. These do not serve any real purpose except for assisting in role-playing, while the clothing is purely cosmetic and does not offer any statistical benefits. For purists of role-playing games who love to invest emotion and time into their characters, this can be a great distraction from the rest of what is on offer.

Screenshot for Mordheim: City of the Damned on PlayStation 4

Each member of the group has their own statistics that form the RPG element. Once a mission is completed, the active members of the warband earn experience points, which, upon levelling up, grant skill points that can be assigned to a certain statistic to be permanently upgraded. This is how the warband get stronger and more cohesive as a unit: by having a joint collective of warriors who are levelling up and getting stronger together. While the statistics are not as a deep as one would expect from a full-fledged RPG, this is still a deep system that influences the RNG (random number generator) system that the game employs.

In addition to their stats, the members of the group can also learn new abilities and spells. Doing so will take a certain amount of in-game days, thus rendering them unusable for missions until their training is complete. In the early stages, there are not a lot of options as to new abilities that could learned, but these open up as the characters get powerful, and they serve as a great reward for persevering with the warriors.

Upon organising the team, the warband then has to complete missions and skirmishes in order to earn money and loot, with which to upgrade the characters. Upon selecting a mission, the game opts for a third-person view as opposed to a top-down view, which gets right down into the grittiness of the stages and locations. The overall aim of these missions is to cause the enemy warband to rout by defeating enough of their fighters, all while collecting the Wyrdstone fragments scattered throughout the stages. This is because a mysterious sponsor, who requires a collection of Wyrdstone every few days, finances the warband. Therefore, keeping them happy ensures a steady income with which to purchase new members of the group, as well as offensive and defensive gear and weapons.

The main gripe with the menu-based micromanagement portion of the game is that it comes across as extremely wordy and is quite confusing at the beginning. It is definitely not user-friendly, and even though the tutorial tries its best to alleviate the uncertainty, it still requires a fair bit of playing around to finally get the hang of it, which can definitely turn newcomers off.

Screenshot for Mordheim: City of the Damned on PlayStation 4

All the characters on the battlefield, both player-controlled and enemies, are sorted into a set order, which is based off the initiative statistic. This order signifies which characters get to make their moves first whereupon the mission will commence in a turn-based system. Each character has a set number of Strategy Points (SP), signified by the blue orbs, and Offense Points (OP) signified by the red orbs. At the start of each round of turns, the orbs are at full capacity, where they can then be used on each character's turn.

SP is used to move the character on the field of play, as well as climbing up ledges or jumping down walls, scavenging for items, looting corpses and collecting Wyrdstone. A character begins inside a blue circle, and walking to the edge of the circle creates a new circle to walk into, at the expense of one blue SP orb. SP is also used to take a stance, which come in four variations. The Dodge stance is used to end a turn at the cost of SP points, which increases that fighter's chance of dodging the next incoming attack. The Parry stance only works if the character has a shield equipped, and it increases the chance of a parry followed by a counter-attack. The Ambush stance is used to keep a character on high alert and minimise their risk of being caught unawares by the enemy, by attacking those who come within a close distance of the character. Ranged fighters have an additional Overwatch stance, where they fire their projectiles at nearby enemies who may be passing by.

Performing jumps or a climb requires a further agility test by the initiating character. Should they pass that test, they then proceed with their move successfully. However, upon failure, they both lose an SP point and must attempt another shot at the move, or they lose a portion of their HP. Some characters are better at passing these tests than others, and as such, knowing the capabilities of each fighter is paramount to survival.

OP is used to perform physical attacks, or to buff up friendly weapons or fighters, as well as debuffing the enemies. Some fighters, such as leaders and heroes, have enough red orbs that they can perform a follow-up attack after their initial attack; however, the impact damage is lessened due to fatigue. For instance, on the first attack, the hero may have an 82% chance of inflicting damage in the range of 36-48, at the cost of two OP points. However, due to the amount of energy expended in that attack, the second attack requires three additional OP points, with a 71% chance of inflicting damage in the range of 24-35. Not only does this keep the fighting a little realistic, it also requires some strategic thinking as to when and how these decisions to launch such attacks occur. Ranged fighters with a bow or gun also use OP points to reload their weapon after they fire it once, so that must be kept in mind when taking aim with those sorts of fighters. Some actions, such as fleeing a battle or switching weapons, require a combination of SP and OP points, and because of this, must be used sparingly to avoid falling into nasty situations of being unable to defend themselves, due to running out of points.

Screenshot for Mordheim: City of the Damned on PlayStation 4

Like the menu-based game, this third-person skirmish view is also cluttered with graphics and text boxes, which clutter the screen with many unnecessary widgets. While these can be turned off, it further adds to the daunting prospect of trying to understand what everything is, and trying to make sense of what any of these widgets mean is anybody's guess. This is compounded with the swinging camera, which seems to be placed on a broken pivot. During each enemy's turns, the camera constantly rotates between the controlled characters, while quickly swinging from left to right, and it is a nauseating experience during these moments.

The fear and urgency is heightened in a skirmish due to not being able to see where the enemy is located, and having to rely solely on sounds, as well as noticing what sections of Wyrdstone is being collected, in order to ascertain a general area of where they could be hiding. What makes this experience even more stressful is the added risk that fallen characters in combat have a certain risk to whether they die, or get a permanent or temporary injury, which, for a time, renders that character as unplayable in future missions. Such moments require flexibility and the ability to be able to adjust the team on the fly, and being able to control those moments under the most stressful of circumstances is an art in itself.

The other thing that cannot be under discussed is the campaign itself. Putting it bluntly, it is hard. From the very first skirmish, the warband is thrown into the thick of it, and it may take a few missions to finally get the hang of things. Be prepared to lose many missions in the early stages, until a strategy is developed as to how to go about proceeding through the stages. This requires a lot of trial and error, and the game does a poor job in trying to explain just where the player is going wrong. This process is extremely grindy, and is a massive turn-off for those without a lot of patience or free time. What adds to the frustration of the failed missions is that they are quite lengthy, with some taking up to an hour to complete due to the calculated moves and the slow burn that tends to arise in such turn-based strategy games. However, for the hardcore gamers willing to give this a go, keep persisting and eventually that moment of gratification of securing a victory will come.

Mordheim: City of the Damned also has an online mode, where warbands can be taken into battle against other teams. No surprises, though; real life players are a lot harder than the AI teams, and as such, this can also be a frustrating experience. On a few tries, one would be lucky to last longer than five minutes against those hardcore players who seem to have all the answers. Apart from the online players, the skirmishes play out the same way it does offline, and as such, there is hardly any variation except for whoever the competition is.

Screenshot for Mordheim: City of the Damned on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Mordheim: City of the Damned is a tough game to get into at first. It is a daunting experience from the moment the game is turned on and the tutorials are attempted, but the mechanics are better off learned during the heat of battle. Trial and error will eventually get the ball rolling in terms of finally being able to win missions, but it does take a lot of losing early on to finally get into the swing of things. With not much of a story to keep newcomers interested, and its poorly laid out user interface, it is the rinse and repeat process of building a team of fighters and levelling them up across campaigns that is the real selling point. This is not a pick-up-and-play title, and it requires many hours of dedication before it starts to become a fun experience. Again, though, persistence is the key to cracking this beast of a game, and though it does deliver on its sense of accomplishment, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there.

Developer

Rogue Factor

Publisher

Focus Home Interactive

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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