Mordheim: City of the Damned is a frustrating mix of turn based tactics, persistent injuries, excruciatingly long load times, and annoying camera angles. My first few hours of play were filled with irritation as I beat my head against the wall without much to show for it. I went into the game focused almost entirely on combat, and I only started to enjoy myself when I switched to trying to make my Warband successful instead of just trying to hit stuff with swords. Despite this, the fact remains that Mordheim obviously didn’t give a damn whether I liked it or not.
Mordheim: City of the Damned places players in charge of a Warband, a group of warriors from the player’s chosen faction, on the quest to gather as much Wyrdstone as possible from the titular city of Mordheim after a twin tailed comet smashed into and decimated the city. The game does grimdark very well, and oozes Warhammer from every pore. However, it also offers only four factions for players to choose from, a far cry from the board game’s offering of over a dozen. Three of the available factions are humanoids, with very little to distinguish them on first blush. The fourth faction, Skaven, is composed entirely of little rat-men who immediately stand out from the crowd.
The factions play differently, relying on different tactics and strategies to be successful. Except for The Cult of the Possessed, there is no success to be had with them, I don’t care what you say. The lack of obvious faction diversity means that players are going to be facing off against a ton of similar looking units over and over. There is still plenty of time for the developers to add new factions to the game, but they missed an opportunity by not including at least one more non-human faction to the game upon release. The board game was brimming with excellent choices, and the ball has been dropped in that area so far.
The gameplay itself is a mix of grind, grind, grind and persistent character growth and development. Each faction has a narrative driven single player campaign, but it comes in odd chunks, with big blobs of story plopped on to the player in the form of story specific missions. Those missions task players with unique objectives that are significantly more interesting than the standard skirmish missions, but really don’t contribute to the feeling that there is a story-based campaign being played.
Most of the time, players will be grinding away at the regular skirmish missions in order to gather enough Wyrdstone to ship off to a benefactor in order to keep advancing their Warband. Selling this stone currency is also the most effective way to get money in order to equip and power up your Warband, so careful Wyrdstone management is key. This requirement acts as a timer of sorts. If you don’t fulfill your currency obligations, your Warband’s progress will be halted, effectively ending the campaign for that squad. That Warband can still be used in multiplayer matches, if you can find any.
Multiplayer matches come in two varieties. There are simple skirmishes, and battles that have all of the ramifications of the single player missions. Far more interesting than playing against the computer, you will need to weigh the benefits of improved competition against the risk of potentially permanently altering your warriors for the negative.
One of Mordheim’s best features is its persistent character system. As warriors fight and earn experience, they can be improved in many different ways. Those same warriors can also suffer temporary and permanent injuries, and can even be killed outright. The risk of losing a warrior forever adds excitement to the game that fills the average grind with a bit of spice. Collecting Wyrdstone becomes significantly more interesting when a favorite warrior finds themselves surrounded by the enemy, especially considering that the risk of injury and death are ever present.
The player gains experience as well, earning points that they can sink into various abilities and bonuses that apply to all of that player’s Warbands. This sense of progression is rewarding, although the player should probably be prepared to throw away their first Warband, as the game can be frustrating to get the hang of. The gameplay itself isn’t hard to come to terms with, but a fresh player combined with a rookie Warband is in for a tough slog without any bonuses. While each mission lists the relative difficulty in relation to the player’s Warband, the game will not hesitate to punish a player for playing poorly.
The combat itself is fairly standard. Players generally have a huge amount of freedom in how they move their warriors around the battlefield before committing them to one final destination. Dice rolls are handled behind the scenes and the action plays out relatively smoothly. The game looks good, and the locales and various missions fit the theme of the game well. The camera doesn’t always play nicely though, especially when warriors are close to multiple walls. The camera can actually cause problems while playing, as the city is riddled with traps that can be difficult to detect even when the camera is looking where you want it to.
Controller support is seamless in Mordheim, and the game has a really good slate of graphical options, but the biggest flaw in Mordheim is the seemingly-interminable load times. I installed the game on both a spinning disk and a solid state drive, and the load times were only slightly improved but still terrible on the SSD. I started to form a habit of queuing up a mission, going off to do something else for a few minutes, and returning after I’d finished my chore, snack run or bathroom break.
Even lacking more interesting factions, being grind-heavy and having near unbearable load times, Mordheim still succeeds at being fun and interesting. It is enjoyable to build a faction from the ground up and easy to get attached to favorite warriors. Even though player focus needs to be centered more on Wyrdstone and objectives rather than pure combat, different tactics and strategies can be fun to plan and execute.
Ultimately, Mordheim is a good tactical skirmish game, although it will probably only really click with more hardcore players. It’s an adaption of a board game, so it scratches many of the same itches that tactical skirmish board games scratch for me, and I may be giving it more leeway than it deserves because I am such an avid boardgamer. The load times are rough, and the camera and rigid difficulty can be frustrating, but there is still a lot of fun to be had with the game that will only increase if more factions are added over time.
Mordheim: City of the Damned was reviewed on PC via Steam using a code provided by Focus Home Interactive.
I like Mordheim more than I should. The game is a turn based grind-fest with a tacked on story mode, yet I keep firing it back up to play just one more mission.