Over the years, I’ve played a few Games Workshop’s offerings. They’re based in my home town of Nottingham, so it sort of makes sense. From Warhammer to Space Hulk, the table-top nights of years past were always a little fun. I never got so much into it that I played the Mordheim series and in some respects that’s sad. The digital offerings have varied. Space Hulk on the Amiga was amazing fun, taking top-down, turn based gaming to another level at the time. Can we place Mordheim: City of the Damned in the same bracket for today’s consoles?
Mordheim is a tactical RPG based on the tabletop game of the same name. A twin-tailed comet has smashed into the Empire city of Mordheim, scattering magical Wyrdstone all over the ruins. Fight as one of four main Warbands, battling to control key neighbourhoods in this shattered city. The story is set during the intro of the game, which repeats every time you load the game up, irritatingly.
If you’re going to invest in Mordheim: City of the Damned, than I’d highly recommend running through the Training sections right from the off. This simply isn’t a game that you can launch yourself into. To put it in simple terms, you’ll get mullared from the off and from there it’s a downward spiral into frustration and misery. That being said, you sort of sleepwalk through the tutorials. There are so many elements to the game it’s a miracle if you don’t get overwhelmed by the number of things that you have available as turn choices.
Turn choices. There’s the biggest gripe I have with the game, right there. To get to the action, you first have to select a Warband to create. There’s four to choose from, being, Skaven clan Eshin, Human Mercs, Sisters of Sigmar and Cult of the Possessed. At the time of this review, the Cult was paid DLC only, which was a huge disappointment. Once you’re banded, you need to buy your members with your limited funds. There are several classes of warrior to pick and each one has different attributes, such as ranged attack, heavy attack, leadership etc. Its fairly standard for RPGs.
When you’re finally ready to start your campaign, you sort of sit there, waiting for something to happen. The campaign launches a Map screen and from there you get to pick a mission that will lead you, eventually, to the streets of the beleaguered city. Here’s where it gets a bit sketchy. You get the opportunity to add warriors to your Warband here, but its not explained how you manage this, nor if you’ve been successful in adding them. This can result in you fielding a vastly under-strength group of warriors. Not that this would seem to matter. No matter where you start on the difficulty scale, your warriors will be axe-fodder.
I’ll explain. As you attempt missions, you’ll gain XP which can lead to skill upgrades, even if you were defeated, or as the game calls it, routed. During the course of the battles, if your warriors are debilitated or killed, you’ll get a report on their injuries and their chances of survival at the end of each mission. In one battle, my Hero received significant nerve damage, rendering him pretty much useless for the remainder of his warrior life. Despite this, you still have to pay the warrior upkeep, despite running very short on gold. Thus the downward spiral of Mordheim: City of the Damned begins.
Start a mission then, and you will start your ‘turn’. These are performed in rounds and I still struggle to follow the logic behind how they are playing out. Your Hero or Leader seems to go, thus exposing him as you’re never sure when the enemy will be moving, then the enemy start to move. After this, the rest of your Warband move. I still don’t understand why it happens like this. As with some classic games, like Laser Squad, Mordheim makes you think about the trade-off between moving great distance and attacking. The options that you have use some form of Action Points, but as I seemed to go through the Tutorial in something of a malaise, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where these are on the display.
These turns allow you to choose a finishing ‘stance’ from your warrior. Choose from Hold Ground, Ambush, Dodge or Parry depending on whether you’re engaged with an enemy. The combat mechanic is, if truth be told, a massive disappointment in this game. I get that Developer, Rogue Factor, want to try to capture the essence of the tabletop game and the way that they inevitably run in turns, but this serves to make the digital version confusing and frankly tedious.
Once you’re engaged with your enemy it’s a case of tap A then A again. There’s no feeling that what you’re doing after that isn’t down to anything other than luck. If luck is all that the game uses to score hits, misses, dodges or parries, then I must have completely lucked out in life. There’s no connection to the gamer, not like other tactical RPGs on the market.
Make no mistake, Mordheim: City of the Damned is, right from the outset, tough. I tried to stick with it, but I’ve not won a mission yet. I’ve been soundly routed every single time. After five or six of these and with you having run out of gold to pay for your warrior’s upkeep and medical needs, it’s pretty much capitulation each time, with no chance of completing missions. It’s like real life but more brutal.
The city itself is beautifully rendered and the characters are nicely drawn and well animated. There was something that didn’t really ring true with the city streets though, and it took me a few days to realise what it was. There are no citizens left in the ruins. No dregs of humanity or the remnants of occupation. No wildlife or mutants hiding in the rubble to try to catch you out. It’s simply unrealistic.
Mordheim: City of the Damned is a missed opportunity. The decision to make this a turn based RPG doesn’t really work as the turn order in each round doesn’t make any sense at all. There’s permadeath in the game as well as debilitating injuries suffered in battle. This adds to the atmosphere but makes the difficulty ramp more of a 50-foot wall than a gradual incline and the over-complicated, plodding tutorial does nothing to inspire the player to remember what you’re supposed to be doing and in what order. The game is over-complicated and far too challenging to be enjoyable. The Campaign is sectioned into days for example. Nowhere does it mention this. I flipped around the Campaign menus, looking to start another inevitable rout only to find that I needed to end the day and recover injuries before I could try again. It’s an awful decision from the developers. The game would have fared much better by being a traditional Hack ‘n’ Slash RPG. It’s not a game-changer in it’s field. It’s simply a frustrating, difficult, confusing mess.