I am a terrible person. After hours of building up my party, I looked at the wreckage of my warband. My hero stood in tatters, this Reiklander who I thought was some kind of fearsome. With his one remaining arm, he looked more like I should have put him out of his misery. This was all because I pushed it. Tsk, tsk, keyboard warrior.
Mordheim: City of the Damned is a tactical RPG based on the Warhammer tabletop game of the same name. Going in, I had no experience with this particular setting, but plenty with Warhammer overall through the last decade of novels and computer games. All of that background was only helpful, but, thankfully, unnecessary. I knew enough to identify the major factions, like Chaos and the Skaven, and that alone was enough slide into the setting like an old glove.
If there’s one thing Mordheim does well, it’s sell the Warhammer setting. The atmosphere is perpetually dark and brooding, which is fitting considering this is a game of hulking abominations and nameless horrors on common city streets. Everything is creepy and off, cast in the tones of a fresh bruise. Everything in Mordheim screams that this is no place anyone would ever want to be. Except, well, everyone does. This is Warhammer, after all, and they have dark reasons.
In this case, it’s Wyrdstones. The contrivance that propels you through the game is simply this: a meteor strikes the city uncovering shards of extremely valuable, powerful magic gems. Warbands near and far descend on Mordheim to claim their prize. You take up a band of your own, choosing from the Sisters of Sigmar, Skaven, Reiklander Humans, or the Cult of the Possessed, and proceed through a mix of skirmishes and story missions, leveling up your party as you go.
Unlike other recent tactics games, Mordheim embraces its roleplaying roots. You start off with a single hero but quickly recruit a band of mercenaries, earning experience for successful missions and completed objectives. Every unit can be leveled up, earning attribute points and specialize with new skills and equipment. You can also loot fallen enemies, sell their goods, and find still-warm upgrades. You have to pay your band, too, or else they will may refuse to fight. A “veteran” character can also be raised up and provide bonuses to your party by completing optional side objectives. There are no dialogue options, but this is definitely a game about building a party of characters.
The real nitty gritty of Mordheim plays out on the battlefield. Like most tactics games, every unit plays in turns based on initiative. Virtually everything is based on some kind of stat; a sure blow can miss if your accuracy is low, or you might be paralyzed if you fail a fear check, so all of that leveling up leads to unique experiences between your characters. It can be a intimidating, with constant percentages and test notices popping up on the screen, and immersion breaking when an arrow misses from three feet away, but once you find Mordheim’s groove, it feeds into a rich tactics experience.
Unlike many other games, City of the Damned defaults to a third-person view. It’s nice to admire all of the detail Rogue Factor has crammed into the city and its denizens, but it makes for an awkward view of the battlefield. Even zooming out, you’re stuck turning to a “strategy view” which feels like a low-res Google Map. It’s slightly baffling that there is no middle-ground between “too-close” and “as far out as possible.” It makes the game’s early moments even harder than they already are -- and I’m talking about the tutorial.