In its first week of release, the medieval first-person combat game Mordhau sold over 500,000 copies, and over the weekend it peaked at 60,000 concurrent players on Steam. Many games never reach those types of milestones at any point during their lifetime, and this feat is even more astonishing when you consider that success has come to the freshman title of small indie developer Triternion.
That said, in the week since release Triternion had to deal with several hiccups, a few speed bumps, and even a brick wall or two. What does that mean for people interested in picking up a copy of Mordhau? We explore that question in our Mordhau review.
Before we thrust ourselves into the combat mechanics, let's touch on the more mundane things - graphics, UI, matchmaking, and other such nonsense. Mordhau is built on the Unreal Engine 4. Visually the game does not disappoint. At the highest video settings, the maps are beautiful. They are well designed with open areas for wild multiplayer combat along with choke points that allow just a handful of coordinated teammates to hold off against much larger numbers. The minimalist combat UI allows you to take in as much of this as possible with a stamina and health bar along with an objective box and chat windows taking up very little real-estate on the screen as you fight.
Other than well-crafted maps and decent character models, there is one more thing you can expect to see on your screen - gore. If movies like Braveheart and shows like Game of Thrones have taught us anything, it’s that medieval combat was brutal. Triternion has done a great job of taking that same gore level and putting it into the game. As matches rage on, mangled bodies will start to litter the battlefield, with severed heads and limbs lying in large pools of blood. Weapons and armor will also quickly become covered in blood.
But it doesn’t stop there. I have had several things happen to my character that I never expected. At one point I errantly jumped from a wall, only to find myself skewered by the spikes on top of a barricade. In another battle, I was engaged in a decently sized skirmish. I was able to take out a couple of enemies and then turned to the right just in time to see another player launch a spear from a scorpion from about 10 feet away; I almost fell out of my chair when it hit me.
With the last traumatic experience I had, I thought I had encountered a bug. I was in a fight and was killed. As my body fell to the ground the screen started spinning around. After a few seconds, I realized it wasn’t a bug at all but was actually my head rolling away from my body with the first-person camera still engaged. Yep, the game has plenty of gore.
As far as match types go, all the staple options are here, with up to 64 players per match:
- Offline play - Unfortunately there isn't a single player campaign, but you can hone your skills offline against AI opponents.
- Horde - The lone PVE co-op option, Horde has players fending off AI opponents, with each round throwing more and more enemies against you. You start the match with no equipment. As you kill off AI and progress through each round you will earn gold that can be used to purchase armor and weapons.
- Deathmatch - Exactly what you would expect. Both free for all and team options are available.
- Skirmish - Team Deathmatch with only one life per round.
- Frontlines - This is a team-based tug of war. You must capture control points as you advance towards the enemy base. There are defensive points that can be built up across the map, and siege weapons can also be manned to aid your team.
- Battle Royale is your typical deathmatch with an ever-shrinking map. This felt like the weakest of the modes available. Unlike many BRs which move the safe zone around as the map shrinks, the dead zone in Mordhau very slowly shrinks to the center of the map and adds virtually no strategy to the fight.
As I said above, there have been some hiccups during the launch, and matchmaking has been one of the biggest hurdles Triternion has faced. The popularity of the game was well above expectations, so servers were swamped with people wanting to play the game. Matchmaking was quickly broken, and many players were unable to use the auto-match option. In a refreshing take, the development team quickly spoke up and apologized for the issues. They began spinning up more servers and started pushing out bug fixes, all the while continuing to communicate with the player base.
There were other issues that arose beyond not having the server capacity to serve the community. The biggest issue past connectivity and matchmaking was a bug that prevented players from earning gold or XP at the end of a match. Again, the dev team rolled out a patch fixing the problem and has promised an as of yet unspecified compensation to be delivered in an upcoming patch.
With the basics covered and the ugliness of the launch addressed, let’s move on to what we all want to know about: How is the combat?
For a new player, combat can be overwhelming. There is a training scenario that walks you through all the basic mechanics to help get you up to speed (and earn you a nice pile of gold to spend later). First up is an overview of how to use mouse movement to determine attack angle. That is followed up with lessons on combos, feints, parries and counter-attack mechanics, followed by more advanced techniques such as using positioning to alter the timing needed to block an attack. You will also get a chance to practice some archery, mounted combat, and even a quick lesson on siege mechanics.
After progressing through the tutorial, you get to try out all of your newly learned skills in actual combat with one of the premade archetypes. These include many of the typical units found in any medieval era game, from lightly armored archers and spear-wielding footmen all the way up to heavily armored knights carrying sword and shield, with plenty of variants in between.
Once you have perused the available classes and picked one that looks fun to you, it's time to jump into a match. All I can say about your first few matches is expect to die. Expect to die a lot. If you want instant success in a game, be prepared for a little disappointment.
Simply put, combat is HARD. Mordhau is heralded as a skill-based combat game, and that is truly the case. A heavily armored player wielding the most damaging weapons can quickly be brought to their knees by an experienced player running around in peasants clothing and using inferior weapons, or even just their fists.
There is a steep learning curve to the melee combat. Tactics used in first person shooters don’t apply here and can actually hinder your initial progress in Mordhau. Learning weapon characteristics like reach and their strengths and weaknesses versus different armor types is the first step towards success. Learning these basics will get you a few kills, but until you begin to learn the visual and audio queues that aid you in countering you foes attacks you can expect to be near the bottom of the scoreboard during matches.
It is easy to come to the conclusion that combat is just pure chaos and success is more about luck than skill, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. After constant deaths during my first matches, I decided to spectate during a few matches and what I saw amazed me. There were players capable of fending off three or four enemies at a time, parrying multiple attacks while methodically using feints and counters to dispatch one foe after another. As expected, there is always the chance that another player will come up behind you or a random archer will take the opportunity to end your life, but it quickly becomes apparent that practice and mastery of the combat systems will extend your life on the battlefield.
At this point, you may be wondering about how progression works in Mordhau. What is the point of learning all the nuances of combat if all that skill is wiped away by someone who just has a higher level character? Fortunately, that isn’t how it works in Mordhau.
While the premade characters will get you started, once you hit level two you can start building a personalized character. You have a healthy amount of body and facial adjustments that can be tweaked to your heart's content. Each character also has an available pool of 16 equipment points to allocate between perks and gear:
- Armor - You have three primary pieces of armor in your helmet, chest, and leg pieces. Each armor slot has a light, medium, and heavy option, with each tier having a lot of cosmetic options. Along with the primary armor, there are several other cosmetic pieces such as hands, neck, and feet.
- Gear - You have three slots for all of your other gear. Whether you fill them up with multiple weapons, a shield, or a support item like a medkit or smoke bomb is up to you.
- Perks - There are currently 19 perks to pick from, each one giving your character an ability to enhance their survivability on the battlefield.
The stronger the item or perk, the more equipment points required to equip it. Players can load up on offense, defense, or find a balance between the two that works for them. The wide array of options ensures that every battle will be different from the last, and players that fine-tune their loadout to suit their playstyle and skills are sure to rule the battlefield.
Even with the struggles over the last week, the launch of Mordhau has clearly been a success for Triternion and players alike. Even as horrible as I am at the combat it is impossible to deny the melee fighting is a welcome reprieve from the usual first-person shooter or Diablo-esque hack-n-slash combat. The dev team seems intent on keeping the community updated on issues as they arise, and they have already announced they will be adding more content to the game.
- Skill-based combat
- Well-made maps
- Gore. Lots and lots of gore
- Very steep learning curve
- No single player campaign
- Typical launch issues (getting better but still there)
NOTE: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.