Mordheim: City of the Damned, You Know how to Fly This Thing, Right? - Games Weekly

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mordheim: City of the Damned, You Know how to Fly This Thing, Right?

Mordheim: City of the Damned is… dense. Really dense, in fact, and not often in a way that is favorable towards newcomers.

For those of you who aren’t well-versed in tabletop games, Mordheim is part of Games Workshop’s Warhammer universe. This means, to make a bit of an understatement, that there is a lot of backstory. Add on to that a whole lot of non-standard video game mechanics, and Mordheim quickly starts to feel overwhelming.

The game takes place in a dark, dilapidated city the titular Mordheim which various factions want for no easily discernible reason. I am aware that, in this Early Access version, I’m probably missing most or all of the back story, but I would still have no idea why you would want to fight over Mordheim even if I knew what that reason was. Mordheim sucks. It’s a place filled with traps, dangerous dice rolls, and decrepit buildings. In fairness, the atmosphere is good: It’s dark and dank, and feels like something out of an enjoyable fantasy novel. I just don’t know why people are fighting for it.

The graphics are good, good enough that the worst thing I can say about them is that some character animations seemed mechanical, but only some. I have no qualms with them, but nor did I ever sit back and go, “Dang. That’s gorgeous.” In terms of the soundtrack, perhaps the worst thing I can say about the music is that I cannot remember what it’s like without pulling the game up. It’s technically proficient, and enjoyable to listen to, but much like the graphics, there’s nothing here too groundbreaking to wow you.

The gameplay is, of course, what occupies the bulk of any evaluation of Mordheim, and the developers clearly knew this when they built it. Now, full disclosure: I have never played Warhammer, nor any tabletop strategy game other than chess, so I have no prior knowledge about the game’s universe, nor standard mechanics for gameplay. The reason I bring this up is that, if the game is for the general public not just for fans of the tabletop version it should not matter how much I do or don’t know about the original, physical version. Everything I need to know should be easily learned through the tutorials, or by simply playing the game.

For Mordheim, this is tough. The developers clearly wanted to keep all of the rules of the tabletop version very visible, since series fans would be expecting authenticity to be a top priority. But the downside of this is that it’s incredibly intimidating for new players. The majority of my time spent with the game was in tutorials, learning how to actually play the game. The only saving grace of the tutorials was that they were broken up into several portions, allowing for some much-needed breathing room between information over-loads. Each of the four tutorials introduces around ten new concepts, and once you’ve finished the tutorials, you primarily know the basics of play, rather than every single mechanic you’ll need to worry about. For a new player like me, it is, in a word, terrifying.

Now, all this said, I did manage to learn most of what I needed to be able to play the game, but I didn’t learn enough to really figure out the most important aspect of gameplay: Strategy. Knowing all the ways the pieces can move on a chessboard isn’t much use if you don’t also know how to look at the board and understand how to interpret it. Mordheim provides the tools, given enough time spent with it, but doesn’t do much to show you the strategy. While this isn’t a deal breaker strategy can be learned, after all, so long as the systems work it would be nicer to have some suggestions of possible strategies to encourage interested yet inexperienced players.

Mordheim’s only other game mode (for now), known as Skirmish, pits players against each other in online battle. I personally wasn’t able to find anyone to play against, but as the game is still in Early Access, this wasn’t particularly surprising. What was surprising was that the description of Skirmish implies a game type that has serious consequences for your forces as you play, though of course I could not test it yet.

Mordheim is complex and interesting, and for fans of the tabletop counterpart, likely a great joy. But it currently stands as a difficult game for newcomers to get into, which could keep the game from achieving financial success.

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