Mordheim: City of the Damned – review

  • Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Focus Home interactive
  • Developer: Rogue Factor
  • Players: 1 (offline), 2 (online)
  • Site: http://mordheim-cityofthedamned.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

Mordheim: City of the Damned is fantastic. While it suffers from slightly dumb AI and off-putting tutorials, it is a tense affair with a punishing difficulty that rewards smart play and often gives you second chances on foolish choices. This is a game where your troops are expendable and failure gives birth to opportunity. Crushing enemies is only a small part of any victory, as your priorities often lie within the collection of Wyrdstone (pronounced Word-Stone). It’s not just for fans of Warhammer but aimed quite heavily towards fans of X-Com and Fire Emblem and anyone who likes smart, tactical combat.

Mordheim is a city all but destroyed by a comet of supernatural origin. Now only horrors of Chaos and Warbands searching for the magical Wyrdstones roam the streets. It makes for a grimdark world with dilapidated houses that often contain traps of Skaven or Chaos devising. You get a choice of one of four Warbands for your campaign: Skaven, Human Mercenaries, Possessed (Chaos), or the Sisters of Sigmar. If you get the DLC you could also play as Witchhunters (who were understandably but unfortunately release DLC), and Undead some time in the coming months. On the plus side both will feature in your campaigns regardless of whether or not you own the DLC.

Whichever Warband you choose (we tried all of them but stuck with the Mercs), the campaign will always play out similarly; hire units, take part in skirmishes to collect Wyrdstones, hire/fire/upgrade troops, and send deliveries of Wyrdstones. It’s very cyclical with only a few deviations caused by the Campaign missions. Each Warband is working for a different patron, each with their own goals and special missions. They offer some unique challenges and you’re given some hefty story upon entry and exit of each mission, giving insight into what makes your benefactor tick and into the workings of the world you inhabit.

These missions are bespoke environments that you’ll never see again after completing them, as opposed to the procedurally-generated regular maps. They are also incredibly hard by comparison to other missions. One of those reasons is that enemies (almost) always get reinforcements, unlike other mission types. You usually have to be quick to complete them else you stand a chance of being worn down by the tides of enemies that you’ll have to face. Thankfully, the reinforcements are only brought in to replace those that you’ve culled.

What does irk us slightly is that the objectives, while slightly obscure as they should very well be, are made murkier still by crude circles on the map that don’t really explain what it’s supposed to be marking. It led us to fail the first mission rather badly (and after a frankly obscenely long time) because the map only caused confusion.

This isn’t an issue at all in the bog standard missions that make up the lion’s share of your duties. These are always cut-and-dry, smash-your-opponents’-faces-in mission types, with bonus objectives being either looting something specific from fallen enemies or collecting a certain portion of the Wyrdstones. What elevate this “Deathmatch” above the standard from other games are two very specific things, or three if you count scavenging items.

Most importantly to battle, the morale of both forces wanes in power as each side loses units. However, each Warband’s cart also has an idol which, if stolen, rips out a chunk of their morale. These idols can be retrieved to return said morale, but it can always be stolen again. When the morale threshold dips below a certain point, the corresponding Warband has to take a morale check each turn; if the check fails, they will rout and lose the battle. This leads to the second point, which is that Wyrdstone needs to be collected. As you want to collect as much as possible in battle, you have to balance just how much you are willing to do for it. You might have to scuttle back and forth depositing Wyrdstone in your cart’s chest, you might even have to suffer a loss or two to even collect some but when the enemy (or you yourself) get routed, no more can be gathered. Well actually, you do get some stuff “recovered” from the battlefield but it’s usually meagre amounts.

If you’ve taken any losses you may find that you’ve lost some equipment as an enemy may very well have looted your unit. You are also likely to gain a permanent injury eventually which is always negative but not completely damning. Sometimes however they lose body parts and gain advantages to offset their new disadvantage, which adds incredible flair to your team – like when an ailing veteran shambles in with one arm but with a higher dodge chance.

What happens between missions is also of great importance. Every now and then your patron will request a new shipment of Wyrdstone. Failing one shipment won’t lose you the campaign, but fail too many and it will. Smart management of when you deliver on these shipments and when you do campaign missions is very important. If your main players are still injured you likely can’t gather what’s needed before they’ve all recovered. This micromanagement of when you deliver on promised goods keeps the tension even in the management screens, especially as you need to pay out after each mission and deliveries take a few days to return that all-important gold.

Mordheim is a game about balancing the scales. You can try all you want to do everything perfectly but the sooner you accept that losses will occur, the better. Your first losses will probably be in the first mission anyway because the game is punishing like that. It offers so much potential to try differing playstyles, and even allows you to take things solely online should you wish to (huge prep required). It is well worth a look for all tactics fans (though having to wait for each AI turn can be very frustrating). There are few games this punishing that are this rewarding and offer the same level of flexibility.

critical score 8

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I’ve done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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