Developer: Rogue Factor
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Rating: NR (does have violence and adult themes)
Release Date: November 19, 2015
There was a time when I was heavily into all things Warhammer by Games Workshop. The fantasy miniature army battle game, in specific. A little while later, they decided to release various squad tactics battle games. For Warhammer Fantasy, they made a tabletop game called Mordheim. Every player created a gang of characters and outfitted them with a limited amount of gold to start. Set in the sinking city of Mordheim, your gang would fight other gangs for territory and loot. Over time, your gang would grow and change with your successes and failures against other gangs. Of course, you would accumulate miniatures over time, customizing the look of your gang. It was fun, and it was unique in a way. It also pushed continuity between games in the form of a campaign.
Nearly 15 years later, Rogue Factor won the right to make a digital version of the same tabletop game, and crowdfunded it. Not to confuse it with the old game and it’s lore too much, they renamed the game Mordheim: City of the Damned. They put a lot of work and effort into their endeavor, allowing people to also jump in early as it went through the beta phase and offer input. There were a few rough patches, but the fans hung with developers through the entire project. Now, the game is complete with mostly small updates and patches being released regularly.
The game uses the old fashioned art style of the original Warhammer Fantasy books in various areas. The sounds and music are all well done, as well. The graphics are also nicely implemented, with models and environments capturing the dark and crumbling mood of the Old World. Some of the voice acting is a bit overdone, but not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. I was impressed with the overall presentation of Mordheim since the beginning, and every video just affirmed my confidence that they had at least gotten that part right. I am a stickler about details and the little things.
My biggest suspicion was that the game play would not live up to the fun memories I had with the original tabletop game. The game itself can be daunting – there are many different powers and special rules that apply to specific situations. It was evident from the start that they were going to tweak the way the game played a bit to fit the open digital environments, and to work efficiently in multiplayer skirmishes. Fortunately for me and everyone else who might struggle against a steep learning curve, the game has an extensive set of tutorials that cover just about everything in the game, and some.
Technically, the gist of game play is moving characters within range rings. Moving within a ring does not use up a Movement point. Moving outside a ring (such as running a long distance, which might mean crossing several rings) does cost Movement points. Every character has so many Movement points that may increase or decrease due to spells and other effects. Once characters are moved, if they come into contact with another character’s model (or in range of another model), they can attack or affect those characters. Attacking or acting (casting spells, etc) uses up Action points. The action is rolled against a character’s scores in a percentage format to see if the action is successful. Some characters can ambush, retaliate or do other things in response to the actions of characters if they had Action points left. Sounds a little daunting, and it is until you’ve played a few tutorials.
Just recently, they’ve implemented the ability to play campaigns – that is, strings of missions across the city of Mordheim using your faction’s warband. Your warband will pick up warpstone, find gear and loot gold. You’ll also try to meet certain objectives to earn extra XP, because (and this is where the sustained role-playing comes in) characters in the warband will level up and improve over time. If they sustain massive injuries in any battles, they may take on bad injuries or maladies that will negatively impact them in future battles. That’s okay – part of the fun is how different and varied your warband members will be by the end of the campaign. You might have no choice but to send your one-eyed megalomaniac into battle where they might get in a few good hits before being wasted yet again. Memorable experiences are made that way.
There are four warbands to work with. Two are human factions (Sisters of Sigmar and the Reiklanders), one is the rat-men Skaven and the last is the chaotic cult called The Possessed. Each has a unique play style with unique campaigns. Each has unique models that can be customized down to the very color of their gloves and hats. Gold is spent to hire, maintain and buy new gear for the warband. Losing a lot not only means you’ll eventually run out of money to keep your warband going, but four loses in total means the campaign is over for you. Players will want to learn how to trade warpstone and spend gold carefully, since very little bit counts.
War camps in campaigns also grow as the game progresses, allowing more options. More options means gaining a bigger edge in the game, so success early and often will reward the best (and sometimes luckiest) factions. Knowing how to play the odds and minimize loss is a big part of the campaign, so if you don’t like managing squads on a micro scale, you may not like Mordheim: City of the Damned too much.For war-gaming enthusiasts, there’s a lot to like.
All in all, there are a few problems with the game. Like all Warhammer tabletop games, the game relies highly on luck (die rolls). Sometimes, despite your best designed team and laid plans are for naught, as the mission scatters them all over the map, sometimes in the worst possible way. Players may also get frustrated as their powerful hero swings and misses the enemy repeatedly. Spells fizzle, jumping down from heights result in a loss of health, etc. Having a bad run of luck can totally decimate your warband to the point you’ll quit and start over from scratch.
There’s also a steep learning curve, and players may not feel inclined to sit through every tutorial. It does pay to play every tutorial, though, as I found out that I missed a few details that made a big deal (like warp influence and tokens).
Camera controls can sometimes be frustrating, as well. Not that it can’t be mitigated by being patient enough to experiment until you find a method that works best for you.
All in all, old Mordheim fans will find a lot to like. People who like tactical squad games with lots of details and options will probably enjoy the game. People who dislike micromanagement; have a hard time with sitting through tutorials; expect simple mechanics; and/or dislike the Warhammer universe will probably not like Mordheim: City of the Damned. I enjoy it, and I’ll probably play it repeatedly in between sessions of Fallout 4 (cough).