I’ve often daydreamed about living in medieval times. As a matter of fact these daydreams more often than not evolve into hour-long engrossing meditations on living in medieval times. Mostly these thoughts involve swinging a sword at people to entice busty wenches. Turns out I’m a lot better at swinging a sword in daydreams than in Torn Banner Studio’s first person medieval swing-em-up Chivalry. Also, it turns out it’s pretty damn easy to die when a bunch of guys get together and start swinging swords at each other. But, just like I dreamt, running across a field, sword drawn and bellowing war-cries, into the fray of battle is pretty damn awesome.
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is a standalone multiplayer game that does a fantastic job of capturing the mayhem and ultra-violence of conflict before the advent of gunpowder. It’s a game that was sired by a source mod; Age of Chivalry. Straight off the bat (or mace if you prefer) I have to say this game really looks the part. I would often be content to spin around in spectator mode watching the clash of knights take place in the impressive looking environments. The game’s maps, the background to the action, look fantastic and this goes a long way into really putting you into the helmet of a medieval warrior. This is the closest I’ve ever been to living out my medieval day dreams. Put on some head phones, play in first person and take in the scenery in the few moments you have before you are horribly dismembered.
Speaking of dismemberment the other thing that looks great is the warriors themselves, with and without all their limbs. The animation of the bloody combat compliments the visually well constructed medieval world to really whisk you away to the heat of battle. There is quite a bit of effort put in to showing the effects of sharp steel on the human body as stumps, spurting blood, bones and general viscera all feature heavily. It’s not over the top but gory enough to give combat a realistic visual punch and it really is a hoot to see knights in shining armor descend into battle and a few moments later one or two victorious combatants emerge blood covered wading through a sea of limbs and corpses.
The audio in Chivalry does a surprisingly good job of adding to the experience, in fact it’s a large part of what makes the combat so intense. I’m not sure where the Torn Banner studios got the “knight gurgling to death as his throat fills with blood” sound effect from but it is chillingly realistic (not that I’ve actually heard the procedure but I imagine that is exactly what it would sound like). There’s a great range of swinging, amour denting, and body opening sound effects as you would expect but there is also some stand outs that really make the game for me. In particular the sound of arrows flying past your ears, or arrows flying into your face and puncturing the metal of your helmet and then your skull are downright sickening and really make being shot by an arrow an unpleasant experience. Then there is the battle cries, Chivalry really goes all out on the battle cries, which really capture “insane/drunk medieval warrior” so well and honestly never get old no matter how many times you mash the “x” button (“x” is the default key for mobile battle cry, please mash it as much as possible every time you play the game because it makes the experience that much more awesome for everyone).
Chivalry works well in the audio and visual department and fortunately the core game play is also up to scratch. The game uses a nice sword swinging system, where along with a base swing you have a stab and over head swing that are triggered by spinning the mouse wheel up and down. It’s a smart use of the mouse to translate it into a sword swinging device. Parrying, blocking and feinting are also in your arsenal and it’s quite a skillful and visceral system that generally feels good. A good ping obviously helps but combat generally flows naturally and is a good challenge with a decent amount of depth to master. One nice thing that illustrates the naturalness of the combat is that you can use the crouch key to actually dodge swings. It’s a move that puts your head (the most easily damaged part of your person) closer to your enemies swings, but nicely dodging a swing this way and coming back up with a healthy axe to your opponents face feels so good when you pull it off.
The scenes you find yourself in when in the midst of a battle really are the biggest selling point of the game. It’s a thrill when you’re dueling someone on the ramparts and you both get some parrying and dodging going or you have a lucky streak and fight your way out of four enemies. The team work is also a lot of fun and is generally required as trying to fight more than one opponent on your own will leave you headless. Friendly fire is also a huge factor, so watch where you swing your axe, this also adds to the feeling of deadliness in the combat. Being a multiplayer only affair the downside is that for every great game you have there is going to be one that sucks either because you can’t catch a break and constantly die or your team mates are all the halfwit spawn of some incestuous lower house lord (ie: they ignore the objectives during objective based maps). This comes with the territory though and there are bots to play with, that while not being completely terrible also have trouble grasping the concept of objectives.
Content wise things are a little sparse, there is only 6 maps which are admittedly all impressively big (apart from the arena map). There is unlockable weapons and allegedly unlockable helmets, which I haven’t worked out how to unlock yet, but I would have loved being able to customize my amour. Not just visually customize the amour but also strip it back or re-enforce it to affect my speed and attributes (but I guess this is sort of inherent in the class system). Another thing I would have loved to have seen added would be a match play back ability (ala Halo) to go back and watch/record the action. Really the game looks that good I would probably spend more time mucking around with that then actually fighting.
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare achieves exactly what it sets out to do, which is to recreate the absolutely horrifying reality of being a knight on the battlefield and give the multiplayer hordes a combat system with enough meat to keep them chewing for a while. Learning the game and getting better at swordsmanship feels like an achievement, and the bloody process of dying is entertaining enough to keep you going. It’s a little light on content and features, and the close to non-existent back-story does nothing to pull you into the game but Chivalry has quality where it counts. So if you’re like me and have ever daydreamed about chopping your way through a medieval battlefield, what are you waiting for sir? Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is getting 4/5 bloody heads.