Dead all the time
Torn Banner Studios’ Chivalry: Medieval Warfare might be the perfect example of the phrase “easy to learn, tough to master.” Even after going through the game’s tutorial and having what I thought to be a competent understanding of the game’s options and mechanics, I got destroyed online. I’ve never been beaten so badly in a game for so long as I was when I started playing. I don’t mean I only had a few kills or spent my matches lost in the maps, I mean I was dead all the time.
Normally this would be cause enough to either walk away to forget about the game, at least for a while, or change servers. But I didn’t. I stayed in because despite my utter destruction, I was actually having a good time. From the moment a new match starts you become aware that that this is a game that rewards subtlety and patience. While many a modern game places its focus on firepower and frontal assaults, Chivalry forces the player has to keep track of a number of variables, including class, primary and secondary weapon, positioning, strike types, and more. While overwhelming at first, this depth and attention to detail is rarely seen in high profile games - much less small indie ones - and it is this that makes Chivalry stand out and worth your time and money.
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare pits two teams of medieval warriors against each other in an all-out, no holds barred, completely ridiculous yet painstakingly serious battle for complete domination. The game takes these teams through a handful of modes ranging from objective control to team deathmatch and beyond. The first thing that struck me about the game was its odd tone. I couldn’t decide if the game was trying to be serious while having moments of accidental hilarity, or trying to be funny but having surprisingly serious combat. I think it probably falls somewhere in the middle, blending seriousness, comedy, and accidental in such a bad way that it becomes good again.
On one hand, the game is straight-faced hilarious. When I first jumped into the offline training mode, I was put off by how over-the-top and ridiculous the voice actors were. It was like someone opened a can of third rate high school drama club members on me. The lines weren't peppered with the wit or dash normally associated with funny games and it kept going, and going more over the top until I found myself audibly laughing out loud. The combat follows suit. Is the game trying to be funny with the almost absurd level of decapitation and blood, or is the studio attempting to grab the attention of a desensitized generation? Sometimes you just don’t know and it is this blurring of lines that ends up giving the game the charming character that I’ve come to love.
Strategy completely and undeniably rules the battlefield in Chivalry. While it is certainly tempting to throw on some heavy armor and then charge the enemy with your weapon swinging, you’ll quickly learn that the only thing that can come of that is your head rolling across the ground. Instead, every swing must be deliberately timed and placed. The need for thoughtful slicing over blind bashing is unquestionably the highlight of the game and where most melee combat seen in games consists of a “swing” and “block” button, Chivalry gives you a “normal” swing, a “top town” slash, and a “stabbing” motion in addition to a parry that is somewhat difficult to time. Each action suits to a different situation. Normal swings are the fastest, stabs have the most reach but suffer from a long recovery time and the top down tomahawk strike can get over shields but leaves you vulnerable while winding up. The system is rather beautiful in the rock-paper-scissors effect that it creates.
Of course different swings are hardly the only way that players can employ strategy on the battlefield; choosing a class is just as important, letting you find the perfect balance between armor and speed. Each of the four classes has their own advantage that is capable of bringing success. The knight is a walking tank, able to take a lot of damage while sacrificing mobility. The man at arms is the opposite and a master at quickly dodging incoming attacks but almost dies at the mere sight of a blade. Last of the melee fighters is the vanguard, sitting somewhere in the middle and benefitting from being able to use the weapons with the greatest reach. The only ranged class is the archer which theoretically has a great advantage of being able to shoot from afar but no matter how much I played with the bow and crossbow, I just couldn’t get them to work the way I felt they should.
A beautiful friendship
Chivalry is a competent and fun game as it stands but there are a few issues that will hopefully be addressed sooner rather than later. There are only a few maps and the available game modes aren’t anything to write home about but Torn Banner have said that they are planning to release most, if not all, DLC for free. The game is also set up to support the modding community as much as possible and work has already started on everything from simply character skins to bigger undertaking such as creating maps and modes to re-create famous battles from Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones. Obviously the potential for things to come isn’t something that can or should be factored into a review, but it is a promising piece of information worthy of your consideration.
So Chivalry: Medieval Warfare isn’t a perfect game but it does a lot of things right that even its bigger, better funded brothers struggle with. The game has personality, rewards strategy and it allows beginners to learn the ropes relatively quickly. With this being Torn Banner Studios’ first game, I have the feeling that they have much more up their sleeves and Chivalry may well be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
A winning personality, brutal combat, and gameplay that rewards strategy over brute force.
Maps and game modes don’t bring much new, and the controls can sometimes be a bit loose.