I’ve never been that invested in the Warhammer universe, with my main experience with the franchise typically coming in the form of video games. I have played one of the tabletop games, but that was a short lived endeavour with my patience worn thin quite quickly. I tend to stick to Monopoly and Cluedo for my dice-rolling fix.
Mordheim: City of the Damned is essentially the tabletop game of the same name but in a video game form, with little bits of the strategic gameplay found in the likes of ‘XCOM’ thrown in for good measure. It’s an incredibly tactical game that not only requires a lot of thought but is also pretty difficult too. As a newbie to the genre I was thrown in the deep end, but I discovered that there is an enjoyable experience to be had with Mordheim: City of the Damned – it’s just hidden behind a lot of menus and also joined by a lot of deaths. Lots and lots of deaths…
Mordheim: City of the Damned’s tale is fairly straight-forward, with a huge comet crashing on the city of Mordheim and turning it into a battlefield. Warbands are all at each others throats to take control of the city and seek ultimate glory by obtaining Wyrdstone, a valuable commodity that everyone seems to be after.
There are four main campaigns to play through that are each based on the different Warbands that are available: The human mercenaries, the Sisters of Sigmar, the Skaven of Clan Eshin, and the Cult of the Possessed. Each Warband feels unique in design and have their own specific units to offer with different strengths and weaknesses, though nothing about them changes up the main aspects of gameplay too drastically.
There’s an actual sense of humanity (metaphorically, that is – some of these are real monstrosities) to each unit of the Warbands though, with them all having their own personality and well-being that needs to be looked after. You’ll pay them, equip them, and even look after them with their health a huge factor in the game. You won’t want a group of warriors on your side that can barely fight, so keeping their limbs and organs intact is a must.
Mordheim: City of the Damned’s Warband management almost plays out like a different game altogether. Whilst you’ve got to ensure everyone is looked after and strong, you also get to work on side-missions to earn the gold you need to buy new equipment or hire new warriors. You’ll find that your team will often get killed off quickly, with the permadeath aspects of the game meaning a dead unit isn’t coming back at the end of a battle. Thankfully there are an abundance of warriors ready to fight for you, though it is more satisfying to have units that you’ve looked after and seen grown into elite warriors live through each skirmish. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s great to see someone on your team who has been there from the start.
Like most strategy titles, you can’t just jump into Mordheim: City of the Damned and know exactly what you’ll need to do. There’s a massive tutorial on offer for new players and in honesty it actually intimidated me a little from the get go. My lack of experience with strategy titles left me baffled at the plethora of menus and gameplay mechanics that needed learning, leaving me a little panicked at what the game was going to throw my way. After spending a few hours working through all of the tutorial I felt a bit more prepared, though I’m sure gamers with more experience playing strategy games might feel a bit more at home without having to work through every inch of the tutorial.
When on missions the action gets up close and personal, taking a different approach to a typical strategy game that would have you seeing the action unfold from above. It plays out in a similar way to ‘XCOM’ or ‘Valkyria Chronicles’ in that sense, offering a much more cinematic approach that allows you to see all of the bloodshed up close.
Another way in which Mordheim: City of the Damned differs from the typical strategy approach is in the massive dependence on virtual dice. Every action in the game demands a roll of the dice – movement, attacks, and abilities all require a good dice roll to succeed, so luck plays as big a role in the game as strategic thought.
You also have a limited amount of points to spend each turn that are required to perform each action, so you’ll need to think carefully about everything you do. You can’t just run around willy-nilly or attack everything without a second thought; you need to think things through and analyse each situation, otherwise you might find yourself meeting a premature end. As you progress through the game you’ll start wising up to each situation and begin finding ways to get the upper hand over your foes, though the learning curve could be quite steep.
Different actions demand different amounts of points too, so you’ll want to be aware of how many points are spent on each turn as you build up to perform specific actions. You’ve also got to be wary of the dice-rolling elements of the game – you’re not guaranteed absolute success even if you have plotted out your move carefully, so there’s a real risk to be found if lady luck doesn’t happen to be on your side. On a personal level I’d have preferred it if I knew my actions were going to be successful when performed, but then with Mordheim: City of the Damned staying true to the board game it was never really going to be an option.
Just to warn you though, the game isn’t afraid to be brutal and pound you into the ground. It was a little hard to tell if I was suffering from bad luck, if the game was being unfair, or if I was just plain bad at it. Either way, I died a lot – I put a fair few hours into the game and success was few and far between. I’ve already admitted that my experience with strategy games isn’t great, but I think it’d actually be pretty punishing for a genre veteran too.
Missions are massive time sinks, with them often lasting well over an hour. A lot of that time is spent waiting for your opposition to take their turns though, with the turn-based nature of the game meaning you’re not always in control of the action. It could be a little frustrating to wait during opponent’s turns given that you couldn’t see what they were doing if you hadn’t discovered them on the map yet, leaving you twiddling your thumbs for entertainment.
The game’s level design is on point though, with each stage offering multiple different approaches to take. You can play offensively and attack from all angles and at multiple levels, or instead you can take advantage of all the places you can escape to and hide within when playing defensively. The aesthetic design is nice too, with visuals that won’t blow you away but will still immerse you in Warhammer’s dark, morbid world.
Mordheim: City of The Damned offers plenty for you to play through with a campaign for each of the Warbands as well as a plethora of side missions to complete. There’s also the multiplayer mode that allow you to take on other players in battle, though given my poor performances in the single player mode I decided to steer clear of online combat. I’d dread to think how badly I’d have done against someone who knew exactly what they were doing…
Despite having little to no experience with strategy titles and being constantly beaten by Mordheim: City of the Damned’s nasty difficulty, I actually didn’t have too bad a time with the game. After initially playing through the tutorials I thought I was going to hate it, but as I played more and became better at the game I begun to appreciate what it offers – a deep strategic experience that has you working both on and off the battlefield.
Whilst the dice-throwing approach and the long waits during missions could be a pain, it didn’t equate to a bad game. If a complete newbie like me could enjoy it, then I’m sure that hardcore strategy fans will like what they see too. Just expect to die a lot.
Developer: Rogue Factor
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 18/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC