Games Workshop have been involved in adaptations of their turn-based titles for quite a few years. Some have been quite successful, others less so – for various reasons.
Mordheim has ambitiously leapt from the board game balcony and reached for the opposite ledge, but unfortunately slipped and fell to the cobblestoned floor beneath, breaking several limbs on the way down. At least that’s how I picture this. Games Workshop titles are entertaining in their table-based format, but adapting them is notoriously difficult. Only a few titles have proved to be both entertaining and well built.
According to the website: “Mordheim: City of the Damned is a turn-based tactical game where you lead warbands into bloody and lethal skirmishes. The game blends RPG elements, fast-paced tactical combat and intricate unit customization in a time wrought by chaos and rivalry where only the strongest survive”.
Essentially it’s a turn-based street brawler game involving a variety of unhealthy-looking weapons. Different gangs go head-to-head, utilising the Germanic-looking streets as best they can. Movement is directed by the player, allowing you to specifically place various warband members, either for a straight-up fight in the open street, or sneaking up on a rival who isn’t aware in a darkened building or alleyway. And then you can choose to attack or try and counter their expected follow-up.
On the surface the game seems to have captured the essence of the original. Factions are aesthetically and physically different, with each one utilising a different set of weapons. They really have grafted the differences between each faction and race onto their digital counterparts. But it’s the gameplay that really matters and that’s where things don’t quite add up.
Developers Rogue Factor have masterly crafted the analogue experience to the digital plane but they’ve done so in such a way that the video game seems a little too similar. And that’s the problem here. Despite providing a great deal of immersive progression for players, the combat itself is a little wooden. The digital warbands only exhibit a little more animation than their moulded physical brethren.
Movement is functional but far from fluid, and so is the combat. During gameplay I had multiple encounters where combat came down to walk, fight, defend, die. In that order. Though the warbands that lost varied, the animation issues did not.
The best way I can describe the movement and combat would be as “clunky”. I favoured the Skaven warband, and set about trying to vanquish my opposite Empire counterparts on the streets. The rules and mechanics work well. Lose too many fights and your morale will suffer and your warband, or what’s left of it, will turn and run from the field of battle. And movement considerations must include moving up and down levels, (in order to hopefully ambush) which it does, and that’s great. But it’s let down by the fighting itself. Sure, the clunky animation doesn’t detract from the result. It certainly won’t make you lose or win either way. That’s down to the player. But I would have preferred everything to be more fluidic.
The original characters and warbands were cast from plastic, but I certainly don’t want the videogame to copy their limited movement. It would have been good to see opposing warbands size each other up and engage in a physical fight: swinging weapons, parrying and dodging. Of course, this does happen, but in a limited way. Attacks come down to single strikes of a weapon which the enemy player either dodges, parries, strikes back or succumbs to his/her wounds. There’s no choreographed combat, it’s all very by the numbers, which for me is a little too similar to the original.
Having said that, you can spend a great deal of time fighting and progressing your warband, adding additional members later on. And to make things more rewarding you can pit your digital wits against another human via online play. It’s not an in-depth game that you can spend endless hours exploring, but you can use just as many hours trying to reach the dizzy heights of cobblestoned-street dominance. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. You really can get quite involved and spend a great deal time with your warband. But for me it doesn’t quite work in terms of adapting the game for a digital audience.
Increased fluidity or choreography in movement and combat would have worked wonders, further enhancing the experience. And perhaps injecting an online territorial aspect to the game could have improved it further, allowing you to see what areas are safely in your factions’ possession and which ones are contested, providing motivation for brawling in certain locations throughout the city, with some areas providing bonuses such as additional movement if controlled or an extra attack. Tom Clancy’s End War did something similar with a live update of territories held on a rotating image of the planet. Some regions provided benefits, as did certain factions. I think something similar would work well for any future Mordheim game. It would provide additional motivation for playing, other than wanting to beat an opposing player. A bigger picture, if you like. Or, to quote the Tau of Warhammer 40,000, “for the Greater Good”.
Mordheim City of the Damned isn’t a bad game, but it just doesn’t raise the bar quite enough when comparing it with the original board game version. I give it 3/5.
Flugel Meister (Dave) is a longtime video gaming fan, who's love for all things pixelated began way back in 1980, when he ventured onto his brother's Grandstand console before progressing to a Dragon 32 and then a Spectrum 48K. That's right. he's old. When he's not gaming, he can be found swimming in the country's reserves of cheesecake.
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