Chivalry: Medieval Warfare Review (PC)
I charged towards the two knights. They were fighting with the last remaining member of the team other than me, a Vanguard. More lightly armoured than them, he was quicker and dodged and blocked their attacks as they swung an axe and long sword at him. He was defending well, but couldn’t hold out against both of them. They were overwhelming him; he had no time to raise his sword between all the blocks and parries he had to make. I ran fast and faster. I was a Vanguard too, so I had built up enough speed to go into the Vanguards special ability: a full speed running jump attack. My sword above my head, I ran in as straight a line as I could towards them.
We were on the battlements of the castle, and below huge ships fire catapults at the walls. The rain was everywhere. When I was almost in combat range my team mate fell. His arm was severed off entirely by an axe. Both enemies now turned. They saw me. I could have stopped running. I could have backed off. But I didn’t. There heavy armour and the fact that I was outnumbered gave me little chance of success. Knights are fearsome combatants in Chivalry. Still, I kept running.
Chivalry is a multiplayer first-person medieval combat game. Although the game can also be played third person, some servers disable this feature. While it looks great in third person too with some great character models on display, it’s in the first person view that you can really appreciate the gruesome, gritty and compelling combat with some truly gratifying sights, like the way a body stumbles and falls when you cleave off one of your opponents limbs in one stroke.
The game is based on the Unreal engine, and while visually it can be a bit of a mixed bag, generally it’s a good looking game. The character models looks good and animate well, and while some levels are basic others are genuinely brilliant with solid and balanced design and some great visual flair. The best environments feature castles and natural foliage and two highlights are fighting on a tree bridge over a waterfall, and a castle battle complete with rain and ballistae firing explosives while you battle high above a stormy sea.
Once you get into Chivalry its a thrilling, visceral and visually attractive game, but initial impressions are not as favourable. Your first stop is likely to be the tutorial section, and here you will see some really creaky dialogue sections. NPC’s talk without noticeable facial animation and the voice acting is hilariously terrible. It certainly seems likely that the actors don’t have English as a native tongue, and while the tutorial does explain the basics of combat and gameplay, it sets you up for a game that seems to be seriously lacking in polish.
Once you get into an actual game things pick up substantially. While some of the text in the menus looks a bit amateurish, the actual game feels like a major release. Torn Banner Studios clearly have a good handle on the Unreal Tech and the game looks, and crucially plays, brilliantly.
You’re given a choice of four classes. Men at Arms are fast and can execute a sidestop-dodge, but have light armour. Archers can shoot (obv) and can backstab more effectively, but are also fragile. Vanguard’s have tougher armour and a unique sprint attack. Knights meanwhile are the tanks of the medieval battlefield. They’re awkward and cumbersome, but their slow swings will often kill in one hit as they chop off loose limbs.
It should be said that even the slow Knight moves at a fair pace when running. It’s not a slow paced game and although the combat is realistic emphasizing the weight and physics behind medieval weapons, the pacing of the multiplayer combat is generally thrilling. Oscillating between tense stand off’s and brutal, fast combat, there’s always something cool happening in every battle. Sometimes the most thrilling moments occur when both players back off after a heated exchange to appraise their opponents, let their stamina bars fill, and prepare for one more bout of epic combat.
When fighting an opponent with a melee weapon you can swing your sword, block, stab or use a downwards slash. Stab and slash use the mousewheel up and down respectively, and while this feels a little odd at first you get used to it quickly. With a weapon you can only block for a second (it’s more like a parry), so a lot of the strategy involves making your opponent block by faking and attack, delaying a second, then hitting them when their block comes down. To help with this, you can cancel an attack animation. You can also kick an opponent to stun them. It’s a basic repertoire, but its surprising how deep the system becomes once you learn it. Combat between two good players is fascinating and if you are spectating it can be great to watch the cat-and-mouse game played out between two expert swordsmen.
As you play you will unlock more weapons. While the starting weapons are as good as any, many of the later weapons are fun to use. No matter which weapon you have though, skill will always determine the victor. Well, skill and awareness. Although being outfought in a sword duel is common, even more common is having your head lopped off from behind by an enemy you didn’t see with an axe. Big battles with many combatants are chaotic and your best chance of success is to take enemies from behind while trying your best to avoid being backstabbed.
Archery is tough and requires patience. There’s no doubt that archers can be successful, but you need to get used to the dip your projectiles experience over distance. It’s safest to stay back, avoid being seen at all and fire off long distance shots. The crossbow is more accurate and has a zoom aim, but it takes an age to reload. It’s fun to play as either, but I always found myself coming back to the melee combat. Still, there’s one particularly nice touch for dedicated sharp shooters: if you hold in the middle mouse button the camera follows your projectile Robin Hood-style. You can’t steer it in the air, but if you are firing blind over a hill or something it will help you see how close you are to hitting your target, and, you know, it looks cool.
There are brilliant little touches throughout Chivalry. For example, even when you’re not an archer you can take some throwing knives or axes into battle. Throwing off a couple of these before getting up close can either weaken an enemy or distract them enough for you to get the upper hand. There are also siege weapons to push, giant ballistae to fire and trebuchet’s to trebuch.
It’s weird that two similar games have been released so close together. War of the Roses is a very similar title to Chivalry, and both have some things in common with the Mount and Blade series. We liked War of the Roses a lot too, but for now its Chivalry that has me hooked. There’s a solidity about the combat that just works. They really have nailed melee combat in a way no other developer has before. There’s still more that could be done in a sequel. Small bugs (like the way the server browser doesn’t save your search settings) can be frustrating. There’s also scope to add a single player campaign too. For now though, Chivalry is the most fun I’ve had in a multiplayer game in a long time. If, like me, you’re tired of modern military shooters, air strikes and RPG’s, you should try Chivalry too. It made an old cynic like me, who doesn’t even like competitive multiplayer games much any more, scream a battle cry at my screen. It broke through my hard, cynical and jaded exterior, and reminded me what I still am at heart. A gamer….. and a warrior.
8 lopped off limbs out of 10
…. my jumping attack took out the first knight. Cut both his legs off as my halberd cleaved bone and armour and flesh. The other knight swung but I was too fast. My parry stopped the heavy sword from crunching down on my shoulder. My riposte was lighting quick. His headless body stood for a moment…. then dropped. I had won. Somehow, I was victorious. It had only took three seconds, but those were my three seconds of glory.