Review by Scottie theNerd

"For gore and glory!"

My jaw is on the ground. Along with the rest of my head. That's Chivalry: Medieval Warfare in a blood-stained nutshell.

Fresh off the Half-Life 2 mod, Age of Chivalry, Torn Banner launched a Kickstarter campaign to turn AoC into its own game on the Unreal engine, revamping the combat and adding new features. For those unfamiliar with the predecessor, Chivalry is a medieval-themed infantry combat action game based on the fictional war between the Agatha Knights and the Mason Order. Being multiplayer-only, Chivalry thrusts a sword in your hands and puts you against dozens of human players in deathmatch, king of the hill and objective-based battles that will be familiar to most gamers.

The game has little fanfare, and joining a match plops you into straight into the conflict. From the get-go, you pick between four classes, each with unique abilities and weapons that cater to a variety of play styles. Archers offer the long-range options through bows, crossbows and javelins; men-at-arms are fleet-footed rogues who can dodge and weave with light swords and clubs; vanguards perform an all-round role using two-handed swords and polearms while knights tank it up with heavy armour and sluggish but hard-hitting mauls and axes.

Chivalry stands out with the sheer ferocity of melee combat – unmatched by any other game as of yet. It is arguably the finest execution of first-person melee deathmatch (there is a 3rd-person perspective, but it is rarely used and nowhere near as engaging). Combat is simple and slick. Each weapon has several attacks – a horizontal swing, an overhead strike and a lunge. A well-aimed blow results in brutal damage and possible dismemberment and decapitation. Vent your hatred of archers by chopping off their arms! Knock that silly knight's helmet off! Make him re-enact Monty Python's flesh wound scene by lopping off a leg! It's grimly satisfying, to say the least.

Defense is a hugely tactical affair. Players can parry all three attacks, but with a catch – a successful block must not only be precisely-timed, but the player must “aim” their block at the tip of the incoming weapon. Although simple in deisgn, this defensive mechanism is incredibly challenging and forms the crux of the game's addictive combat. It's harder than it sounds, as it forces players to follow the motion of the attack or go by reflex and instinct, and punishes players for spamming attacks or blocks. At the same time, combatants can psych out each other by using feints, combos and clever footwork to finally get that axe to split your head – and there's no certainty that you won't get speared in the back while you're duelling!

The most satisfying part is that the game makes you feel that each blow counts. The sound and sight of blood gushing out from a sword wound provides an odd tingle of victory after going through the effort of impaling your opponent. Missing an attack drains stamina and leaves you wide open to counterattack, and the weight of each weapon is felt through the animation. A missed thrust from a dagger won't feel as bad as a wayward overhead blow from a halberd. A clever fighter will interrupt an attack in mid-swing with a swift jab. A kick can break a combo and send the poor fighter off a cliff. You know when you've committed a fatal mistake and you can anticipate that maul knocking your head clean off your shoulders. Despite the fact that there are only several attack moves, the interaction between fighters is fast, furious yet fluid.

Initially, only a few weapons are available alongside special items such as shields. As players attain more kills with each weapon, new items are unlocked in each respective category. For example, using a crossbow will lead to light and heavy versions; while progressing through the greatsword line will unlock the claymore and zweihander.

In the spirit of balance, unlocked weapons do not provide any advantage over their base forms. Instead they diversify play styles, often by being faster/weaker or stronger/slower alternatives. The battle fork, for example, is faster than the spear yet has less range, while the brandistock is very powerful but also very slow. The hunting knife has wicked slashing speed, while the thrusting knife can pierce armour. Certain weapons are better against armoured or unarmoured foes. These balancing factors work quite well, encouraging players to try out different weapons but without punishing players who do not have them. Clearing the kill requirements is also quick and easy, satisfying the completionists without making it a drag for those who just want to have fun with their favourite weapon.

The frantic pace of the game lends well to free-for-all and deathmatch, but the heart of the game is its Team Objective maps. The red vs. blue style of warfare is set in several scenarios. One scenario involves the Masons burning a village and slaughtering filthy peasants while the Agathians put up a defense, fighting a retreating battle until their castle gates are battered down and their king makes a last stand. Another scenario involves pushing a cart of dead bodies through a valley to poison the water supply, while another is a bloody landing leading to the destruction of coastal defences. Each map has sequential objectives that must be completed within a time limit, and all maps are fairly well balanced for both teams, forcing players to work together and think tactically and creatively. A player who knows how to fight and survive is rewarded by being able to position themselves to complete an objective. It actually feels like you can make a difference.

The atmosphere is great. The developers weren't too ambitious – the character models are well designed if not particularly complex, and the graphics are what you would expect from an Unreal game, pushing for good performance more than eye candy. The occasional bit of background music is epic to say the least, ramping up the volume as time runs out. The sound effects are unbelievably well done – flesh, blood, slashes, parries, pings, thunks and gurgles are clearly, crisply delivered into your ears. You know when you've had your arm hacked off. The screams…my god, the screams! The taunts and voice commands are surprisingly complex. Many a bad-mannered game has turned into great laughter when players begin spamming the same awesomely-recorded taunt.

The real hook for the game is its value. With an RRP of $25, Chivalry is affordable and easily provides hours upon hours of multiplayer madness. Even if you get bored of repetitive maps and leave the game for a while, it's the sort of game that makes you want to come back and bop a few heads and cut off a few hands. While updates are slow and sporadic, the developers seem focused on improving the game and there isn't any indication of game-breaking bugs or imbalances. Chivalry outclasses and outmatches its closest rival, War of the Roses, by having more fluid and rewarding combat instead of mind-numbing flailing, and provides a minimalist approach to the gameplay and interface instead of going through grinding for points to unlock weapons COD-style. It's a game that doesn't need to sucks players to come back to get better equipment – everything just works as it is.

The only real downside to the game is that the number of maps is severely limited. Hopefully more maps will be released, although the adrenaline-rushing intensity of combat will keep you coming back to the same maps each time. It's great for casual and regular gamers alike, and suits all kinds of warriors. So put on your helmet, take up the sword, and take a stab at Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/04/13

Game Release: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (US, 10/16/12)

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