So after months in Early Access, Mordheim: City of the Damned has finally gotten its full release with its full starting complement of warbands. The title is a video game adaption of the Mordheim tabletop game by Games Workshop. As a fan of the original game, I was excited to see that a video game adaption was in the works (and I even did a preview earlier this year). A lot of new content has been added since last I played and with it, a lot of ground to cover in this review so let us make haste through these ruins to seize our prize…
The basic premise of Mordheim: City of the Damned is that the eponymous city, in the lead up to a cataclysmic meteor strike, became utterly depraved due to its wealth and affluence. This drew all manner of evil beings to the city as well as corrupting its inhabitants. A twin-tailed comet then struck the city and largely obliterated it in a terrible conflagration. The meteor contained a significant volume of (what is basically) magical uranium called wyrdstone which was thrown across the city due to the impact. The city’s remains are now picked by scavenger warbands of various races for anything of value, including the rare wyrdstone.
As part of the campaign mode, players do have the option to go through a single-player storyline with their warband. This largely entails going through multi-stage scenarios with objectives that are thematically different (i.e. place bombs around bridge, collect holy water, desecrate temple, etc) but largely play out the same in terms of gameplay (i.e. get to point A with a unit that holds item B). Each of these missions begins and ends with a bit of voice over by a famous NPC (recognisable from the Mordheim tabletop) giving you the gist of what the mission will entail and how it will affect things for your warband’s faction. You also get to play with the NPC in the story mission as part of your warband and it’s a nice touch to use them and see their unique character models.
Outside of this limited narrative, the stories you’ll get from Mordheim are largely the ones which emerge just out of play. You might have the fun (or frustrating) experience of having a low level goon take down another team’s impressive hero, wiping out an opponent’s warband due to excellent tactical positioning, or having your leader go from master assassin to a peg legged (but no less deadly!) terror after a bad roll on the injury table. These events aren’t scripted and will be the meat of your experience as you explore the ruined city. If you, like me, are the kind of person who can create your own story from the random points which a game can throw at you then you’ll be able to have your own fun here.
The gameplay largely holds true from the design I wrote in the preview. On a tactical map, players take turns moving units around the map and activating special abilities. Units are given a limited number of points each turn to activate these abilities and higher level units generally receive more of these points a turn. Turn order is assigned by their initiative score, which in turn is determined by what equipment they have and their agility stat. Attacks and abilities can do damage and when a unit loses all of its health, it ‘goes out of action’. When warriors are taken ‘out of action’, you lose morale equal to the value of warrior (as determined by their skills). You generally win regular matches by putting a significant enough portion of the enemy warband out of action to cause them to rout.
A new addition to the tactical gameplay is the ability to ‘search’ various points of interest across the map. These add new tactical objectives to the battles which you’ll need to balance with the immediate objective of survival. There are three types of search points which are wyrdstone deposits, search points, and loot points dropped from out of action warriors. These come in three variants entitled ‘crush their will’, ‘wyrdstone rush’, and ‘marked for death’. The first one entails stealing the opposing warband’s banner from their cart (which does a significant morale penalty to boot), the second involves gathering as much wyrdstone as possible from the map, and the last one revolves around putting out of action specific enemy units to steal their gear.
The big change in gameplay from the previous version I played in the preview is the addition of a new level of strategic gameplay where choices in the tactical map have a repercussion in the future of the warband. Gathering loot and wyrdstone generally gives you better options to equip your warriors with as well as a source of income to pay them with. Having a warrior put out of action can lead to them sustaining a permanent injury which decreases one of their stats or even gives them a mental disorder which prevents them from disengaging from melee combat. Collected can be sold or sent off in shipments requested by the warband’s faction. Failing to meet four shipments leads to game over for the warband as they lose the support of their patron.
The visuals have been revamped and improved since the preview I did a while back. That being said, the graphics and models aren’t particularly cutting edge or awe-inspiring. The textures are also underwhelming for a significant portion of the game with many walls and features looking very plastic. The overall visual design maintains a very Warhammer look however, so although the models could be better in terms of small details concerning graphical features… they are at least accurate in capturing the look of the models from the tabletop game. There are also some levels, such as the demonic library, which feature some interesting visual design for the environment.
The customisation on offer here is also woefully limited. The biggest changes to a units look are when you equip it with a different level of armour, which is cool and dandy. It’s nice that units can have a number of different colour schemes for the various levels of armour they are wearing as well. But what really shows the limits of the options is that there is no variation within the levels of armour and you cannot change the physical features of each warrior. Weapons are similarly stuck to one model which was also a missed opportunity to differentiate the units from one another. Across warbands, the equipment takes on their various characteristics but, within warbands, you might need to resort to colour coding various henchmen so you can recognise who is who.
The musical score which plays throughout is suitably orchestral in matching the tone of the game. The music generally plays to reinforce the tension of exploring the unknown in the ruins of the city as well as featuring some (I believe) synthesized notes in some tracks to play off the strange nature and danger of wyrdstone. The voice over performances themselves feel a little underdone and I feel that the actors, although strong in their performances, would have done well to have been given more direction.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my time in Mordheim despite its shortcomings. The setting is suitably Warhammer and the writing for the campaign missions are fairly spot-on. The gameplay equal parts addictive and frustrating as your warriors slowly gain experience but die quickly… in a fun sort of way. The visuals capture the Warhammer look pretty well with the warriors and environment even if model customisation was limited. The sound design overall is a solid effort even if I feel it could have been better with more. For me, Mordheim: City of the Damned is a flawed gem that I’m probably going to sink a lot more hours into the game after I’ve finished with this review. This game earns a recommendation from me, alongside a number of caveats.
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