GAME REVIEW: Mordheim: City of the Damned (PS4)

Mordheim: City of the Damned

There’s a growing sense of appreciation within the industry for games that take no prisoners with their difficulty level. Dark Souls popularised it and others have ran with it, but there have been plenty that have tried almost too much to offer a challenge and forgot one important thing: making it fun.

Although it has its moments, Mordheim: City of the Damned is one of those games. Where others give a great sense of achievement for finally overcoming an obstacle, making any ground in Mordheim feels more like making it from one grind to the next. It’s certainly only for those with patience and offers no apologies for it. If you approach the game expecting a light interlude between whatever else is in your library, you’re not going to be in for a good ride.

Set in the titular Mordheim -a once affluent town that was destroyed by a comet, leaving only Wyrdstone: a material that Warbands from all over are desperate to get their hands on- City of the Damned is a licensed Games Workshop game that is true to its roots. It’s a dark fantasy of brutality from developers Rogue Factor with plenty of strategy to get obsessed with.

City of the Damned’s main selling point is its depth outside of battle. You can customise your Warband based off several factions with each having their own distinct traits and quirks. Based on your progress, you can choose quality characters for different roles and build a fearsome team to take on whatever’s thrown at you. There’s a strange sense of affection to be enjoyed for your ragtag bunch of murderers and mutants, some of whom you might have kept with you from the beginning (as unlikely as that is). Tweaking your Warband to perfection takes some attrition, but that’s really the theme of City of the Damned as a whole.

Source: PSU

Combat is turn-based, though it does have a twist. You are allowed to move freely within a certain radius as part of your move, which helps you to explore certain areas easier than taking a linear path to the objective. It certainly works and allows you to travel between floors pretty easily, jumping down and up to lower and higher levels without much fuss. When it comes to actual combat, however, Mordheim feels unnecessarily protracted and arduous.

Each attack seems to do such a slender amount of damage to the opposition that each battle feels like a mini-boss – multiple moves to finish off even the weakest looking foes are required. When there are plenty of members per team, who sometimes get two attacks each, making it through a round with full attention is difficult. It might be heaven for players who strategise like they’re invading Waterloo, but for those who don’t want to solve algorithms to advance even just a little, it’s a source of frustration.

City of the Damned’s battles almost always go down the same route: stay compact and wait for the enemy to come to you before picking them off as a unit. This does limit your chances of completing secondary objectives, but any other plan brings you dangerously close to capitulation – sending characters off on their own against almost definitely superior, stronger enemies is foolhardy, especially when you consider the long-term effects. Mordheim won’t allow you to load a previous save when the going gets tough, so unlike the similar XCOM, failure is final.

This is particularly galling when so much of the combat comes down to chance. Dispatching the opposition is relatively easy enough if you can bear with the slowness of it all, but should your leader be felled, that might just be your lot, which means you have to start over. Even if you come out of a battle with only injuries to your characters, they’re out of action for a while, meaning that substitutions for less powerful characters are required. Consider that you’re going up against the same opposition as before except you’re even weaker and that’s where Mordheim shows its punishing nature the most.

As a port, the PS4 version is competent, but just about. The audio mixing isn’t particularly refined, with dialogue and cutscenes peaking quite dramatically at points. Graphically, it has a roughness to it, though it certainly does feel based on a Games Workshop tabletop game. In that regard, it’s authentic to its source material and will probably please the fans the series already has.

Above all else, Mordheim’s a game of painfully slow progress not helped by some of the worst loading times I’ve seen on the PS4 to date. It chugs along, no doubt thanks to how much of it is procedurally generated, which isn’t a facet of the game’s composition that feels particularly inspired or necessary. Creating levels and worlds on the fly is big in gaming right now, but few have nailed it. Mordheim just doesn’t feel like quite the right game for it and it shows.

For anyone who adores anything Games Workshop, City of the Damned will scratch an itch. For everyone else, it’s recommended that you at least give it a try, but don’t go in expecting a masterpiece. With a quicker pace, more optimisation, and a leaner learning curve, City of the Damned could have been so much more. As it is, offers flashes of excellence overshadowed by the rest of the experience.

Available on: PS4 | Xbox One | PC

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