Chivalry 2 Review: A Triumph in the Art of Dismemberment
The feeling you get from a video game, as with any other art form, should reflect the intentions of the artist. Some seek to create wonder, others to remind us of the bleakness of the human condition. Sometimes the artist has a heart-wrenching story to tell, or they want to stoke your competitive fire. If Chivalry 2 is the art of fun, then developer Torn Banner Studios may have just produced their magnum opus.
Chivalry 2 is a PVP-only medieval combat game set against the backdrop of two warring pseudo-European nations. Up to 64 players clash in asymmetrical objective-based games, with an attacking and invading army. Alongside that, there are the multiplayer staples of team deathmatch and an everybody for themselves free-for-all.
There is an offline mode for practicing against bots and custom public or private servers. It’s robust enough, and the number of maps is sufficient to keep the game from becoming stale too quickly.
Chivalry 2 Review: A Triumph in the Art of Dismemberment
The game somehow balances outstanding control and intentionally clunky melee combat. Weapons have tangible heft, and understanding the momentum of your blows is paramount. You can flail away and get kills, but skilled players can block, dodge, counter, and interrupt you if you give them the chance.
Footwork, positioning, and well-aimed strikes make an enormous difference in your success in battle. Weapons, even from similar archetypes, can completely change the way you play the game. Some weapons, like halberds and spears, are slow-moving but have a significant range advantage over maces. Others, like short swords, are fast and best used up close. Shields, bows, warhammers, and many other weapons offer ample opportunity to keep the gameplay fresh.
There is tremendous variety in the type of soldier you can be. Four different classes further divide into three sub-classes each. Each of those has an experience, point-based progression system that unlocks different weapons, all with different attributes that make them better or worse against certain enemies or situations.
Inelegant Weapons for a Less Civilized Time
Levels are strewn with objects to interact with. You can mount catapults, trigger death traps, climb siege engines, and more. Makeshift weapons are varied and numerous, presenting their own sort of metagame as you look for newer, more bizarre, and hilarious ways to fell your foes.
Why use your sword when you can jab someone with a hot poker? Or throw a chicken at them? Or toss a head that you just separated from its body? You haven’t truly lived until you’ve been shot out of a catapult into your bewildered enemy.
Progression extends to the aesthetics of characters as well. You accumulate gold at the end of matches, allowing you to buy cosmetic upgrades for your armor and weapons. Increasing levels unlocks more cosmetics for purchase, with greater flourishes at higher levels. It works brilliantly to highlight the most experienced, and likely most deadly, warriors on the battlefield, which in turn can influence who you choose to fight and how.
There is a premium currency that can also be used to purchase cosmetics. Any advantages are purely psychological, though, and the game displays a large warning that you are spending real-world money before you finalize a purchase, giving you ample opportunity to opt-in or out. It’s additive to the experience, rather than exploitative.
The graphics are detailed and bloody. Armor gleams until it is bathed in crimson, as do the weapons. The color palette thankfully avoids leaning hard into the “shades of gray and brown” that was once ubiquitous in games like this. Colors pop enough to make distinguishing friend or foe easy. The audio design has appropriate sounds for the myriad types of impacts and good spatial sound design that creates an immersive chaos for the players.
A multiplayer-only game is only as good as the player base, and thus far, the Chivalry 2 crowd is one of the best. Allied soldiers play for the objectives and team up to surround enemies. You can sometimes revive downed allies, and they are quick to reciprocate.
You can even find “Duel” servers, where players adopt a 1v1 code of honor that exists only as an unspoken agreement to fight every battle one versus one, allowing players to heal between battles. Just find a fellow duelist, gesture your agreement that you are ready, and the battle begins. A well-implemented majority-rules system makes it easy to kick out toxic players.
Cracks in the Armor
Chivalry 2 is not without some plague-warts. Glitches were infrequent during our review, but they occurred regularly enough to be an annoyance. It’s a shame to be on a killing streak only to find your character has adhered to a ladder and refuses to let go.
Games will auto balance, shifting players from one team to another. It makes perfect sense, but still, it’s a bummer when you’re off to a great start with your army, then are suddenly on the losing side.
There is a limit to how much entertainment the number of modes and maps can provide. Characters level at a reasonable pace, but hardcore players will have the most interesting things unlocked fairly quickly. Torn Banner Studios has already announced their first round of Chivalry 2 DLC, with the expressed intention to double the size of the game for free over time, a very positive indicator that this game won’t grow stale too quickly.
None of that takes much away from the overall joy of this game, though. There is a moment in some games where everything clicks. The controls, the strategy, and the player's skills converge.
This moment in Chivalry 2 came as I was holding a bridge, preventing the opposing army from breaking through our ranks and advancing. I killed a man by throwing horse manure in his face. That’s the magic that Chivalry 2 possesses. Every story is unique and different, and there is no telling when that next great moment is going to happen.
Chivalry 2 Review — The Bottom Line
- Dynamic battles between varied player-controlled enemies
- Excellent progression system for weapons and cosmetics
- Incredibly fun, with a great sense of humor
- Gameplay errs on the buggy side near launch
- Aggressive auto balance cheapens some battles
Playing Chivalry 2 further cemented my impressions from my preview of it earlier this year: the aptest comparison for this game is Sea of Thieves, much more so than the hundreds of other pure PVP competitive combat games.
Players write the story, and thus far, the story is as fun as it is absurd. It’s a story where one moment you are living out your hero fantasies, a one-man army smiting the foes of your kingdom, then the next you're apologizing profusely for crushing your friend with a church bell, as you bleed out from your severed arm. A few technical hitches and minor gripes do little to detract from a masterpiece in the art of fun.
[Note: Torn Banner Studios provided the copy of Chivalry 2 used for this review.]