Mordhau Review: Prepare for Battle
Mordhau came out of nowhere, and it has been blowing up Steam and Twitch since its release.
This medieval hack 'n slasher takes elements of your favorite battle royale games and sends them in a new direction with an intricate melee combat system.
As with many games, there are elements of it that don't quite work. However, it's a nice change of pace if you love the thrill of big battles but want something a little bit different than the what's already out there.
Knights in Shining Armor
The central draw of Mordhau lies in its robust medieval combat physics. You can wield a variety of bladed or blunt objects in your quest for supremacy, from lowly rocks and rakes all the way up to two-handed bastard swords. Depending on which of the game's three modes you choose, how you obtain these weapons and how you'll use them will differ.
What will be immediately familiar is the sense of controlled chaos that large-scale deathmatch games bring to the table. Whether you jump into Horde, Frontline, or Battle Royale mode, anyone who has touched Apex Legends, Fortnite, or PUBG will feel right at home in Mordhau.
When you first begin, you're most likely going to die quite a bit. Unless you've played something like Chivalry, reprogramming your brain to deal with the intricate combat systems in Mordhau takes a little bit of time. The training mode is essential, but even it doesn't quite prepare you for the full scope of what's to come.
Fancy Sword Tricks
At its heart, the combat system in Mordhau focuses on a system of timing, blocks, parries, and strategic strikes. At first, you'll be focused on reading your opponent, responding in turn, and looking for openings where you can do some damage. As you master the basics, a whole realm of new possibilities opens up.
Throw a smoke bomb and sneak up on your opponent. Change the grip on your sword and bash the helmet off your enemy's head. Fake an overhead slash and rapidly swap into a sneaky forward stab. The system in Mordhau opens up a ton of different possibilities, and assessing the situation to see what would be most effective is a huge part of success.
Already, players are finding even more interesting ways to work within Mordhau's systems. You can unscrew part of the handle of some swords and bean other players with your best fastball. You can parry arrows and other ranged attacks out of the air. You can give up your weapon by throwing it end over end across the battlefield.
The Name of the Game
So, the combat system is impressive, but how does it all fit into the grand scheme of Mordhau? Here's where things go a bit south for the game.
Currently, there are three modes available in Mordhau, and they all play on the same ideas of frantic and massive melee battles.
The signature mode of Mordhau, Frontline pits two teams of dozens of players against one another. Each side controls a fortress, and the goal is to push the other team back and overtake their base without losing their own.
It's a massive game of tug of war that allows for all manner of strategies and techniques. This is where you'll get most of your worth out of Mordhau — it's the most balanced and fleshed out mode in the game, and offers tons of opportunities for bombastic, highlight-reel plays.
It's also a way to contribute if you're still learning a lot of Mordhau's systems: you don't have to be a frontline melee specialist to help your team to victory.
Horde mode is the player vs. A.I. mode. In it, a team of players takes on increasingly large and well-equipped groups of A.I. enemies, earning money as more difficult enemies are defeated.
Strewn about the map are supplies: better weapons, armor, and utility items. Between waves of enemies, you will need to communicate with your squad to determine what roles are needed and where the best items are located. It's a lot harder to hide in horde mode if you don't know what you're doing. Teams are small and need everyone to be able to contribute to get far at all.
Of course, there's a battle royale mode in Mordhau, but it seems like it's (at least right now) a relative afterthought. Due to the game's medieval setting, no one is paradropping or gliding out of a flying bus. The game just starts you on the map in a random location.
More than once, I glanced around to try and find equipment as the map was starting, and instead, I found myself in a relatively enclosed space with three or four other players. A few lurching fistfights later, and it would be back to the queue, hoping to get a better chance in the next go.
The ever-shrinking circle is hard to see, and it kills you really quickly. Orienting yourself is difficult as well, without the usual HUD you'll find in similar games. Essentially, battle royale mode is an afterthought and, if that's all you're looking for, Mordhau is not going to be the game for you.
Frontline mode is easily the star of the show — it allows you to pick different classes, which you can customize from the main menu. Like all class-based objective games, these classes let you take on a variety of different roles: frontline fighters, support characters, ranged combatants, and the like.
Some of the most fun moments I had while tackling Frontline mode came from playing as the Engineer, who can hardly contribute in a fight but can build all sorts of structures to aid your allies and frustrate your foes.
It will be interesting to see what direction developer Triternion takes Mordhau.
There are a lot of positives in Mordhau, but it is definitely a niche game that has quite a bit going against it as well. There's no single player mode, there's no cohesion or "bigger picture" to what is happening onscreen, and a lot of the elements come off as relatively sloppy.
For as impressive as the physics and combat engines are, there is a lot of silliness happening as well. The meanings of "Early Access" and "Open Beta" have been stretched well beyond the breaking point by now, but I was absolutely amazed to discover that Mordhau is NOT listed as Early Access.
Essentially, it feels like some really good ideas in a not quite finished package. The developers reported that it sold just under 500,000 copies in its first week. Hopefully, they're able to continue building on the great foundation and add some more meat onto Mordhau's bones.
Plus, can we get a mode where everyone is on horses at all times? The horses are one of the silly elements in this game, but man are they a blast when you charge an enemy and perfectly take their head off.
The Murder Blow
- Excellent, unique combat systems
- Rewards technique and strategy
- Offers ways to contribute outside of just fighting
- Pretty horsies
- Feels sloppy and unfinished
- Some wonky, silly elements
- Lack of story and cohesion between modes
Mordhau is a German word that means "Murder Blow," and it is a term for a specific sword grip — instead of slashing with the blade, an armored fighter would grasp the blade with both hands and bash their enemy with the pommel. Yes, you can use this grip in the game, but it is also a good summation for what you should want out of your experience with Mordhau.
This is a game about big moments and personal storytelling. If you can find a group of like-minded friends, you could have an absolute blast with Mordhau, especially if Triternion continues to add features and tweak things for a bit better user experience. There's a lot to like here, and the game rewards skill to the point that it's no wonder Mordhau has become a Twitch darling.
For a casual gamer, someone looking for a single-player experience, or someone who needs a reason why their bashing in nameless soldiers' heads, Mordhau probably isn't what you're looking for.
[Note: A copy of Mordhau was provided by Triternion for the purpose of this review.]