I just snuck up behind a man and directed my large two-handed battle-axe into his head. It pops off, spraying blood everywhere as his body topples over. I let out a gleeful shout and chase down his friend, who upon hearing me has started to backpedal away in what I can only imagine to be abject terror at my blood-covered armor-clad visage. He pulls out a flimsy knife, a poor attempt at defense. He doesn’t get very far before a powerful blow of my axe sends him crumpling to the ground. I bellow in victory, my foes defeated.
If this was the modern age, I would have just committed a double-homicide. Fortunately for me, this is a Middle-Ages battlefield in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare where not only are my axe-antics against fiendish archers perfectly acceptable, they are actively encouraged. Why, there is even a preset voice command that says “Kill the archers!” Perfect.
Chivalry has had an interesting history. Originally it was a mod for Half-Life 2 called “Age of Chivalry.” Later, the developers created the standalone game we know today with the help of a successful Kickstarter in 2012. One month later, it was on Steam. Of particular note, is that a stretch goal at $100,000 was for a Mac version. Sadly this was not reached during the campaign. So nearly 2 1/2 years later, Torn Banner finally ported this to the Mac. In fairness they are an indie studio so they do not have all the resources in the world. But how does it hold up in 2015?
Thanks to a large playerbase and developer updates, Chivalry is just as good, if not better than it was before. At any given time there are dozens of servers available within all the game modes, including custom maps and servers running mods. The developers are still active with monitoring and updating the game so new players will have no problem jumping in and being able to experience it to its fullest.
Gameplay in Chivalry largely consists of picking a class, and running about the map attempting to chop up your enemies before they do the same to you. While that is perhaps an oversimplification of a game which has some rather deep mechanics at play, it is truly the heart of the experience. To that end, there are four different classes to choose from: Archer, Man at Arms, Vanguard and Knight. Each class has different health and move speed as well as multiple weapon load-out options to suit your preference or needs on a map.
Archers are the main ranged damage occurring in a match. You can pick a longbow, crossbow, javelin or sling to harass enemies at range. Naturally they are susceptible in melee’s due to their low health and small daggers or swords, but with practice you can become deadly from afar. For balance reasons, archers are not easy to use, and as such on first try can be frustrating or seem ineffective. Still, if you practice and learn how to aim and snipe, the class shines, being able to whittle or cut down dangerous Knights and Vanguards. A good archer or two can make the difference between victory and defeat while defending or attacking an objective.
The Man at Arms is a nimble, hit-and-run skirmisher style class. They feature a dodge skill, which lets them dance around slower opponents, getting in jabs and slices. With their fast move speed they can often sneak around and flank foes or generally be an annoyance. Equip them with a mace and with skilled use they can make short work of the heavier classes.
One of the best aspects of Chivalry’s combat is how accessible it is
Vanguards are one of my favorites. Equipped with a sprint skill and wielding giant two-handed weapons, this class can zip into combat and cut huge swathes through the enemy. (Or your own team, beware of friendly fire.) They are the only one’s in the game unable to use a shield, so you must be purely offensive. They make up for this with having the longest range melee weapons out of any class.
Lastly, the durable Knights are slow but immense powerhouses if you know how to use them. Featuring thick armor, big shields and weapons capable of killing weaker classes in one blow, beware a skilled Knight. Overall I found the classes to be very balanced, with effectiveness depending purely on player use and skill. There is a mild rock-paper-scissors element at play, but ultimately everything depends on your understanding of classes, positioning, blocking and timing to defeat opponents. I’ve seen an archer with a dagger stab a Knight to death, so anything is possible.
One of the best aspects of Chivalry’s combat is how accessible it is. A solid tutorial shows you the basics, and you are then free to explore the rest of the game’s mechanics in various tutorials or dive into multiplayer combat. I chose the latter and was able to be decently effective despite being new. There are four attack buttons, and one for block, one to feint attacks, and one to kick. Left-click swipes your weapon in a way you would expect, while the other 3 buttons do a strong overheard attack, forward stab or alternate left-click. Combine these four possibilities with your movement, blocking and kicking and you have a lot of options in combat timing and approach. This makes the game pretty easy to pick up, but leaves room for experienced nuance and subtly among higher ranked players that takes investment and effort to learn.
With all this setup, what do you actually do in this game? There are several game modes to engage in. Team Objective, Last Team Standing, Free For All, Duel, and Horde mode. You are either the blue Agatha Knights or the red Mason Order. I favored the blue team just because.
Some of these are obvious, such as Free for all, in which everyone fights everyone, or Duel, in which you face off in 1vs1 matches in a best of three. Last Team Standing is a team vs team setup, but everyone only has one life. These can be grand fun if you manage to live, but dying at the start of the match leaves you spectating until the round is over. Horde mode is a coop style game where you fight hordes of wave-based skeletons. This was interesting and quite alternative compared to everything else, though I mostly found it to be an amusing distraction when I wanted something different rather than a mode I played a lot of.
In my opinion, the centerpiece of everything is the Team Objective mode. These pit two teams against each other in a wide variety of multi-tiered objective based scenarios. You might have to storm a snowy beach from the water, battle your way to the castle gates, break them down, storm the castle and kill the escaping king. All the while the defending team can use giant ballistae on the walls, pour boiling oil down upon your heads or even charge out and defend from the ground below. Other maps feature mobile objectives, such as having to escort a cart or battering ram to a certain location while the enemy team attempts to stop you at every turn. Yet another map requires you to defend, or kill the villagers, who make things difficult by running around constantly. Or perhaps you are required to free chained-up slaves. The map design here is excellent, leading to exciting and intense clashes between the teams battling it out over objective areas. I can tell you now, there is no feeling like running into a breach with a dozen of your teammates, screaming war cries, your weapon aloft moments before the teams slam into each other in a flurry of blows, limbs flying, heads rolling and victory or defeat moments away.
This game is ultra-violent. If the sight of blood offends you, this certainly is the wrong thing to be playing. Arms, legs and heads are all able to be severed, blood is strewn copiously, and the fallen bodies of friends and foes alike will litter the ground. There is a certain primal satisfaction from all this gore however, as is defeating one or two enemies, your sword stained with their blood, your own health a sliver away from death, your exhausted character panting. If it sounds bloodthirsty its because it largely is. That being said, I found there is quite a lot of comedic violence occurring, much in the vein of Monty Pythons Holy Grail movie. Think the black knight scene or Lancelot storming the castle. It’s just darned funny and I’m not always sure why. This is helped along by some quite silly voice acting and preset lines from the characters, shouting for help, hurling insults, laughing, or apologizing whilst they take your head off. These aren’t automatic however, but must be manually used with a key.
Thanks to a large playerbase and developer updates, Chivalry is just as good, if not better than it was before
On the graphics front, Chivalry is powered by the Unreal Engine 3, so it looks great. The attention to detail in the medieval environment is notable, whether you are fighting in castles, marketplaces or in the woods. It feels both immersive and authentic which definitely helped to keep me engaged. Audio is also strong, with epic music and all the requisite clangs, scrapes, shouts and cries you’d expect from people chopping each other up with swords, spears and axes.
As far as performance goes I found the game to run fairly smooth in general on my setup, although I discovered the servers will often stutter nastily once or twice during a match. This was not specific to me though, as I noticed many players complaining of this in the all chat. Otherwise, two maps, Outpost and Ruins have Mac specific audio bugs where there is no sound except music, and the performance takes a dive with frequent skips, spikes and stuttering. I confirmed this issue by playing with three other Mac friends, who all complained of the same issues despite having different computers. Hopefully this will be fixed in the future by the devs.
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is easy to recommend. You get an enormous amount of content for the price, the game looks excellent and runs well, a large community ensures longevity and the gameplay is addictively entertaining. A few performance issues and Mac bugs are annoying, but minor enough to overlook. A great title solo or with a group of friends, be sure to check it out.
Now if you will excuse me, I need to go swing an axe into some Masons.
- Intense, yet accessible combat system
- Ultra-violent (and often comedic) violence
- Strong game-mode and map variety
- Large playerbase & community
- Occasional server stutter
- Some Mac-specific bugs on a few maps