Mordheim

So I bought this by mistake. I have fond memories of a game that I eventually remembered is actually called Necromunda from my stay in France and thought this was the videogame adaptation. Same squad-level tactical game by the same company, wrong setting. This one is based on the Warhammer Fantasy setting, not the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Being stubborn, I decided I’d play through it anyway though it ended up being a real chore.

Though its great graphics, excellent animations and camera placement are all suggestive of an action game, this is really a turn-based tactical game. You’re in control of a squad of soldiers sent to gather a type of resource called wyrdstones from the ruined city of Mordheim. The base game offers four factions to choose from while more are added through DLC, which needless to say, I didn’t buy. Each soldier acts in turn based on an initiative score and spends strategic points to move around and to activate defensive stances and offensive points to attack and cast spells. All matches are essentially about eliminating the opposing squad from the map. There are optional objectives but the only thing they do is earn you more rewards when you actually win the match. In order to prevent matches from going on too long, there’s a morale mechanic. Each unit has a morale value and when a side loses too much morale, it risks being routed entirely.

Most players dropped into this game will find themselves utterly confused and I was no exception. The tutorials explain some basic mechanics but do nothing to explain the interface or what all of those stats on the screen are and there really are a lot of them. Worse, the game doesn’t even have a manual. I checked. It gets worse when you realize that the battle takes place on a real 3D map of the kind that is usually used for action games. I had a hard time figuring out where each of my soldiers are in relation to the others and the enemy, especially when they’re inside buildings with multiple floors. Enemies frequently use all of kind buffs, debuffs and special attacks and there’s no easy way to tell what they’re doing. It does get easier after a while but the initial learning curve on this one is very daunting.

Even once you understand how it all works, the actual gameplay is fairly repetitive, especially when you pick a faction that has almost no ranged attacks like the Sisters of Sigmar as I did. What you what to pretty much all the time is achieve local superiority by ganging up on enemy soldiers that stray a bit from their compatriots. There’s some nice strategy involved from understanding how the engagement circles beneath the soldiers’ feet work when they’re locked in combat. This allows a powerful unit to indefinitely block chokepoints. On the other hand, the 3D map creates problems too. Sometimes if a unit doesn’t have space behind, he or she can’t disengage from combat even though visually it looks like you ought to able to. Similarly, it isn’t always easy to tell how many people have the space to gang up on an enemy and it’s tricky to position them all just so for optimal effect. Even gathering wyrdstones seems like mostly a matter of luck depending on how they’re scattered about a map and the location where your warband deploys on the map.

It seems to me that the real decision-making happens between battles when you decide how to upgrade your units. Once again, you’d best do your research beforehand to decide what kind of squad you want and how you want to build each of your soldiers or you’re likely to cripple your warband. Between stats, skills, spells and equipment, there are a lot of possibilities, especially as the full warband will consist of nine or ten soldiers who will need to work well together. At the same time, your soldiers run the risk of suffering permanent injuries that degrade their performance. Those injuries show up visually as well, so you’ll see one-armed soldiers or soldiers with a wooden leg on the battlefield, which is always amusing. Personally I can’t stand the thought of my team being at anything less than full strength so I instantly fire any soldier whose handicaps significantly affect the role they are supposed to play. Thankfully you can avoid building up new recruits from scratch by buying, albeit expensively, higher leveled hired swords.

Finally, in addition to the matches that you can play again and again until you’ve leveled your entire warband up to max level, there’s a campaign that consists of eight story missions. I found these to be very difficult, main because the mission objectives aren’t terribly clear and new ones appear over the course of the battle. You probably need to know exactly what you need to do in each one in order to stand a chance of winning. At the same time, many of these missions have infinite enemy respawns which are extremely annoying. I finished them all with my chosen faction since I’m completionist but I didn’t find them fun at all. I also cheated by backing up savegame file because I didn’t want my key soldiers permanently die or get horrible injuries while attempting these missions over and over again.

Overall while this isn’t a horrible game and I did spend quite some time on it, I find it difficult to recommend it. As I’ve said, it’s very repetitive especially as you’re stuck in Mordheim all the time and every mission is a deathmatch. I also found myself strongly disliking how large an effect randomness plays in this game. It’s one thing to have a bad dice roll when you’re playing with friends in real life. It’s just one more thing to rouse the emotions and have something to talk about later. It’s another thing when you’re playing matches against the soulless AI over and over again. For example, over a half a dozen times I’ve had either the Matriarch of a Hero instantly die in a match due to the blowback from casting a spell, drastically altering the flow of the battle. A horrible injury can all but cripple an important part of your team if you really play this game in full Iron Man mode as the designers insist. It is satisfying to build up warband from nothing but it’s also very frustrating to lose lots of progress due to chance and I doubt that many players have the time to retry over and over again.

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