Venturing Into Mordheim: City Of The Damned


As someone who spends considerable amount of time in the grim dark future of the 41st century, I often overlook the fact that even in the distant past there was only war. Warhammer classic is something I never got into, but I never really gave it a fair shot. I fall squarely on the chainswords and devastator cannons side of the sci-fi vs fantasy debate. Every time I looked at the knights and monsters that filled the ranks of the fantasy realm, I’d long for the hulking space marines and deformed chaotic monsters of 40k. Granted, classic Warhammer also has chaotic monsters, but those ones don’t shoot lazers.

As a byproduct of this bias, I never picked up Mordheim: City of the Damned. It’s been out on Steam Early Access since November 2014, and in a trend becoming increasingly common has actually evolved significantly. It seems that Early Access is becoming the beta program it should be rather than the makeshift Kickstarter many were using it for.

It was a blessing and a curse to have such fresh eyes on it. On the one hand, I wasn’t one of those fans who had become disgruntled by a long awaited bug fix or bored from lack of content. On the other hand, I didn’t really know what to look for or expect from the title. Luckily, I had the chance to speak with Yves Bordeleau, General Manager of Rogue Factor games, who taught me the game and the pivotal pieces in its development. Check out the full interview here:

It was my first ever video interview, and I could not have been twitchier and faster talking if I had stopped smoking crack just 30 minutes before. I didn’t realize they had free beer at this booth yet either, so I’m surprised it turned out so well. Yves was a good teacher, and after some time working through one of the maps, I had the basics of how to insert axes into faces down.

Of the four factions, only the Human Mercenaries and Cult of the Possessed were available for play, with the Sisters of Sigmar and Skaven Clan Eshin not part of the demo. Being based off of the Mordheim tabletop game, which is technically an offshoot of the Warhammer classic main universe, there were specific expectations for what they would include. Considering that the recently announced Total War: Warhammer has criminally left out the Skaven, I am happy that Rogue Factor have their priorities in order.

Yves was quick to point out that the fans had been a huge part of this decision making process. Warhammer fans are the Rainbow 6 of nerds, activated with brutal force when the most sensitive of threats to cannon are leveled at their beloved franchise. Unfortunately, they are also like hairless cats with a skin condition, so everything is sensitive. It is a delicate act to get the balance of the game right with the lore and classic gameplay, so Early Access was key to figuring out what fans wanted as it came up instead of in one brutal forum shitstorm.

mordheim 2

It is a novel way to deal with a unique dilemma: Mordheim: City of the Damned is not Mordheim. Using the same world doesn’t mean that this is just a port of the tabletop. City of the Damned is a tactical RPG set in the universe, and maintains the “skirmish” style of the classic game. However, the combat, loadouts, movesets, and rules are new. Units hit on a damage scale in the dozens/hundreds, and move on an initiative system. How does one properly translate a hulking Chaos Spawn from tabletop to RPG without losing the essence of how it felt to the fans? The answer is lots of tweaking and fan input.

Since E3, I have gotten into contact with Rogue Factor and procured a copy of the Early Access title. Spending some hands on time with the game, I have to say that I am a bit surprised by the lack of content. Aside from the tutorial, only skirmish and shop are available, with the shop being a rudimentary slider which you use to pick your loadout from a sparse list. Campaign and more in depth management are still absent, with glaring “coming soon” tags above them.

mordheim 3

Animations and reactions are similarly incomplete. As deep as the tactical and strategic depth is, the actual hitting things looks cheap. Most attack animations are the same, and there’s a disconnect between hit and reaction. It is strange to see these multiple spreadsheets of information telling you which attacks will yield what specific results with what frequency, only to realize that the attack looks exactly the same as every other swing with a hammer or poke with a spear.

I don’t know what the game looked like a year ago when it first hit the early access shelves. What I can say is that this game does not feel like a game that has been in beta for almost a year. I’m not saying that the game doesn’t play well or isn’t worth your money. What is there is satisfying, with deep tactics that makes you consider every action. The models are well enough done, with detail given to both lowly human mercenary and hulking chaos monstrosity alike. The town is also well designed, with enough ambush, vantage, and choke points to make positioning worth your time.

The big question is if Mordheim: City of the Damned is worth picking up. Personally, I will have to wait for more modes to come out before I can recommend it. A campaign is crucial, and loadouts are still too sparse to feel satisfying. The framework of a good game is there. The fundamentals are good, the balance is well done, and the different roles all contribute. If you are into tactics games and don’t mind being along for the Early Access ride, Mordheim: City of the Damned is not going to let you down. For everyone else, wait for the final product.




Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter