Wednesday, 9 December 2015

It's Mordheim Jim, but not as we know it!

This is what has been drawing me away from important work for the last three weeks. Mordheim: City of the Damned the video game has finally had it's official release! And it's a great game!

For those of you who might never have played Mordheim, either the video game or the tabletop wargame, here's a quick background to it:

Mordheim is a city within the Human realm of the Warhammer World known as The Empire. At a time of great unrest and civil war in The Empire known as The Time of Three Emperors a comet struck Mordheim leaving the town ruined and thousands dead in it's wake. The comet however was made from a unique rock called Wyrdstone which could bestow mutating powers over those who came in contact with it. Many factions within The Empire and beyond coveted this stone either for it's mutating power or for the wealth it could bring trading it to those who desired it. These factions hired bands of mercenaries to scour the city for shards of this stone which had scattered through the city when the meteor disintegrated upon impact. As more gangs of mercenaries flocked to Mordheim it was inevitable there would be conflict between them, and so Mordheim became a hive of cut-throats, thieves, brigands, sell swords and general scum of the earth. This is how it earned the title 'City of the Damned'.

Mordheim the video game is based off the tabletop wargame of the same name. It focuses on the conflict within the ruins of Mordheim between the mercenary warbands hunting for the fabled Wyrdstone shards. While the tabletop wargame has been around for 20 odd years and developed a long list of mercenary warbands to play, the video game at the moment focuses only on 4. They are:

- Human Mercenaries
- Sisters of Sigmar
- Cult of the Possessed
- Skaven

While there are a number of similarities between the game mechanics of the two games there also a number of differences to stop the video game from simply being a digital version of the tabletop wargame. Similarities can be seen in the turn based nature and a number of the stats such as Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength and Toughness, and also the ability for your warband members to acquire both new skills and permanent injuries.

The video game however deviates in a few interesting ways:

- The turns of individual warband members are taken in an initiative order rather than the whole warband at once which allows for an interesting turn sequence of charge and counter-charge.
- The skills are completely different to those in the tabletop game and while some similarities can be seen there is a whole new matrix of progression and development to be explored.
- There are limits to the number of heroes and henchmen you can buy at the creation of your warband and to purchase more you need to first develop the reputation of your warband.
- There is a single player campaign storyline you can follow rather than simply playing one-off skirmishes.

There are a number of other minute differences but if you desperately want to know all of them it's better just to play the game. The purpose of this post was to give a quick overview of how the game plays so lets get stuck into it.

Once you've picked your race (I chose mercenary humans) your journey starts at your warcamp. Here you choose between a number of menu options including warband management, trading, and mission selection.

You then need to pick your starting warband members; about half a dozen to begin with. Once you've paid for the merc you can purchase equipment for them.

Got them kitted out? Great! Now you can begin your first gang fight! The map starts by providing two options plus the campaign scenario as another option. I've reach about level 7 for my warband and it's now providing three options plus the campaign scenario. The campaign is always rated at normal difficulty level but the other scenarios vary in difficulty from normal to hard to brutal to DEADLY. This last level of difficulty appears on the map in bright red writing so you know it's bad for you.

Now that you've picked a scenario the loading begins. The loading time of this game was one of the biggest gripes from those in the beta testing and to be honest it hasn't improved much now it's reached full release. Just be patient with this, grab a cup of tea or coffee or whatever, and let it do it's thing. It'll be worth the wait.

Once the game is loaded you'll generally start by deploying your warband. It's hard to establish exactly how your warband is positioned at ground level so it helps to refer to the handy dandy map as below to see where they're all placed in relation to each other.

Once the game gets underway the turn order of each warband member is defined by initiative. At the top of the screen below you can see the order of each character as dictated by their icon. Blue ones are yours, red are your opponent's.

Climbing up to higher ground can be useful for Marksmen when shooting. The missle weapons within the game vary from shurikens to bows of varying kinds to black powder weapons. I've found the opportunities to get a shoot in before being charged are few so I've upgraded to all black powder weapons to do as much damage as possible.

The Sisters of Sigmar are the only warband without shooting of some kind. Instead they can get a wide variety of spells. In this screenshot poor Flinginpoopin is about to get burned by a comet of Sigmar. Oh and did I mention you can customise your warband's names and skins?

Once both warbands reach combat things can get a bit messy. Your ability to hit and then do damage can be increased or decreased by a wide variety of different abilities, spells, injuries and environmental effects. In the shot below you can see the calculations just above the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.

The game still incorporates a lot of the cool combat effects from the tabletop wargame such as being stunned as in the picture below. Additionally your warband members can suffer from terror and fear, all alone tests, they can flee from combat if getting badly mauled and you can also get skills such as frenzy or suffer injuries which cause disabilities like stupidity.

Once the fighting is all said and done you'll hopefully come out with a handful of Wyrdstone to sell and a bit of extra loot. Then it's time to return to camp and tidy up the mess.

Each of your warband members will receive experience for surviving the fight which grants them stat increases in the left hand column. Each time they level up they also gain points to spend on new skills.

Unfortunately not all warband members make it through without a few bruises so injuries are also resolved at this point. Erik below was very lucky but it's not always the way. I've had people get blinded, suffer from traumatic brain injuries which cause stupidity, suffer various wounds that permanently reduce their stats and of course I've had a few who just didn't make it back...

Once you've paid up your warband for their fight (they are mercenaries after all) patched up your wounded and picked all your new skill-ups you're ready to start the whole process over again.

One thing worth mentioning and I think one of the best parts about the game is that there is no saving games mid mission then reloading it. What happens in game is done and there's no turning back the clock. I think this stays really true to Tuomas Pirinen's concept for the original wargame where over time warbands will inevitably be populated by grizzled battle-scarred veterans while, through a process of natural selection, the weaker members of a warband will...disappear. It's a tough life to be a Mordheim mercenary so you gotta learn quick or become just another corpse in the gutter.

So that's the game! As you can probably tell from this and previous posts I'm a big fan. I believe it stays true enough to the wargame while at the same time differentiating itself to make it a great game in it's own right. I'm really enjoying developing my warband and I'm really enjoying exploring the various skill trees to find synergy between my warband members. Being a wargamer at heart I don't think it'll ever surpass the joy of seeing fully painted toy soldiers moved across a tabletop full of beautifully built terrain but for those of us who don't have the time for such things any more it offers a more than satisfactory substitute.

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