I’m going to be honest with you – I’m not all that familiar with Warhammer. I know there are giant buff humanoids and Orks that like fighting in oiled up suits of armor, and that is where the sum of my knowledge ends. But I figure, hey, here’s an opportunity to familiarize myself with the series and cover a new Early Access title on Steam. Mordheim: City of the Damned is bare bones at the moment, and for 32 USD that might be too steep but for the most rabid of Warhammer fans. What is there and what’s to come, however, is very promising indeed.
Mordheim starts off letting you choose between three factions – the Skaven, the Sisters of Sigmar, and human mercenaries. Each of these factions require different tactical play. For example, the rodent-like Skaven are stealthy, hitting the hardest when ambushing and isolating their enemies; the Sisters are paladins, strong to a point with healing spells; and finally, the human mercenaries are all around well-balanced. After you’ve selected your faction, you’ll face off in one of four large city settings, with variables like time of day and scenarios to keep things fresh. The scenarios allow you to play out, well, a specific scenario: your wagon has been ambushed, a fight has broken out in the city center, a Sister of Sigmar called your mom a Skaven, etc.
The gameplay is a sort of fantasy XCOM: Enemy Unknown situation. You’ll move, say, your brawler type guy towards some ranged guy out in the open picking flowers. It’s turn-based so you should be able to reach him unless another enemy character is set to ambush or overwatch, in which case you may be interrupted. Assuming you reach your target (you can only move/perform so many actions in a single turn) you’ll be able to select an attack. You’ll either strike true or miss (dependent upon the “dice roll” percentage mechanic), and they’ll parry, dodge, or counterattack. It’s very rewarding when it all comes together, and very reminiscent of Warhammer’s tabletop roots (example: Skaven warbands have this lumbering super tank rat that you can only use if he passes a stupidity test. He usually fails, but I still love him all the same). There’s plenty of tactical depth, as your contingent will be comprised of support, ranged, specialists, and brawler forces.
If I have anything to complain about it’s that the AI is abysmally dense most of the time. I’m no tactical genius, and in my first game I was still getting used to the controls. I positioned every one of my units right in front of the enemies and sat there, thinking I was attacking, when in reality I was just ending my turn repeatedly. This went on for several embarrassing minutes while they took turns rearranging my soldiers’ beautiful, pristine faces. I still won. In fact, I annihilated them for shaming me initially, and only lost one unit overall. In later games they showed some tactical sense, fleeing when the tide had turned, isolating my lone units, taking the high ground. But every now and then the AI will decide to jump up and down from the high ground, using its entire turn to work on its calf muscles. Fortunately, you don’t have to be antisocial like me and can play against human players, who offer a decidedly more challenging experience. A final, minor quibble is that the camera can get wonky at times, particularly in tighter quarters.
According to the Steam store page, there’s a lot to look forward to during Mordheim’s development cycle: campaigns, more warband factions, customization, permadeath and injuries ala XCOM, aesthetic options… the list goes on. And so far they’ve been updating regularly and are active on the forums. But, and I stress this, there is currently very little on offer. The gameplay is fun, the graphics are impressive, and it really does feel like playing a tabletop game in the best possible way – all of this coming from someone who couldn’t tell you the difference between Khorne, God of Blood and Tzeentch, Changer of Ways.
That doesn’t change the fact that you’ll see and do everything there is to see and do in two, three hours tops. So if you feel like being part of the process and want to get your hands on a solidly entertaining fantasy strategy game, whether you’re a fan of the series or not, go right ahead. This is an absolutely fun game, and the level of polish and community involvement suggests great things to come. But if you have any doubts, you have nothing to lose waiting and watching – my preferred Early Access strategy.