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Mordheim: City of the Damned

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Rogue Factor
Release Date: Nov. 19, 2015


PC Preview - 'Mordheim: City of the Damned'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 18, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Mordheim: City of the Damned is a turn-based tactical game where you lead warbands into bloody and lethal skirmishes.

Mordheim: City of the Damned is an adaptation of the cult classic Warhammer game of the same name. Mordheim was a city that worshipped the god Sigmar and took an incoming comet as a sign of his favor — right up the point the comet crashed into the city. Now it's a dead city that's inhabited by evil forces of chaos and home to rare and valuable materials brought by the comet. Warbands from across the land have ventured to Mordheim to collect the valuables, but there isn't enough to go around, so the city has become a battlefield.

Our demo at E3 2014 gave us a glimpse into a battle between the Skavens and the Sisters of Sigmar. The core is a combination of strategy and RPG elements. You have a third-person camera and move your units in real time, although what we saw of the demo implied that was about the extent of action-based elements. Mordheim is a strategy-RPG, so units battle in large procedurally generated city maps to slay the other side. There are going to be multiple groups available beyond the Skavens and the Sisters of Sigmar; among those mentioned were the human mercenaries and the Cult of the Possessed.

You have two kinds of points to spend. Blue points are "strategy points" and were primarily used in the demo for movement. You spend one point to move a certain distance across the battlefield. You also have red points, called offensive points, which you spend to perform combat actions. Spending points carefully is an essential part of the game. In our demo, we could see how easy it was to overcommit to an action. Move your character too far, and you're in a dangerous position when your turn ends without the points to capitalize on it. There are other things you can spend points on. The game is turn-based, with unit initiative determining the order in which units go, so if you want, you can spend a strategy point to delay the turn until it's more opportune. You can also spend an offense point to go into a guard stance, which allows you to counterattack if attacked.

Positioning and area control are extremely important in Mordheim. It's important to be in a safe place where enemies can't get to you, but beyond that, it's necessary to consider how dangerous a fight can be. If a unit is surrounded by opposing forces, it also has to make a special "All Alone" check or be victim to additional attacks. The city is a dangerous place, and your enemies are not the only danger you'll face. There are hidden traps and dangers along the map, such as poison gas-spewing statues or arrow traps. These can damage anyone on the map and require special perception-focused characters to notice. A clever player can set it up so an unknowing enemy runs into a trap. On the other hand, we saw several incautious units in our demo get accidentally gassed and lose health and valuable strategy points.

Successful combat actions also have a pretty important influence on both your short- and long-term success. The better you're doing in combat, the higher your team's combat morale rises. On the other hand, getting ambushed, critically attacked or injured will lower morale. Morale is an alternate victory target to aim for. If you can get morale high enough, your enemies will be routed, which makes them retreat from the battlefield. Of course, the same can apply to the enemy if you're not careful.

Characters don't just die instantly when defeated. Death is a possibility, but a character can also lose an arm, be blinded, or suffer other debilitating injuries. You can't recover from these injuries, which persist from battle to battle. This can be devastating if a particularly good or long-lived unit suffers a serious injury. A unit can even suffer multiple injuries, although after a certain point, it is more useful to retire a unit than to depend on limbless, blind soldiers. Injuries are also reflected on the character models, so you'll know at a glance how many battle scars a soldier has earned. Since units level up as they fight and can gain powerful pieces of equipment, you'll want to balance having an injured soldier on the field versus the advantage of their experience.

One of the big things that sets apart Mordheim from most other recent tactical RPGs is the emphasis on success and failure. Much like the Warhammer game on which it is based, dice rolls play a big part in the gameplay. What little we saw of the mechanics gave us a glimpse at how much chance and fate can impact the battle outcome. You have an invisible dice roll that goes off when you attack or defend, but that is one of the many things that are determined by chance. For example, we saw a huge ogre-like monster that was nearly unstoppable in battle but limited by low intelligence. He had to make a stupidity roll at the start of every round to be properly ordered, although positioning a leader-type character near him would boost his success rate. Being poisoned, surrounded by enemies, and climbing or jumping off a ledge has an associated roll. It adds an extra sense of danger to every action and will feel familiar to those who played the Warhammer tabletop game.

Mordheim: City of the Damned looks to be an interesting adaptation of the board game. It attempts to meld Warhammer RPG stylings with video game mechanics. The demo made it look like a fast-paced, hardcore strategy-RPG with an emphasis on positioning and area control. The developer, Rogue Factor, was also very clear that it's putting a lot of effort into keeping the game faithful to the Warhammer universe lore. Mordheim: City of the Damned is coming exclusively to PC in Q4 2014.

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