From the very title, one would expect Chivalry: Medieval Warfare to be a parody game. Add to it that the first-person multiplayer game has a class system, persistent leveling, amateur voice acting and gore that seems lifted out of a low-budget horror film, and it would easy to brush the game off as a sarcastic forum post that somehow got turned into a game. But to do so would be to brush off a title that- while not perfect- has an incredibly nuanced, first-person melee combat system.

Developed by Torn Banner Studios, Chivalry is the spiritual successor to the Half-Life 2 mod the team worked on previously- “Age of Chivalry.” While a third-person camera option is available, the game defaults to the first-person person perspective. Combining that p.o.v. with melee is a bold design choice, seeing as only a handful of games like Condemned: Criminal Origins, Zeno Clash, and The Chronicles of Riddick series have managed to execute the combination well. Chivalry manages to pull it off wonderfully though, by using a simple combat system with surprising depth.

5 minutes in, I was staring at this bloody mess.

Melee combat breaks down into attacks, defends, and a feint. A simple left click gives a vertical slice that can be chained with one more slice if timed properly. A roll up on the mouse wheel delivers a lunge and a roll back delivers an overhead bash. To counter, players are given to defensive options, parrying or shield blocking. Parrying is a short action that needs to be properly timed as it can’t be held. Blocking indefinitely requires a shield, but limits weapon choices and isn’t available to all classes. Players are also able to kick, which both pushes opponents back and staggers shields. Lastly, there’s the feint- by activating it before a certain threshold after attacking, the attack will be cancelled. Each action is followed by an extremely brief moment where a player can’t act again, giving combat a measured pace that is still thrilling.

The instinct to run into a player’s attack with a block to take advantage of their defenseless moment to strike is strong, but did they fully commit to attacking? Were they just feinting to draw that reaction and attack themselves? A complex game of bluffs and counters takes place in every fight. Reckless players get killed quickly, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve had tense, one on one face-offs with other players where much of the time was spent circling each other, waiting for an opportunity. If that wasn’t tactical enough, the game also incorporates a stamina system- made visible with a bar at the bottom of the screen- that is spent by sprinting, blocking, bluffing, and comboing. It works to add tension and make players more mindful of their actions.

Chivalry is split up into four classes- three melee and one ranged. They follow the conventional trope of the lightest being the fastest and least armored while the heaviest being slow but stronger and more armored. Man-at-arms is the lightest melee class, and his quick movement is highlighted by the ability to dodge. Players can double tap one of the WASD keys to do a quick jump in that direction. The medium vanguard has long reach weapons and can do a powerful running attack. The heavy Knight has higher health and consumes less stamina while blocking. Archers have the least armor, but have the ability to deliver high damage with back stabs if forced into close-range battle. There’s nothing particularly brilliant amongst the classes aside from each one does allow for players with different strategy leanings to play as they like. I felt as if the Vanguard and Knight weren’t as different as made out to be, but perhaps that could be my own failing to find the subtleties between them.

Chivalry’s persistence hook comes in the form of unlockable weapons. All classes have three primary weapon categories, three secondary weapon categories, and a smattering of tertiary items that range from shields and explosives to throwing weapons. Weapons are unlocked by completing kills with another weapon in that category, with a maximum of 9 primary and secondary weapons available to each class with some crossover. Hours in, I feel as if the limitations on weapon choices is a mis-step. While it works nicely as an incentive, it works against experimenting with classes. All the tertiary items are unlocked from the start and allow for customized load outs for players, but the lack of saved load outs are sorely missed. That being said, all the melee weapons have a good weight to them, and the combinations with the miscellaneous items allow for meaningful differences in play styles.

A few quick notes on the ranged combat. Playing as an archer isn’t this game’s strength. Arrows have a good speed and arc to them, but if head shots aren’t getting made, players can take a couple of arrows to them before being brought down. While the resiliency of classes works great to draw melee encounters out a bit longer, it works against archers. In short, the ranged combat is functional, but not outstanding.

While duels on the field of battle are all well and good, multiplayer game modes always add a neat twist to matches. Deathmatch is a given, and free-for-all is what is sounds like. Capture the flag is also included and there’s no surprises there either. A single-player mode with bots on each side is also an appreciated touch for those who want to learn the maps. Chivalry mixes it up with some lesser used game modes though, having maps that mix push and destruction goals. For instance, one map had a team pushing a cart of corpses forward while the opposing team tried to run down the clock. If the cart was pushed, the attacking team had to open a gate by activating two wheels. If the defending team wasn’t able to stop them there, they had to make a last ditch attempt at defending a weak, noble family in a fort. The variety of game modes is a huge plus to the game, giving it lots of replayability.

I could complain about how the team that embraces cooperation will have the upper hand in a public game, but that’s purely a symptom of playing with randomized players and not one of bad scenario design. A legitimate complaint that I would level against the game is the auto-balancing. Far too often I saw teams where one side had an advantage of five or so players. The developers have promised to fix this problem- in addition to adding more content to the game- with an upcoming update, but the problem persists as of right now.

Another uneven match-up.

Aesthetically, the game is well done. Maps have a good sense of size, with alternate routes littered throughout the well-realized world. Gore is one of the game’s highlights, as limbs and heads getting severed is a common occurrence. The voice acting is humorously amateur, with what sounds like guys having loads of fun as they tried to let out their most melodramatic, manliest, blood-curdling war cries.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare isn’t a perfect game. It’s lack of load out saves is a negative, which is compounded by the contrived kill path that gives access to a broader range of weapons. The auto-balancing is lacking, which is a pretty bad feature to get wrong in a multiplayer-only game. But the game also has fantastic melee combat with a system that’s easy to understand and accessible, but requires dedication to master. Once one finally does get past the silly persistence system, weapon choices add some good variety to individual classes. Chivalry has given me some suspenseful encounters despite its few problems. Combine that with a relatively low price point, and I think the game is definitely worth consideration for those looking for those interested in compelling, multiplayer, melee games.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Combat is accessible but deep
+ Excessive gore and humorous voice-acting work well together
+ Lots of multiplayer game types
+ Great map design
- Unlockable weapons hinder experimentation
- Auto-balancing hurt matches

7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was developed and published by Torn Banner, and is available for $24.99. A copy of the game was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.