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Mordheim - City of the Damned Review - Never Fight Alone

Nick Monroe | 20 Nov 2015 21:00
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Developed by Rogue Factor. Published by Focus Home Interactive. Released on November 20 2015. Available on PC. Review code provided by publisher.

Mordheim: City of the Damned is a video game in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, based off a 1999 tabletop game that was later discontinued. But this adaptation maintains many aspects of the source material.

While the powerful human Empire was in civil war, the city of Mordheim became a center of moral degeneracy, corruption, and sin. This cultural rebellion grows out of control. Daemons walk the streets. Meanwhile, a comet approaches, one said to foretell the coming of a golden age for the Empire. Instead, the comet crashes into Mordheim and kills thousands and thousands of people.

The comet impact results in the appearance of Wyrdstone. A green magical stone coveted by various black market groups, cults, and sinister wizards. Not to mention an army of secret rat-men, who use it to power their technology. They all fund bands of mercenaries to retrieve Wyrdstone from the ruins of Mordheim. Four factions battle it out for control. There's human mercenaries, Skaven (secretive rat-men), Sisters of Sigmar (an order of female priests), and the Cult of the Possessed (Chaos-worshipping, daemon-touched humans).

Those who played 2009's Blood Bowl or the recent Blood Bowl 2 (also based on a Games Workshop board game) will find Mordheim: City of the Damned's structure familiar.

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The main gameplay is organizing a warband of mercenaries and battling against enemy teams in turn-based skirmishes throughout the city. You can have as few as four people in your crew and ten at the most. Every expedition helps your squad gain stat points and experience, which gives them better odds at survival in future battles. Every expedition is also a risk, as injuries and curses can stick with your troops forever.

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The battles themselves are split between story based missions and randomized skirmishes. Skirmishes are the majority of play, and are about navigating a random map to hunt down your enemy's team and killing them off. You don't always have to eliminate your enemy's entire squad, just enough to make them retreat. The same goes for you, and sometimes you'll desperately hope your remaining troops give up the fight to live another day. Skirmishes have secondary objectives as well - gathering a certain percentage of the map's wyrdstone, killing certain enemy squad members and taking a trophy, or stealing the enemy squad's idol while trying to protect your own.

As your troops take their turns, you snap into a third person view of the soldier, moving about the map and taking your attacks. It's risky combat. Every swing of your sword has an often high chance of missing. It requires thinking a few steps ahead, then accounting for the inevitable mishaps.

Environmental traps litter the battlefield, making movement across the map an enemy in itself. More than once noxious poison traps scattered around the battlefield managed to surprise me. Climbing and jumping off of ledges has its own risk, as characters can fall down and take damage from failing their check.

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Playable maps for skirmish matches in Mordheim take place among the maze-like ruins of the city. It's easy to get turned around, as many of the buildings look alike or blend their models together. This is challenging if you want to navigate a member of your squad as backup if you get into a conflict. Luckily, the map feature helps tremendously in navigating around. The maps are procedurally generated, randomizing the overall layout. The maps use the same building formats, so you can memorize what kinds of particular structures are available.

By contrast, the story missions use fixed maps with unusual objects, keeping the gameplay interesting by breaking up the sometimes repetitive skirmish goals. Each mission has its own map and unique story goal. In the earliest story missions, you gather powder keg bombs to blow up Skaven controlled sewer tunnels. The baron of the human mercenaries faction wants control of the area to improve wyrdstone shipment potential. Standing in the way is a horde of enemies to navigate your team around or through.

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