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Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

You know what are really awesome? Swords. Exciting sword fights have been a staple of books and movies for ages and ages, but video games have, on the whole, been pretty sloppy with their presentation of the weapon. Enemies usually take absurd amounts of hits to go down, and parrying, blocking, and feinting are either more contrived counter-moves or simply not even present. That’s not really a bad thing – it’s not like guns and bullets get a particularly realistic portrayal most of the time – but proper sword combat is something that not many games touch.

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There’s good reason, mind you. In real life, sword fights were clunky, slow, and getting hit with one was possibly even less fun than being shot, if you can believe that. If that wasn’t bad enough, imagine hundreds of people all swinging swords in a large group – “clusterfuck” doesn’t even begin to describe it, honestly. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare goes in on this premise hard, and for the most part it’s surprisingly engaging.

“You know what are really awesome? Swords”The game is immediately accessible. It controls just like a modern first person shooter, although its actual combat is deceptively deep. There are three basic attacks – a swing, a stab, and a sort of overhead slash – and a block button, which either brings up your shield or readies a parry, depending on what’s equipped. There’s a key for feinting, which effectively cancels your last attack if you press it fast enough, adding a lot of depth to one-on-one encounters. Battles between two players can become incredibly tense when both of them have a decent grasp on appropriate times to use these different attacks – until an archer shoots one of them in the face or somebody with a hammer crushes their head.

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Chivalry‘s high player count is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly clever idea – it’s impossible to truly master the combat in the game, because unless you’re playing on a strict dueling server (of which there are already a few), there’s no telling what can happen. On the other hand, the way in which the game seemingly rewards opportunism can be incredibly frustrating. The bigger the player count, the less predictable the whole thing becomes, and since the game’s average count seems to be 12v12 with friendly fire enabled, annoying off-screen death can be the norm.

“Chivalry’s high player count is both a blessing and a curse”This kind of works in the game’s favor, though. It doesn’t take more than a few strikes to kill somebody, so it’s pretty difficult for one player to wipe the floor with everyone else. The skill ceiling between weapons is pretty disparate – shields can block indefinitely, a parry without a shield has to be timed perfectly, and a well-aimed hammer swing can explode somebody’s head instantly, whereas a shortsword will require two or three solid hits to down a foe. This might sound completely busted, and sure, it’s possible to chew through people swinging a two-handed sword indiscriminately, but an archer or anybody who manages to get behind you can solve that problem pretty swiftly. Not to mention the fact that running around swinging violently is a good way to kill/piss off your teammates.

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The objective modes are the highlight of the game, as they reign in the chaos in a way that makes sure the player with the highest kill count isn’t the most valuable team member, and centers the action around a specific point. Pushing a cart to an objective (ala Team Fortress 2 or lighting signal fires gives each team a clear goal that at least involves some kind of strategy other than “kill dudes”. Killing dudes in Chivalry is still fun, but without some other kind of objective it can be a bit of a crapshoot.

“The game is at its best in total anarchy”The whole thing looks and sounds great. Some questionably cheesy music aside, the clanking armor and swords/hammers/other nasty instruments all sound fantastic when they’re bouncing off of each other, and the game has a yell button. A yell button. Hammering on this is entirely pointless and incredibly awesome, especially if you’ve just cut someone’s arm off with a scimitar. As of this writing, the performance in the game is tragically wonky, but hopefully that’s something that’ll be sorted out.

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Chivalry: Medieval Warfare‘s focus on melee combat with lots of people might frustrate some, but it’s an impeccably designed system that throws a huge curveball at anyone who thinks they’ve mastered the controls. While dueling is fun, there’s no denying that trying to boil down the game to just the melee controls – which, while more in-depth than most games, are quite arcadey – sucks some of the life out of it. The game is at its best in total anarchy, and if I wasn’t positive that the game was designed around the idea of medieval sword fights being totally bad-ass I’d hazard the idea that there’s some social commentary going on about the nature of war. There’s not, but you might walk away from the game with a new-found appreciation for just how completely insane the idea of mass melee combat was back in the days of yore.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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