“BURN THE VILLAGE!”
“KILL THE PEASANTS!”
It was prophesised, in ancient times, that one day there would come a great first-person fighter to bring justice to the land. Long have the people waited for their hero and in vain have they hoped, while a procession of charlatans and braggarts shambled into town preceded by the promise of legendary deeds, followed by the stink of failure. The people have known despair. Until today.
In an inn somewhere, Mount and Blade staggers stiff-legged back from the bar, awkwardly flinging tankards of piss at War of the Roses, whose spastic flailings fail miserably to catch them. Zeno Clash fumbles a pint to his lips at least, but half of it’s down his front and he smells funny so he’s sat at his table alone. The door creaks open, and it’s Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, tottering over the threshold, but his physics are all wonky so he keeps throwing himself to the floor with a shriek. Suddenly Chivalry: Medieval Warfare bursts in through the fucking wall and punches Condemned: Criminal Origins square in the balls with a fist like a ham hock. Skyrim, struggling under the weight of millions of development dollars worth of shame, stands up to protest and Chivalry hacks his head off with a chair, punts the severed bonce into the barman’s face and, bellowing cheerfully, burns the pub to the ground. Our hero has arrived.
The swordplay in Chivalry is a towering achievement. For so long have we waited, for “melee”, “first-person” and “not a bit balls” to be concepts that could adhere to one another without sliding onto the floor in messy, tedious heap. Chivalry gets it so very right. It’s skillful, weighty, satisfying. The core of the combat is simple. You have three basic attacks. Left mouse button for a horizontal swing, flick the mouse wheel forward for a forward thrust and roll it down for a downwards overhand. The wheel strikes feel strange at first, but it’s pleasing logical and quickly becomes second nature to deliver the right direction of strike at the right time, and then combo in a decapitating backswing. Parrying is done by centering the tip of the enemy’s weapon on your screen and hitting the right mouse. It’s a momentary window, dependant on good timing, rather than a constantly held block. If you want that you’ll have to equip a shield, but when held high the shield obscures your view and drains your stamina, and you still be hit around it from your flanks. Throw in feints, flinches and a couple of class-specific leaps and dodge moves, and that’s it. Oh, and throwing weapons, but they are the tools of the coward.
At its best the combat in Chivalry can be a subtle, nuanced dance of fencing, feints and footwork. It’s about exploiting speed, reach and nerve. When it all clicks, you feel invincible. You face down your opponent, get into his head, predict his attacks, dismantle his defence, slay with sweet science and sprint off, blood-spattered to the next duel. At its other best, it’s a demented drunken slobbernocker, kicking out time at the roughest boozer in King’s Landing, everyone wading into a wildly thrashing dogpile of kill-stealing and team killing, players rage-detonating in the chat ticker and firing off fusillades of tit-for-tat votekicks.
It’s horribly, hilariously violent, with a disarming air of brutish, cheerful lunacy, provided in no small part by the fantastic sound. The crunch, thunk and splatter of the carnage induces winces and giggles in equal measure, and really sells the impacts. C is your War Cry button. If you are standing still you wave your weapon around, thump your shield, yell threats and slogans, and if you are running your guy just shrieks long vowels of rage. It may be the greatest single thing that happened in video games last year. I press it all the time. I demand that it be included in all games, patched in retroactively if necessary, from Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing to Super Mario Brothers. You can replace the jump button with it if needs be.
Part of what makes the War Cry button the best of all buttons is Chivalry’s voice acting, which is perfect. I think it’s the development team screaming and yelling and making horrible wet burbling sounds, rather than professional voice actors, because it’s amateurish a bit silly and just right for the Monty Python and the Holy Grail black knight fight vibe. The weird delivery of the lines, mispronunciations (defend the treb-yoo-shet!) and played to the hilt comedy theatrics are the core of the games air of bone-headed, happily brutal bonhomie. Play it with a few mates on Teamspeak, and the channel periodically erupts with gales of laughter at a particularly vicious bludgeoning or hopelessly ham-fisted teamkill.
It will also occasionally erupt with the inarticulate, recombinant swearing of the truly enraged, “COCKFART!” being a highlight from last night’s game. Because Chivalry can be frustrating like nothing else. Perhaps because of the mano-a-mano nature of it, sometimes when you get beat, you get beat, outfoxed, outboxed, and chopped the fuck up. It’s hard not to take it personally. Then there are the other times; it’s two minutes into a titanic duel, your platemail spattered with each other’s blood. Your opponent makes a momentary error, misreads your footwork and swings his heavy sword too soon. You dance out of the way, step inside, too quickly for him to bring the weapon back around in time to defend himself. You have him. You both know. Looking at you, he nods almost impercetibly, closes his eyes and
“HERP DERP DIEEEE!” and in flies your chucklehead team-mate desperately hewing about himself, tiny idiot penis half stiff with the hope of stealing your kill, and you just have time to shout “stop that you cu-” before he stoves your face in with a hammer.
Inhale all of the rage.
Exhale most of the rage.
An apology after a TK goes a long way. It’s cool. Everyone does it from time to time. And it’s not as bad as the archers.
Dear god, archers. From Hell’s heart I stab at thee. I hate you. I hate you so much I want to kill you and then kill all the archers on my side as well because they remind me of you. I hate your arrows almost as much as I hate your stupid superspeed butterknife dagger thing you switch to and carve me up with when I finally get within range.
Quick, to the forums to blurt out another post complaining about the hideous game balance, and demand that the Man-at-Arms be given a lightsaber, or that when you kill a cowardly scumbag archer his player should die in real life. Happily forums posts seems to be a fairly even mix of “we’re underpowered and they’re OP” from every class, which is probably a good sign. Each gets an advantage here, a weakness there, and despite the MLG uber733t proskillz ninjas raving in chat about how they must have been killed by glitches or bad design, most of the time you die because you didn’t play better.
It doesn’t always feel that way though, and this is the game’s largest fault; sometimes it doesn’t properly communicate what happened, why you died, and you are left feeling that he cut right through your properly timed parry, or stabbed through your shield. A Call of Duty style Kill-Cam replay would go some way towards alleviating this, and help players see where they went wrong and how to improve. It would also give you something to do during the ten seconds of forever it takes to respawn, other than rage madly in your chair. Maybe one day. Torn Banner are certainly thus far showing an admirable commitment to supporting the game. A patch has just landed, that should hopefully massage a few balance issues, and includes a handful of new weapons. And a new game mode. And maps. For free. No, not DLC. I know, right?
I love Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, god help me I do. Its the game I wanted to exist ever since I first whacked my little brother over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. It’s a demented, rough and ready bargain-priced gem of a game, it even looks rather lovely. If you’ve ever pretended to decapitate an imaginary opponent with a long cardboard tube, you should buy it, get good, and come at me, bro.
Just don’t go archer.