Mordheim: City of the Damned is not an easy game. It’s purposefully obfuscated, overtly difficult, especially in the beginning, and specifically designed to be punishing for those who don’t grasp the mechanics at a decent pace. In this game, you will live and die by the RNG- or Random Number Generator, for those unfamiliar with the term. Much in like a tabletop game, a series of poor rolls can end your adventure rather abruptly. So, would rolling the dice for such a game be up your alley? Let’s find out.
Mordheim had its humble beginnings as a tabletop game by Games Workshop back in 1999. In the tabletop setting players create warbands which engage in skirmish-sized battles set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe. The warbands players create gain experience, better equipment and abilities, and grow in size if the player performs well, and comparatively shrink in size as members of the warband become wounded or die if the player does poorly.
Much of the complexity and subtle nuances of the tabletop board game is brought into City of the Damned, so this particular experience is not for the faint of heart or those who become easily aggravated due to unfortunate events. If poor circumstances out of nowhere make you angry, it would be best that you avoid Mordheim: City of the Damned lest you eat your keyboard in frustration.
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As with most Warhammer games, Mordheim: City of the Damned is a turn-based game that places the player in control of a variety of squads called warbands. The city is at war with itself due to four factions fighting over resources, the rarest and most alluring of which being a mysterious rock left behind from a meteor that struck the planet. This mystery rock is called Wyrdstone, or Warpstone, or green-glowing Chernobyl McNuggets if you don’t really care about the lore, and is dark magic in a solidified form, which grants it exceptional mutagenic capabilities. Lore aside, it’s powerful, everyone wants it, and that gives the four factions within Mordheim reason enough to stab, dismember, and otherwise maim one another over the stones as the impetus for the plot.
Combat in Mordheim is, as mentioned previously, a turn-based system in which you control a warband and fight in skirmishes within the city, battling the opposing factions over Wyrdstone and other loot. Those who have played XCOM will know, roughly, what you are getting into with Mordheim. Similar to other Warhammer video games, players are capable of moving freely based on action points, which are also used for healing, attacking, and more. Maps on which the skirmish battles take place are randomly generated and may have a variety of traps or environmental hazards, so even the stages themselves can cause problems for those who make just a few careless actions.
Your warband can have between four and ten fighters, and injuries characters sustain such as loss of limbs, become a handicap that will follow that character into further encounters, assuming they survive at all (yes, there is perma-death in a game called Mordheim- it lives up to its name). Outside of combat, players have a variety of systems to understand. The first decision players make in Mordheim is which faction you’d prefer to play with, which consists of human mercenaries, the Sisters of Sigmar, the Skaven (they’re rat-men), the Cult of the Possessed, and the current DLC-only Witch Hunters, the latter of which includes its own additional campaign.
There are some benefits depending upon which warband you have, such as the Sisters being melee-oriented that lend themselves well to tanking due to high durability, while the Skaven have high agility and are focused on outmaneuvering opponents. Characters in your warband will have a variety of weapons and armor, spells, skills, and more to upgrade along specific upgrade paths as they grow, which can make it even more heartbreaking if a longtime character that had your best equipment perishes in battle.
Characters can gain status ailments, such as Deep Wounds, Amnesia, Brain Trauma, Severed Limbs, and more, of which some of these can be beneficial as some are minor on certain character builds, such as Megalomania increasing spell casting costs on a melee fighter, which doesn’t matter, but even minor injuries reduce the character’s Rating. Ratings are extremely important because the AI will control characters that are leveled based off of the Ratings of your whole team composition- the stronger you get, the stronger the enemies get… so hopefully you’re applying your skill points properly or you may get wiped out often!
There are some interesting design choices in Mordheim: City of the Damned when it comes to the loot system, in particular. There may be cases where a warrior of yours falls in battle and gets looted by an enemy combatant, which could mean that some of your good equipment was stolen. You kill this combatant, intending to loot his corpse, but the battle abruptly ends because the morale of the enemy forces fell and they withdrew, so you’re no longer able to loot the corpse of the guy who just scavenged your fallen comrade. Oftentimes, if an enemy steals your equipment, it vanishes off of their corpses if a turn has passed, despite Wyrdstone staying for quite a number of turns (this isn’t explained, nor does it make sense in the broad scheme of things).
Other strange design choices involve failing a mission because you’ll kill an enemy that was Marked for Death but the skirmish ends before you pick up the mark, which is by far one of the most frustrating objective failures in a PC game.
The overarching concept of Mordheim: City of the Damned is that it doesn’t hold your hand beyond the initial tutorial- and even missions in the beginning you think will be a tutorial can start off with one of your characters completely surrounded and separately from the rest of the group, providing him a quick death that you couldn’t really do much about since you are probably still learning how to move your characters, at this point. The game is unforgiving, can be immensely frustrating, and is, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding experiences when you finally surmount a series of unfavorable events and collect a variety of outstanding loot. Mordheim is definitely not a game for someone wanting to sit down with a game and relax, and for at least the few hours, is not for someone with high blood pressure.
The visuals are solid all around: The graphics are very pleasing, and the customization of the aesthetics is varied and satisfying. Mordheim certainly doesn’t want for visual appeal so it is typically a joy to view in almost any area. The sound design is all right- none of the music really sticks around once the game has been closed for the night, and while the sound effects are passable, nothing really strikes an evocative cord that draws you into the game. It’s very pretty to look at- but the sound is take it or leave it.
Overall, Mordheim: City of the Damned is an enjoyable game- but only if you’re into tough experiences that can, and probably will, test your patience. Fans of the XCOM strategy formula may find a lot to love if you give it time and pick up on the mechanics quickly. Those who are easily frustrated by obfuscated design decisions, painful AI RNG (especially when it comes to looting your fallen party members!), or maybe poor at strategy RPGs in general will want to stay far, far away from Mordheim: City of the Damned. For the audience that can appreciate Mordheim, there’s a large amount of content, multiplayer, and a variety of warbands and campaigns to try out while exploring the dilapidated city. For this reason, Mordheim earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems.