Deep in mechanics and brutally fun to boot, Mordhau challenges its dedicated community to experiment with and master its many moving parts.
Adequately juggling authentic medieval combat and fun class-based multiplayer, Mordhau is the kind of high-skill game that chews players up and spits them back out without fully breaking their spirit. Though some players that struggle with its precise mechanics and imperfect online performance will give up in frustration, there are just as many or more that will first be cut down by their betters but remain enchanted enough with the game's brutal simplicity and (mostly) good-humored community to push on. Mordhau provides ample room for customization and experimentation while maintaining a well-balanced core experience, and it relieves an itch that has gone long unscratched since the prime of Team Fortress 2 and early Battlefield titles.
Named for the Mordhau sword fighting technique in which an attacker grips a longsword by the blade in order to strike with its hilt or pommel, melee combat in its many forms is the literal name of the game. Combat is similar to that found in Chivalry, but the mechanics of Mordhau are much more finely honed and polished, eliminating exploits and excessively unrealistic animations. In addition to incorporating the Mordhau and other alternate grips based on one's weapon of choice, strikes are landed based on mouse placement relative to foes, and players can stab, parry, riposte, chamber, and kick their opponents in order to walk away from a fight alive.
Make no mistake: killing human and (to a much lesser extent) AI opponents in Mordhau often evokes the feeling of narrow survival, and the game's brutal yet variably accurate portrayal of medieval combat's personal brutality helps to drive this primal feeling home. Severely injured players will carry on fighting bloodied and gashed, limbs and heads roll when killing blows strike true, and blood-stained blades serve as reminders of those whose lives they've tasted. Though Mordhau has great visuals for a $30 indie, it paints an appropriately ugly and barbaric picture of war, and any guilt felt from killing its onscreen humans is summarily smothered by the intense desire to survive encounters and win the battle.
Mordhau's foundation is deep melee combat, but there's plenty else that players can do to support their teammates in ways that swords, spears, and battleaxes can't. Stabled horses permit any player to live out their lance-wielding knight fantasies, and bows, trebuchets, and ballistas allow for ranged combat on various scales. As for support roles, players can carry medic bags with them that give teammates the opportunity to heal themselves between fights, while toolboxes and mallets let players to take on the role of battlefield engineer, allowing them to build, repair, and destroy defensive and offensive emplacements on the fly. Along with melee, Mordhau's tutorial does a decent job of teaching players these mechanics without holding them hostage from the main game forever, but players that want to master it all may want to revisit it at least once.
There are nine starting classes to choose from, and players can easily get along in Mordhau without deviating from these preset mercenaries. For those who want to experiment with new combinations and set themselves apart visually, though, custom character creation gives players the option to decide not only how their characters look, but also purchase and equip game-changing weapons, equipment, and armor, as well as choose from a set of novel perks. Similar to an RPG skill tree, player customization is limited by a total number of points, with the strongest gear and perks (with some intentionally humorous exceptions) costing the most. Players can be silent, smoke bomb- and dagger-throwing ninjas if they so desire, but those who want to wield über-strong weapons like the Zweihander won't be carrying anything else.
Being multiplayer-only, Mordhau has a number of modes, and the premier mode in which players can test their custom mercenaries' mettle is Frontline. Further cementing its similarity to other notable class-based games, Frontline is essentially a medieval take on Battlefield's Conquest mode with elements of Team Fortress 2's Payload peppered in. Two opposing teams of 32 players each face off in a battle of attrition, clashing over territorial objectives. It's here where players' specialized roles often make a major difference, and making a mid-game shift in tactics to deal with a high concentration of mounted soldiers or a group of pesky archers can change the tide of battle.
Other modes include Horde, Battle Royale, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Skirmish, and an unofficial one-on-one dueling mode. Modes can also be played locally with bots, but Mordhau's AI struggles to replicate anything close to the fun of fighting online humans. For that same reason, the PvE wave-defense affair of Horde is a complete snore because it throws such massive numbers of dumb bots at players that winning all but demands exploitation of the AI. Battle Royale, Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch play exactly as expected and provide fun, smaller scale alternatives to Frontline, and their differences make it clear that Mordhau's combat shines particularly brightly when fighting fewer enemies.
Following that logic, it makes sense that Skirmish and duels are a ton of fun from a mechanically purist standpoint, and the game's inherent similarities to Chivalry and For Honor separate these modes from Frontline's class-based feel. Skirmish pits two small teams against one another in a series of elimination rounds with no respawns, while duel servers (hosted as Deathmatches) are an unofficial backroom affair in which fighters pair up for single combat free of distractions, enforced by a gentlemen's agreement among players. Each of these modes are excellent for honing and showing off individual skill, so it's doubly unfortunate that Skirmish servers are seldom full and that developer Triternion has yet to add a ranked dueling mode.
The maps that house these numerous game types are few and somewhat hit-and-miss. Mordhau sports seven maps total, four of which are large enough for Frontline and Battle Royale. They're all quite distinct in visuals and design, but sticking around in an any official server or lightly perusing the server browser reveals that the playerbase has understandably chosen its favorites and more or less eschewed the rest. Presumably because of its battlefield variety and asymmetric layout, the castle siege-themed Grad will be where Frontline players spend most of their time. It's a great map, but in a game built on repetitive gameplay and a high skill ceiling, playing in the same location or two ad infinitum accelerates how quickly Mordhau's novelties wear off.
Those that do stick around, however, will likely do so because of the game's colorful community of players. Like all online titles, Mordhau isn't without its share of vitriolic jackasses and edgy trolls, but the majority of those that players will encounter are simply looking to have alternately competitive or goofy fun. Thanks to the developer's good sense of what players look for in multiplayer (without overdoing it, thankfully), there are many silly emotes and voice lines baked into the game to help guide the community in a light-hearted direction. It can be refreshingly hilarious to witness a pallid old man run around a bleak, blood-soaked battlefield with a lute in hand playing "Megalovania" from Undertale, and players are normally good sports about genuine mistakes and quick to praise impressive feats of luck or skill.
Despite the fact that many will be scared off by its long list of mechanics and a well-settled community that's already miles ahead of newcomers, Mordhau is an excellent online experience with hours and hours of enjoyment resting just beyond some initial frustrations. It takes the best of class-based multiplayer and marries it to a well-executed medieval setting, and the end product is an aptly violent and highly engaging arena that rewards dedication and skill. It could certainly do with a bit more map variety and the introduction of an official dueling mode down the line, but, as it stands, Mordhau is a great niche multiplayer title with a devoted playerbase and a lot of room to grow.
Mordhau is available now for PC. Screen Rant was provided a Steam code for review.