Mordhau is a new skill-based multiplayer slash 'em up that launched last month on PC, but it's also the name of a move that you can perform in the game whereby you flip your sword around and grip it by the blade, using the pommel or the crossguard to beat your opponent with almost as if it was a mace.
In Triternion's title you'll find maces too, and hammers for that matter. The game is a celebration of chivalric warfare, with swords of all shapes and sizes accompanied by a wealth of ye olde weapons that you can use to whack, slack, bash, and stab your enemies to death with. It's a bloody and brutal game that rewards skilled play, and we've enjoyed it despite the fact that we've been stabbed more times than we'd like to admit.
There are three modes to pick from. You can either choose your preferred option, or you can set it to random. One mode lets you battle against waves of enemies, with a predetermined number of soldiers sent to kill you and your player-controlled buddies. Then there's a large-scale (up to) 64-player team-based deathmatch mode, which is exactly what you're imaging it is. In this mode two teams crash into each other across a variety of arenas, contesting capture points until one team is forced back.
Our favourite, however, was the unexpectedly addictive battle royale mode. We didn't think it would work but it absolutely does. Straight away you're running to grab weapons from one of the many crates littered around the confined levels, and then once you're armed you are on the lookout for lesser-armed enemies and improved weapons and armour. It's frantic and brutal and we love the immediacy of the action; there's no taking it easy as all the players are packed into a relatively small arena, which creates a fast-paced dynamic to each match.
If you don't find a good weapon early on you're pretty much doomed, as fists or a paddle won't do much against a capable player with a rapier, a short sword, or even a hammer. Once you are armed, it's still easy to get cut down, and it's no good simply charging straight into battle because your opponents will happily make mincemeat out of you if you do. Instead, Mordhau encourages cautious but steady pressure, whereby you spend just as much time focusing on defence as you do on attack.
The swordplay is skill focused and nuanced to a pleasing degree. How you swipe using the mouse determines the angle of attack, and you can stab and block and kick your enemies to break up your attacks and give your opponent something to think about. Of course, you can also utilise the game's namesake move and deploy the mordhau technique. Dueling with enemies can be an extremely tactical affair, and when you come up against an equally matched opponent the resulting battles can be utterly thrilling. Naturally, when you win one of these evenly contested fights it's extra pleasing, but you can never rest on your laurels because there's always another encounter just around the next corner.
It's not a simple game, but the devs onboard players pretty well with a tutorial section that we rather enjoyed. There are siege weapons to fire, horses to ride, and arrows to fire; all mechanics that you'll find in the game. That said, while you can grab a bow and fire arrows at your foes, don't go in expecting to be the next Robin Hood as the bow isn't the most satisfying part of the experience.
When you're not trying to stab other players to death you can spend time customising your soldier and there's an impressive array of options. It's not just cosmetic stuff either, there are points to spend on character buffs too. For the most part, we equipped our soldier with items chosen from a selection of readymade items, but if you want more exotic weapons or different armour you'll have to buy them with the gold that you earn while playing the game.
The combat system in Mordhau is really impressive, but it's also hard to get to grips with and after several hours we still feel like there's a lot of room for personal improvement. The high skill ceiling will make it very attractive to fans of the genre, and those who enjoy medieval warfare will find a lot to like too. The three modes provide distinct experiences, from the chaotic last man standing gameplay of the battle royale through to the team-based objective mode, but that doesn't make them particularly original and we wouldn't mind seeing some new ideas added in the future.
It's a little barebones in places, and not all modes are created equal, but there's still a lot to like about Mordhau's brand of bloody medieval warfare. The combat is fast and deadly, and the action is intense throughout. More could be done to flesh out the package with even more weapons, modes, and maps, however, the basic experience is quality and well worth a look if you have an interest in swordplay and historical warfare.