I’m charging into combat wielding a mace and shield, my armored comrades alongside me. The cavalry rushes ahead to chase off archers. I hear someone strumming an awful tune on a lute and I see a shirtless teammate sprint past, wielding the instrument like a weapon. A foe from the enemy team wades through the crowd and swings a great maul, splatting the bard’s head effortlessly.
It may not be exactly like medieval times, but it sure is fun.
Mordhau, created by multinational developer Triternion, is heavily inspired by 2012’s Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, a game that eventually became marred by a rather annoying game tactic—the “reverse overhead,” a nigh-unblockable attack that spread through the player base like a malignant growth. If you’re familiar with Chivalry, you’ll feel right at home here. It’s still mass chaos: sword-swinging, arrow-shooting, javelin-throwing mass chaos.
The name of the game comes from a German sword-fighting technique in which, faced with an armored opponent, a fighter would grip a sword by the blade and use the pommel and crossguard like a hammer. It was more effective than a blade against plate armor. And yes, you can mordhau in Mordhau.
Battles are kind of a cluster. Everyone’s swinging haphazardly, hoping to land a hit on someone who’s tied up in combat with someone else. There are moments when you manage to break away for a one-on-one duel with someone, and then Mordhau’s tactics shine. Feints, parries, and ripostes all play a role in combat. By changing the direction of the mouse, the direction of attack changes. Anything in the way will stop your swing—barricades, rocks, an enemy, a friend—so it’s important to control angles. Battles can become a dance, and there are custom servers dedicated entirely to testing your skills in duels. Weapons have real weight to them—it’s easy to miss connecting a swing by mere moments. And there’s a whole host of murderous implements to choose from, from billhooks to bastard swords and spears to crossbows. It takes time to learn the reach and momentum of each weapon.
You’ll be spending most of your time in Frontline, a classic capture-the-point mode sprinkled with objectives like destroying supplies or burning down tents. These are the real mosh pits, with up to 64 players clashing swords and firing arrows. It’s quite intense, with blood flying and limbs being chopped off. It’s a ritual to mash the “warcry” button to meme-worthy levels as you charge into battle, egging on foes with voice lines. I mentioned the lute earlier; some players have taken to using a third-party “lutebot” program to strum popular theme songs or soundtracks.
There’s a battle royale mode that supports up to 48 players. However, I was never able to find a match with more than 20 players even during peak hours, which is a bit of a shame because a melee-driven battle royale is a fun twist. There’s also horde mode which, pits a group of players against AI enemies. It’s about what you’d expect—kill enemies to gain gold to buy weapons and armor scattered around the map. It’s a decent diversion, but don’t buy the game based solely on the draw of a horde mode.
Mordhau features a level up system, with experience and gold given after each completed match. There’s freedom to create a class as you see fit with the points available. You can be a walking turtle with stabby weapons, or someone quick on their feet with a polearm, bent on unseating cavalrymen. There are three armor classes (light, medium, heavy) with various cosmetic options in each that get fancier as you level up. You can go from scrappy brigand to professional man-at-arms to full-on Gothic knight. No characters look the same, which really adds to the atmosphere of the battle.
I might add the game is a bit stingy on gold rewards. I felt like I had to hold off buying this helmet or that breastplate because I wanted to buy a new weapon, and it would take a number of matches to build up the cash again. A knight must always look sharp, but the weapon is a more practical buy.
One other thing needs to be said: as PC Gamer and other outlets have recently pointed out, Mordhau has a bit of community issue. After two or three matches, you’ll have seen every slur under the sun and more than a few inventive insults thrown around in text chat. Not directly at you, perhaps, but at another player or broadly at everyone in the server. Right now the only option is to turn off text chat.
There have been further issues surrounding comments developers made about character diversity options while the game was in development. Currently Mordhau characters can only be white men—and I mean white. If I wanted to make my character from Sicily or elsewhere in southern Europe, I’d be out of luck finding a proper skin tone. Triternion released a statement regarding “gender toggle” (options for servers to force all-male or all-female characters models), saying in part that it was a theoretical idea put forth by one staff member, and two artists who were not involved in character development made ill-informed statements in an interview that didn’t the official stance of the development studio. Likewise, there would be no “ethnicity toggle” on any potential ethnicity customization options added in the future. Furthermore, they stated community toxicity is difficult to tackle, as the company is only 11 people working remotely, and plans for improvement will take time to implement. We’ll just have to see whether things improve in the future.
These issues aside, this is the type of game that you can jump into and pick up the basics quickly but that also offers enough complexity to sink hours into the ins and outs of the combat system. With shooters being all the rage these days, it’s fun to get back to how they did it in the olden times and jab at our foes with a pointy metal stick. If the developers continue to build off the excellent combat system with new maps and weapons, and find ways to curtail toxicity in the player community, Mordhau will cement the top spot for melee combat games.
Besides, how many games let you go toe to toe against a fully armored knight with a lute in your hand?
Mordhau is available on PC.