War, what is it good for?
Torn Banner Studios’ Chivalry: Medieval Warfare aims to pull gamers from today’s steady stream of modern online military shooters into a darker time. A time when a keen archer’s eye was the closest thing you had to a 10x magnified scope, and the mighty trebuchet was the only artillery that rained down on the battlefield. Originally released as a free mod for Valve’s Half-Life 2 under the name of Age of Chivalry, this Middle Aged melee certainly has its appeal, but a wealth of technical problems and a lack of overall polish prove to be a crippling arrow to the knee of this multiplayer-only experience at every turn.
If finely-honed, the act of rushing through massive battlements, clashing swords with armored infantry and picking off hordes of invading forces in sprawling, medieval warzones could be a stellar experience. Unfortunately, the art of war in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is about as refined as a mosh pit at a your average Dimmu Borgir concert. Swordplay in Chivalry is wildly unresponsive, and it’s frequently difficult to tell as to whether or not you’re in range to strike your opponents. This issue means duels quickly devolve into two players flailing at eachother until one eventually drops in a headless heap. While it’s frustrating enough in one-on-one combat, this overall level of sloppiness directly impacts your ability to function as a team as well, as the imprecise combat means you’ll frequently see teammates inadvertently hacking limbs from one another (which happens plenty intentionally, too), giving you little incentive to help your comrades for fear of losing your own head.
Of course, you could always try to reduce the likelihood of taking a friendly sword to the face by choosing the ranged archer class, but the overall ineffectiveness of arrows, due in no small part to the game’s jerky animations and consistent lag, combined with a lack of real cover or verticality in many of the game’s arenas makes this class feel ill-equipped to make much of a meaningful impact on the battlefield. It’s a shame, too, because when things actually start to come together Chivalry: Medieval Warfare begins to show signs of its promise; successfully escorting your besieged king from hordes of marauding soldiers is enthralling, and working as a team to the pummel a barricade as you escort an explosives-laden caravan to the enemy gates is a thrill, but it never takes long before you’re pulled back into the doldrums of Chivalry’s horrid technical issues.
Beneath Chivalry‘s medieval veneer is a rather contemporary list of familiar game modes including objective-based missions, deathmatch, team deathmatch, free-for-all and horde modes. While the numerous takes on the deathmatch formula are self-explanatory, the objective mode is where the game shines. This 24-player mode feels robust, offering a wealth of objectives as players perform a variety of tasks such as burning down enemy encampments, assassinating tribal chieftains, seizing towers and other fortifications and ultimately capturing or killing the enemy king. It’s in this mode that Chivalry: Medieval Warfare shows the most promise despite the game’s myriad issues. The feeling of taking an enemy invader’s head clean off with the bolt from a well-timed shot from a ballista offers undeniable satisfaction, and the feeling of outmaneuvering a king’s guard detachment to strike down their patriarch is an exhilarating experience, making it almost possible to overlook the game’s abundant lag and persistent clipping, that is until the next time your teammate accidentally lobs off your noggin for the 8th time while trying to bludgeon that damned enemy archer.
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare presents players with a rather modest selection of four character classes to choose from, each with their own unique weaponry and stats. Best suited for stealth, archers have the highest movement speed and work best pegging enemies from afar with arrows, or backstabbing opponents with their daggers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have knights, who move slow but pack the most punch and can take a considerable amount of punishment before biting the dust. Vanguards are great mid-range warriors, using thrusting weapons such as claymores, zweihanders, and halberds to skewer their opponents from a safe distance. Lastly, the lightly-armored man-at-arms is the most balanced fighter in Chivalry’s Iron Age arsenal, sporting a fondness for one-handed weaponry and balanced stats, making them a good fit for most situations. Each of these classes has two stats – health and stamina – which factor into how much damage you can take, as well as how quickly attacking or running will wind your character. Obviously, strikes with heavier weapons drain stamina more quickly, encouraging players to be conservative with their attacks and how they approach the enemy. After each round, you’ll gain experience, which allows you to unlock better weapons for each class, effectively making you a greater threat on the battlefield as you rise up on the ranks.
The visuals in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare are sure to remind players of the Dark Age of video games. As stated previously, the animations are consistently jerky, and the game suffers from frequent texture pop-in as well, which is inexplicable given the game’s considerably low-fidelity aesthetics. While the PS4 version of Chivalry which we reviewed is set to run at 60fps versus the Xbox One version’s locked 30fps, the overall jankiness of the animations and frequent stuttering due to connectivity issues do very little to underscore this. The sounds are equally underwhelming, as sound effects drop out randomly, and the clashing of steel on steel sounds flat and weightless. Even the pieces of heavy artillery the litter the battlefields lack any real sense of impact, which takes away from the epic sensation Torn Banner Studios’ castle sieges strive to achieve.
All told, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One fails to do much to rise above its roots as a free mod for Half-Life 2, and that’s a real shame. From the dated aesthetics to the glaring lack of polish in its core mechanics, the game feels very much like a work in progress. While there is the occasional spark where things come together briefly, it never takes long before you’re reminded of the game’s myriad technical shortcomings that persistently hobble the overall experience. With a little more time and care, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare could have been a memorable alternative to the multiplayer shooters that dominate today’s industry. Unfortunately, we’re left with a rather rusted suit of armor on the battlefield, wrapped around the promise of something much better than its end result.
Final Verdict: 2.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Torn Banner Studios; Release Date: December 02,2015; ESRB: “M” for Mature ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code for Chivalry: Medieval Warfare provided by the game’s publisher, Activision.