Chivalry: Modern Warfare reminds me a lot of classic cartoons. Animation was and is pricey to produce and lower budget shows often had to cut corners. Lower frame rates, less detailed art, and endlessly repeating backgrounds were characteristics which would typify shows less likely to earn profits. Under the lens of history, however, we can also see that some of these programs, regardless of their financial returns at the time, turned out to become iconic in the personal histories of whole generations. We can look back and see the indefinable hooks we were too young to articulate and stand in wonder at just how successful these animation studios really were. Chivalry is a lot like that. It may not be perfect but the core is something you won’t find anywhere else. Maybe that’s why, despite there being lots of games worth playing, I keep coming back to it, eager for just one more decapitation or severed arm.
Chivalry: Modern Warfare is a multiplayer medieval slasher game presented in a first-person perspective across six varied maps. Players take up arms through a class-based system which includes weapon unlocks to customize your battle loadout, but you’re deadly right without ever changing a thing. Classes include the Archer, the sword and shield bearing Man-at-arms, the plate wearing and damage soaking Knight, and the two-handed powerhouse, the Vanguard. Each of these plays uniquely and carries a special ability, such as the Archer’s 50% bonus to backstab damage.
The game comes backed with a tutorial to teach you the basics of battle. The control scheme is different than most but becomes second nature after a bit of practice. Right-click blocks, left-click performs a swipe attack (draw and release for the Archer). Rolling the middle mouse button up or down initiates a stab or overhead chops. All of this is for naught without proper aim and timing, however, and it’s a good idea to push your opponent off balance with a good kick. When strikes land just right, heads roll and limbs fly in a satisfying bloody mist. The tutorial also introduces siege weapons which include the battering ram, ballista, and catapult. Generally, the tutorial serves its purpose but it lacks polish in almost every respect. As an introduction, it is only functional before setting you loose on the game’s multiplayer.
There are a five modes to choose from: three deathmatch variants, Capture the Flag, and Team Objective. It is unfortunate that so many game types are based on deathmatch because it is by far the weakest mode. Within very little time, it becomes plain that a melee combat game can’t benefit from map design the way shooters can and matches unfold identically every time; rush to the middle, kill as much as you can, respawn. Team Objective, on the other hand, is much more fun. In this mode, players have to work together to achieve goals such as breaching a castle wall, defending it from attackers, killing villagers, or assassinating targets. Map design returns to prominence here and is accompanied by strategic players and siege weapons. My favorite objective was castle defending. The growing tension as the enemy team makes headway with its battering ram and my jubilant pouring of hot oil on their heads is a memorable experience.
For all of this, it is apparent that the game lacked funding in its development process. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Chivalry is, in fact, a Kickstarter success story which exceeded its goals by over thirty-five thousand dollars. Still, with an independent developer’s budget, polish was bound to suffer. Animations seem stiff and one need search no further than the tutorial to find graphical and sound glitches. There is also a shallowness to character progression. Players unlock new weapons as they play each class but they don’t feel all that meaningful or different from one another. Character customization in general could be improved simply by adding more options. Torn Banner Studios has already released one major patch, so it is possible all of these issues might be addressed in the future.
Class balance is an ongoing issue. During my time with the game, the Vanguard was by far the most popular class due to its long weapon reach. Yet skilled players in each class consistently get the jump on players looking for an easy kill. Skill is paramount in Chivalry. Knowing when to defend, when to riposte, and when to hightail it are decisions many Vanguards just don’t spend time considering.
Generally speaking, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is a fun game to play. It answers the question many of us asked developers to answer, “What would Call of Duty or Battlefield be like in medieval times?” For in-and-out, visceral action, it is a sure bet. If you’re looking for loads of polish, however, it’s probably better to look elsewhere. But consider, if you will, what would happen if we demanded perfection from those cartoons of yesteryear. Would we have the greats of adult animation that we have today, the Homer Simpsons and Peter Griffins of this millennium? Games are no different. Torn Banner Studios has delivered on something players have sought for years, they’ve done so in a fun and satisfying way, developed a framework that could push the game to new heights, and on a budget its AAA competitors would blow through in a week. The gaming industry needs games like Chivalry and studios like Torn Banner. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is a recommended purchase not only because it’s a great way to spend your game time and well worth the cost of admission, but because it supports a future where gamers voices are heard.