Wot I Think: Chivalry – Medieval Warfare

By Adam Smith on October 25th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

In no conceivable way can this be referred to as

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is an extremely violent pageant of limb-lopping, a first-person deathmatch game as bloody as any I’ve ever played. For several days now I have carved my way through the ranks of my enemies and now, upon this scroll, I do declare that this is Wot I Think(eth).

Given the choice, I’ll generally opt for the more personal affray of medieval warfare over the aloof and distant death-dealing of the modern variety. It’s at least partly for the same reasons I prefer manoeuvring a crate around the skies of World War The First rather than joining the jet-set, able to destroy what they cannot yet see. Chivalry’s knights, with their devastating attacks and cumbersome armour, are the Super Hadleys of their time, best used to deliver their devastating payload when accompanied by lighter, more agile men-at-arms.

Ideally, spectating a bout of Chivalric slaughter should entail observing squadrons of men working in harmony, archers providing support, the vanguard forming blockades when enemy forces begin to engage, and the knights unleashed from the bay of pikes that bristle around them to punch through final defences.

That’s not what happens though. Battlefields quickly become bottlenecks of coagulated blood as streams of respawning hopefuls rush back to their objective, which is either an actual trigger on the map or simply the soft flesh of every opponent. Rarely have I seen such carnage. A couple of days ago, I accidentally joined a 32 player match in the game’s arena, a small space with spike-laden pillars and flame-belching traps. I might as well have just spent ten minutes watching a documentary about extreme surgical procedures.

By the end, the score didn’t matter and the nuance of the excellent combat had fallen to the wayside. I spawned, I died. Sometimes I hacked off a man’s arms and watched him cough up his ghost in the dirt in between spawning and dying, but, through the mist of blood and desperation, it was often hard to tell which of the severed meat-parcels belonged to me and which belonged to some other poor soul.

Although the tone is more Monty Python than Geoffrey of Monmouth, with the training voiced by a merry gang of light-hearted dialects, the animations and gurgling chokes of the dying are suitably grim. Heads have a tendency to roll, with a wonderfully macabre touch whereby the first-person view remains within the severed neck-cork. Often have I seen my own body falling to its knees, the hands instinctively attempting to stem the flow of life’s own liquor.

The thrusts, parries, chops and feints that lead to death or victory are the qualities by which Chivalry shall live or die, and, happily, Torn Banner have crafted a hugely convincing first-person melee combat system. Simplicity and tight collision detection are the key, with the right mouse button blocking, the left slashing, and the mousewheel performing a long-reaching stab (up) or devastating overhead hack (down).

There are three melee classes of varying strength and mobility to choose from, as well as pesky archers. Each comes with a choice of equipment, including auxiliary weapons such as throwing knives. Carrying a shield allows for permanent blocking, although all damage is directional and accurately tracked, so defences must actually be ‘aimed’ to connect with weapons. Weapons will catch on scenery and will also slice through allies as easily as enemies. Friendly filleting is exceedingly common, most often, in my experience, when somebody is trying to save me from overwhelming odds. A knight rushes in on my surrounded man-at-arms, swings his word in a mighty arc and then picks through the offal to say sorry to my still-blinking face.

None of that would be worth a damn if the feedback wasn’t as effective as it is. Heft a double-handed axe into an archer’s unprotected midriff and it’ll knock the blighter aside and he probably won’t be getting up again. If that same archer reacts quickly enough to whip out a dagger and stab at the axe-wielding menace bearing down on him, he’ll most likely see his blade glance off the armour. All of this does mean that lag can be ruinous and for the game to have any longevity, it needs not only a strong playerbase but widely spread servers. I’ve been fine, apart from some initial but easily corrected bugginess that left me with blank server lists, but it’s impossible to predict how well the opening week’s business will be retained.

Aiming for areas that are padded rather than plated, or better still completely exposed, really does work. I’ve rarely played as an archer because they are often the unhappy snipers of the age and deserve to be sliced in twain – and yet I have very much enjoyed firing an arrow into an onrushing foe’s neck, finding a gap in his protective plate and killing him instantly. In an organised group, archers are more useful, providing support and wearing enemies down, but in the madness that usually exists on a server, they are more a nuisance than a threat.

At first I thought that the lack of tactical considerations that seems to be the norm would be a hindrance to my enjoyment. Even with a strong combat system, an endless procession of combat without context would mostly likely become tedious sooner rather than later. There are only six maps, one being the arena and another taking the form of an immediately recognisable capture the flag setup. The remaining four have team objectives and tie into the fictional world’s ongoing conflict.

Objectives generally involve one group needing to be in a specific place, whether to kill the peasants that live there or to push the corpse wagon that is there, while the other team must stop them. They do add structure to the maps, which are superbly realised and surprisingly atmospheric, and those that progress through multiple stages make for half hour matches that can hang in the balance from phase to phase. My favourite, Stoneshill, ends with one of the defending team being crowned king, instantly becoming tough as nails but marked as an objective and hunted by every member of the opposing team. He can cower in his castle, where his allies respawn, or, as happened in one very odd match I played, he can leap around on the battlements shouting challenges at everyone below.

The small number of maps is less important than it would be if this were a shooty game, where positioning and architecture are far more significant. Archers might care to be on higher ground and there are environmental toys, such as burning oil and ballistae, but on the whole the scenery is a path leading to the fight, and once in combat, the only area that matters is the small square of land on which you will live or die. I do find myself playing the team objectives more than any other game type (team deathmatch, king of the hill, free-for-all – choices dependent on the map), the targets and choice of attacking or defending adding just the right amount of variety and context, but Chivalry’s structure does not impose itself, for better or worse.

You load the game, you scan a server list, you kill and you die. I actually found the lack of anything else except maps, servers and combat quite liberating. There are weapon and equipment unlocks earned by playing the four classes over time, but the base weapons are more than capable of getting the job done and nobody ever seems particularly advantaged. Or at least not simply by their equipment – a knight against a man-at-arms must be careful, timing his slow swings well as the nimble opponent dodges and blocks, cutting and stabbing. It’s a skill-based game, a melee Unreal Tournament, and in that sense it feels old-fashioned like a damn good cocktail rather than a limited throwback.

Apart from training, there are only bots for the singleplayer. They’re not horrible but they’re not very good. It’s amusing to see a group rush for the same point at the same time, sometimes becoming trapped in a clump. They resolve the situation as men of the sword should; by kicking each other out of the way and bellowing. I did spend some time learning the maps and objectives surrounded by them and found that playing one on one in the arena against the computer is a decent way to learn the intricacies of each weapon, but this is a game to be played with people, whether strangers or friends.

I’m in no doubt that a team that communicates and plans will be far more successful than the chaotic marauders that populate most servers, but, importantly, being one of those chaotic marauders is a blast. The combat is all about timing, whether raising an axe overhead and knowing precisely when to charge so that its blade falls through an enemy’s shoulder, or timing a parry, a feint or a dodge just before the moment of impact. Because of the precision of both impact and control, even when the rest of your team are running around like headless chickens, it’s possible to take pleasure in the personal combats that are only ever a few seconds away.

Perhaps Chivalry doesn’t have the scope of War of the Roses, lacking mounts and any real sort of avatar progression and customisation, but they are both games about hitting men with swords, and Chivalry does that particular thing with more grace, gore and accuracy. Not historical accuracy, because this is almost as silly as Die By the Sword, but accuracy of control and intent. Slight though it is in content, Chivalry has the crown because, when the blood begins to flow, all that matters is the tiny parcel of land, a sword’s swing in breadth, on which men live and die.

Chivalry is available now, direct from the developers, for $24.99, or $74.99 for a four pack. You can also find it at various digital stores, including Steam and Gamersgate.

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68 Comments »

  1. Gnoupi says:

    Come on, where is the “‘Tis but a scratch” or ‘”It’s just a flesh wound” alt text on the first image?
    As a matter of fact, where are all the alt texts?

    Young man, go back to your room, and finish your homework.

    • Qwallath says:

      It’s only a model.

    • Jams O'Donnell says:

      I think you mean “title attributes,” but at least you didn’t call them alt TAGS /web pedant

      • Gnoupi says:

        Next time I’ll call them “the text that tooltips when I hover the image” :P

      • tomeoftom says:

        RPS, ages ago, used to put it in the alts instead and I guess the term stuck.

        • geerad says:

          Ages ago, there was no title attribute. The alt attribute was intended for text to display when the image cannot (e.g., when the images fails to load, in text-only browsers, or for blind people using a screen reader). IE displayed them as tooltips also, and people noticed this and started putting goofy text in the alt attribute rather than using it for its intended purpose (which they were often were unaware of). Such tooltips were enshrined in Internet parlance as “alt text”.

          The HTML 4 standard released in 1999 included the title attribute, at least partly in reaction to this, as a way to allow these tooltips but still keep the alt attribute for its intended purpose. But Internet Explorer 6 (released in 2001) still used the alt attribute for tooltips (though if a title attribute was present it used that instead). As IE 6 became the overwhelmingly dominant browser, whatever it did became the de facto standard, no matter what the W3C said. Having utterly defeated Netscape, Microsoft sat on IE 6 for years, until Mozilla started to make a dent in their market share. Finally, IE 8 (released in 2009) stopped using alt text as tooltips.

          And that’s why tooltips for images came to be called “alt text”, even to this very day, more than 3 years after the current version of any major browser displayed the text in the alt attribute as a tooltip.

          Tune in next week for stories from veterans of the meow wars.

          • tomeoftom says:

            Fucking IE 6. I love how Microsoft have a page dedicated to tracking its death around the world. Thanks for the history (web dev oorah!).

          • seventhrib says:

            Well that actually made pretty interesting reading. As a term which starts persistently being used in a technically inaccurate way, ‘alt-text’ is following a well-trodden linguistic path, like ‘literally’ being used to mean ‘extremely’ or ‘decimate’ being used to mean ‘severely reduce’ (now rarely used to mean killing 1 in every 10). It’s a futile battle, web pedants

  2. KikiJiki says:

    Looks great for those with an axe to grind!

  3. Discopanda says:

    The game looks fun, but I just can’t see it having a ton of longevity as multiplayer-only for 25 bucks.

    • MasterDex says:

      If only there was some method for a developer that add more content to the game. Ah fiddlesticks! Foiled by technology yet again! ;P

  4. Shooop says:

    The first Kickstarter I’ve taken part in and I really wish I didn’t.

    This game is just awful. Combat is “start swinging before you even see someone because you move in slow motion” which means every match ends up being a game of people running back and forth swinging until they hit something.

    If this is how real-world medieval combat was like then it’s a wonder people didn’t just die of old age on the battlefield instead.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      oh it’s you again.

    • Magnusm1 says:

      Good lord, not this guy again.

    • derbefrier says:

      Sounds like you need to watch a combat tutorial video or two. What you describe is a totally noob way to fight and is easily countered by someone with a solid grasp of the combat system.
      Generally anyone the comes out swinging wildly ends up dead pretty fast if they happen to cross my path. The trick is to wait for an opening rush in amd slice them up. If its a knight wielding a big two hander just wildly slashing you can duck to avoid it move in close while he’s still recovering and cut his legs off. It’s fun stuff.

    • sharkh20 says:

      Hey, I’m bad at this game. Watch me complain about it.

    • Leosaurus says:

      That’s funny, because I’ve made quite the excellent tactic of darting backwards from knight’s swings, then quickly darting forward and stabbing them two or three times in the neck with my dagger, then jumping back and repeating until dead. Works exceptionally well as long as my timing is good and they don’t corner me where I can’t jump out of the way of their blows.

      Men at arms are quick enough to make it a game of well timed, precise parrying and poking when we come face to face. I have to whittle them down because of their armor, but one or two well placed blows from their weapons can turn the tables on my nimble but unarmored dagger wielding archer.

      Also, archers get +50% backstab damage, for the “Rogue” bonus, if you were unaware. Find a melee, run up behind enemy, stab in back of neck with downward stab repeatedly like a serial killer.

  5. Davee says:

    As much as I like the idea of all the things War of the Roses tries to accomplish, I feel it simply got blown out of the water by Chivalry’s superior melee combat. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

    Apparently there’s more content still in the works for both games, and maby WotR will clean up it’s act a little bit. We’ll see how the games compare in a half a year or so. :)

    • Jimmy says:

      Exactly. WOTR is more atmospheric, has better visuals, is more historically authentic. But given that you spend 90% of that time hacking and fighting and dying, the most important aspect is the combat, which in this game is really visceral and skills-based. I can ignore the hammy cartoon dialogue when the combat is this good (if rather uncoordinated).

      • BoZo says:

        Please don’t use the word visceral to describe games. It doesn’t really say anything about it, at least not anymore…

        • sinister agent says:

          Judging by the free and easy dismemberment, I’d say that ‘visceral’ is an ideal word for this one. Just because some twats in marketing abuse a word a lot, doesn’t mean real people shouldn’t use it properly.

  6. Guiscard says:

    Ah, Geoffrey of Monmouth. You know his accounts of medieval history are about as accurate as Monty Python’s Holy Grail anyway.

  7. HisMastersVoice says:

    Did they fix the weird hitbox detection on polearms? Last time I played everyone was running around with gisarmes because apparently, no matter which part of the weapon hit, it still counted as if the blade connected.

  8. Pryde says:

    Oh, well, these developers are slowpokes. Should whey release this before WotR – they would’ve been successful. But I, as I’m sure as many, bought WotR (plus there was nice 20% off for M&B owners) earlier. No point in having two medieval online-only slashers now. C:MW has to become really heavy with cool updates in the long run for those, who has WotR for the time being.

  9. pupsikaso says:

    I wish someone would do some kind of comparison article between all the medieval combat games that decided to come out all at the same time for some reason. There’s War of the Roses, There’s This, there’s some other game, there’s a Mount And Blade 2 coming out too…
    I am just so confused which one is which?

  10. CaBBagE says:

    I have this and WotR and like both. This is the much more brutal than WotR with limbs and heads coming off all over the place. The archery feels less fleshed out than in WotR, also no mounted combat etc. The melee combat feels much better in Chivalry though, it feels sharper, tighter etc. with the blocking working well and the combos and feints etc. The weapons feel like they actually connect instead of the wafty feel in WotR. My main preference of this over WotR (so far) is the Team Objective multiplayer mode, it’s just loads of fun with lots to do. It might have less long term appeal than WotR but who cares, enjoy it now ;oP

  11. Pindie says:

    I would not say it is “lacking” a progression system.
    WoTR has a very good system for aesthetic customization and that is always nice for flavor – would still work better if it had 1st person view and decent animations – but the RPG-lite elements and horses are a design choice, not a must-have feature.

  12. iteyoidar says:

    It looks a bit gruesome. I’ve always thought that Mount and Blade would benefit from dismemberment just for the possibility of leading an army of peg-legged peasants if you’re a bad war commander or being able to knock someone’s head clear across the battlefield with a horse mounted sword-swing, but I’m not sure it works out so well in a more serious looking First Person Sword Fighter.

    • Pindie says:

      It is cartoony and not 100% accurate but the goal was to make a skill based game with deep system.
      It makes it obvious gameplay is more important than authenticity.
      You can parry an axe with dagger (for balance purposes I assume) and the same dagger can dismember people since the death animations are the same.
      The violence is silly but I would say it’s the funny kind of silly.

  13. tomeoftom says:

    Please, don’t lament the lack of unlockables or stat progression! It is a good thing, not bad. The progression and longevity comes from learning and gradually mastering the mechanics, as it always damn well should’ve. Starcraft doesn’t need any fucking unlocks.

  14. derbefrier says:

    I enjoy it quite bit. A lot more than wotr. The combat is a blast the objective based maps work well and it doesmt feel as spammy as wotr(at least when dueling). Well worth the 25 bucks

  15. pupsikaso says:

    Would I be deemed a heretic if I said that such detailed violence puts me off the game?

  16. MrNash says:

    I like the “decapitated head cam” when you die by beheading. I thought that was kinda neat. =)

  17. Slinkyboy says:

    Game is sweet! I love it

  18. Ross Angus says:

    Obligatory:

  19. Grey Ganado says:

    The only problem I have with this game is how they pronounce trebuchets.

  20. Swanny says:


    Here’s a must see video of how fun Chivalry is with friends.

    Hell, this is a must-watch even if you aren’t interested in the game, i literally cried laughing during this.

  21. star5CR34M says:

    I’m really enjoying it so far. Sometimes the hit detection seems a little wonky, and I hate the people who just run and spam claymore or spear/halberd attacks. But I also really like being able to see my enemies without getting instantly headshotted (like in, say, Battlefield) — it slows the action down a little, and makes it a little more cerebral/tactical.

    I also have found that playing with the Xbox 360 pad in 3rd person view makes me a much more effective player.

  22. Vorrin says:

    I want a Die by the Sword 2! That game was really great and original, and a blast played in 1v1

  23. VanishedDecoy says:

    “and then picks through the offal to say sorry to my still-blinking face.”

    Having played the game myself, I laughed. :P

  24. RegisteredUser says:

    I can recommend this game, despite the terrible, terrible bugs and various flaws.

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