Torn Banner Studios, some would argue, blundered with their release of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare so close to Paradox Interactive’s War of the Roses. The two games, both similar in concept, play wildly differently. Whilst both games appeal to similar demographics due to the niche theme, the differences in game mechanics, map size, game modes and, of course, the third and first person perspectives, make each experience a legitimate thrill in and of themselves, which means that Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is worth playing regardless of the competition.

Originally a mod, Age of Chivalry was created by the same studio as a supplemental Half Life 2 experience, and was later remade and expanded upon in the way of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, a game that beautifies and polishes the original concept, whilst retaining their ultimate goal: creating a realistic and authentic medieval combat experience.

This guy got exploded, and it was awesome. 

Chivalry as we’ll call it from here, is a “first person slasher” which solely takes place in a multiplayer arena, where two teams of medieval themed factions a) kill the faces off each-other, and b) attack and defend in a rush style game mode like something out of Ironclad. A genuinely atmospheric title, battle takes place across 6 various very, very beautiful and very intricate maps.

Each of the maps have their own respective game types, featuring a story driven use of the two factions, The Knights of Agatha, and the Masons. For example, the map of Stoneshell takes place firstly outside the perimeters of the keep, in the valley. The Mason Order must run into the village, slaughtering the pathetic peasants. The Agathan knights must try and protects the peasants and push back the Mason. If they do not manage this, the Mason must push a battering ram to the walls of the keep, with view to breach the castle. Should they make it, the map expands into the keep, and the Agathan knights must protect the throne room. If they cannot do this, the battle continues in the throne room where a random player is selected to play the part of the king, whom the Knights of Agatha must protect at all costs.

I found myself getting patriotic for the make believe kingdom during this segment…

The multiplayer component is polished, tense, and tight, with teamwork 100% necessary. As you fight through the story driven objectives, music and announcements in the style of a crier pound your ears, with that loud and monotonous mission objectives booming through, battle horns and all. You could cut the tension with a knife in places, and if there’s one thing Torn Banner Studios have undoubtedly excelled at, it’s atmosphere. There’s tonnes of it.

Fighting takes place with use of four classes in varying degrees of armour. With the least armour is the Archer (or crossbowman) who has the ability to pitch his own mobile defenses, but avoid combat because the Archer is squishier than a disemboweled kidney in the sun. Both archery and crossbow in Chivalry are certainly not as rewarding as they are in War of the Roses, unfortunately, and this is down to some poor firing and reloading animations, with some not-too-great audio for both. What you can do, though, is click the middle mouse button and follow your arrow down to the target. Although you get the weirdest sort of laser pistol sound, it’s really fun watching that headshot land from the perspective of the arrow. Alas, terrible in combat with only a dirk, the support classes are to be used tactically, so don’t expect to use them for the whole round.

Corpses with arrows in them? Support classes aren’t useless, and are necessary at times.

Things get a little meatier and redeemable when we’re looking at the melee classes, all of whom are very balanced, and feature variables that merit their class. For instance, the Man-at-arms is your first foray into melee, featuring light-medium armour with varying swords and shields, or a mace, depending on how you roll. You can unlock more weapons as you level up, but you start with various weapons to pick from right from day one. Also, all of the classes are unlocked, so you can chose one to meet your play-style.

Using the right mouse to block some-what directionally, you need to time your blocking with sword or shield to raise your implement just before you’re stuck, in the direction in which they’re striking. Doing so reduces your block stamina, which is separate to your attack stamina. The key to the Man-at-arms is evasion, but as you’re a fast class it’s not too difficult to out maneuver something with heavier armour.

 You’ve two choices in battle, stand back and watch, or run in and hope not to die.

The Knight and the Vanguard are the two heavier armored classes, with the former able to adsorb some damage and use his increased stamina to block, effectively making him a tank. He can also use broadswords and pole-arms, etc, which require two hands. Each class can equip 3 weapons, though, or two and a shield. For instance, the Knight can have a short-sword and large shield if he so wishes, as well as his great sword.

I realise I haven’t explained exactly what battle entails as of yet, and I was saving it until I’d given you just some idea of the classes.

At first, Chivlary is chaos. You begin thinking that combat is just spam. You run in, swing around, and die. It takes a long while to work things out, and there’s a danger that many people will give up before they see the subtlety of success in this game. For instance, sure, you can run into the thick of it – but it’s about knowing when to engage, who to engage, and how to engage them. For instance, it’s sometimes more appropriate to sit back and use some of the animated and voiced commands using ‘C’ and then 1-5 numerical keys to orchestrate an approach, or taunting, waving your weapon at the enemy. If you can’t safely get into it, confident you can kill and not be killed, then work out how you can.

Although somewhat dated, Chivalry can be a beautiful game. 

I found that after a good three or four hours gameplay, I was confident to merely stand eye to eye with an opponent, waiting for the right time to strike. Often, they’ll run and jump at you, clicking the middle mouse to jab their weapon forward. It’s simply enough, as a Man-at-arms you can merely sidestep it and literally, if you strike a left click blow to the neck, decapitate their head and watch it roll on the floor. If you’re more heavily armoured you can block it. Say they raise their shield afterwards? No problem, click it with ‘F’ and go in for a strike. The key is to stay calm among the chaos, and soon you’ll see that it is organized chaos. 

Combat strikes are determined by three directions: click to swing, middle mouse to thrust, and scroll middle mouse back to swipe top-to bottom. Using these in various points is important, because if you run in and swipe everyone with the left click, you’re going to cut off a lot of teammates legs – and this is where the game gets a little crazy.

Yes, that entire keep is explorable. Some maps are huge. 

If you’re the type of gamer who rages at others for team killing, then this isn’t the game for you. It’s going to happen. Often, fights can become close and clustered, and it’s very easy to either get in the way of, or hit someone who is in the way of, the enemy. If it’s two or three against one, the chances are you’re going to lay a few hits on a teammate, especially if the enemy is trying to flank or kite you. That’s not a problem, and it’s something everyone just has to expect. One issue though which isn’t acceptable, is the Archers tendancy to blind-fire arrows into a mixed battle, hoping he just somehow hits the enemy. This is annoying and commonplace in all games like this, including Mount and Blade, and there’s no real way of avoiding it here.

With dismemberment on all limbs, some great death animations and sounds, brilliant ambient audio, weather effects, trebuchets, ballistas, oil, and other world weapons, and a host of player weapons, on large and full featured maps, Chivalry really does come close to authentic medieval warfare.

 Cometh t’ward me, bretherin!

Although you could call the combat in Chivalry slightly janky, if you tried anything more complex, history merely shows us that latency issues and other bugs just ruins the whole deal. There’s no such thing as pin-point accuracy in melee combat in any game of the sub-genre, and Torn Banner Studios knows this. It is decidedly simple, but it works and it’s fair. There hasn’t been a time where I didn’t think a hit register, or one registered unfairly, and although the battles can be chaotic, you can always stand back and be a little more tactical about things.

It does have its short-comings though, such as actual fights being a 1:1 sort of thing. Fighting is fair one on one, but two or three against one and you’ve no chance, which makes it sometimes frustrating when you just can’t find anyone to team up with, or anyone to kill. In a game that’s all about picking your fights, it can be incredibly difficult to play alone if you’re someone who doesn’t like to die. When you are in a good team – which is common place in this games community – with good communication, Chivalry is a thrill.

An understated gem, there’s much more to Chivalry that meets the eye. Do the single player training first, then head to the multiplayer, and stick with it until you’re sure you’ve got a grasp of what Chivalry: Medieval Warfare has to offer. It’s janky, it can be ugly, and it has some weird sound in places, but for what it’s worth, Torn Banner Studios have created possibly the best game in this genre, if only for the atmosphere crafted from ambiance, map design, and that terrifying forced first person perspective. In the end, though, it still feels like a mod, which makes it difficult for me to land on a fair rating. I do not, however, think that there is £18.99’s worth of work or quality here, which isn’t to say it’s not a good game. It has a lot of players, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be losing any any time soon.