Publisher: Torn Banner Studios
Developer: Torn Banner Studios
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Platform: Windows


Chivalry is a game about one-on-one combat that is of unprecedented quality for a primarily first-person game. The great timing-based fighting works incredibly well with but one caveat that I cannot bring myself to name a game that has better first-person melee combat. However, despite its excellent design, it is myopic. Since it is multiplayer-only except for a tutorial and some bots, the combat doesn’t quite fit the scope in which it is implemented.

Video and Audio Design

This game looks good. You might say it’s great when you find out that it’s an independent title and is only $25. Developed using Unreal, it has unrealized potential, but the details are pleasing, and the maps have enough variety to please artistically. Armor and weapon designs are high-quality and reflect the classes very well. There will be no confusion as to what type of enemy is on the battlefield, even at a fair distance. I would even argue it nearly has the effectiveness of Team Fortress 2’s silhouette-based class differentiation, though each class is almost identical in size and shape. This is true success in the creation of a class-based multiplayer game.

The audio design is very high quality, the clash and bash of the battlefield sounding excellent, giving the impression of distance or closeness very well. The grunts and voice work are also fairly well-done, though the parts in the tutorial were kind of bad, even for trying to be funny. The most important goal, having enough feedback, is achieved. There is everything here for a player to be happy about the audio.

Combat

The combat is, as stated earlier, superb. It is all based on timing, being able to learn how your opponent works and fake them out or give a kick at the right moment to throw them off and get an attack in. What makes this timing even more important is the fact that the animations for attacking and defending take time to occur. Blocking at the right time means more than waiting for them to attack, but to anticipate if they will cancel their attack or follow-through. A canceled attack means a wasted parry, which means you cannot parry again quite so soon. This is also tied to the fact that you have a limited amount of stamina, so exchanging blows must be taken at a certain pace. A too-enthusiastic offense could result in the inability to put up a good defense.

So, as you have probably noted, there is a lot to fighting someone in Chivalry. However, the fact that the game is multiplayer kind of ruins pretty much any measure of elegance the combat system might have. It becomes about taking advantage of players already in combat. Forget that there is a damage bonus to attacks that strike the head, a penalty for those that strike the feet, that there are things like stamina to prevent hacking and slashing, slower and faster weapons, and that different attacks have different levels of damage and time to animate. It is absolute chaos during multiplayer, and breaking even with a foe only spells either your or his doom when a third element joins the fray, depending on whether he is you or your foe’s ally or neither, if you’re in free-for-all mode. Of course, there is the likelihood of people who simply are bad or good at the basic combat elements, which will determine who dies or lives in these large-scale frays.

In the end, you have a jumbled mess where skill takes a backseat to coincidence and opportunism. And to add to the problem, friendly “fire” occurs too often with the wide arcs of sword swings which make up your basic attack. Forming up a defense formation is quite difficult when your ally is swinging willy-nilly or your primary attack is the only one with which you can string a small combo. In fact, the combo attack, which is a wide horizontal swing from right to left and, if the attack button is pressed again in the middle of this attack, back from left to right, is a commonly-used and extremely deadly attack that, while slow, is very effective at taking out allies and enemies.

As you can see, though the combat system is great, there are issues with it in action. These are all design issues, though, and are difficult to fix, unlike my biggest issue with the combat: moving the camera moves your weapon. If you start a swing, it animates with weight and momentum as long as you keep the camera still. If you move the camera, you can move that sword wherever you can look and as fast as you can look, which means that people physically dodging your attacks can only put distance between themselves and your weapon, not sidestep you. Also, if your attack misses someone running perpendicular to yourself, you can quickly move the mouse to point at the enemy and hurt them anyway, making all the weight behind the attack nonexistent. This can be fixed by forcing camera movement to be slowed during an attack, but it is easily filed as an exploit that should be patched.

Modes of Play

There are six maps and three modes: free-for-all, capture the flag, and objective-based game modes. The first can be played on any map, really, but there is a map modeled after a gladiatorial arena made for this game type. CTF is played on a specific map. The objective-based modes each have a map specific to them. One of these modes has a player on one team eventually crowned king and targeted as the ultimate goal, though the king gets a boost to his abilities as compensation. The regenerating health is not at all a detriment to the fun or design of the combat. It is necessary to keep on going.

My personal experience has been that free-for-all is a mess. It highlights nearly all the flaws of the game’s design, with rarely a moment for the mostly-great combat. This doesn’t change the fact that it can be very fun. Killing a bundle of enemies in a row is extremely satisfying. This mode is also a great way to experiment with strategy, what little there is, and weapons since you can rack up a bunch of kills and, with those kills, try out new weapons, Counter Strike style. Really, there’s nothing new here as it seems to fit the same role as in any other game.

Team deathmatch is similarly messy, but has more organization due to deaths being permanent in a match and it takes a number of matches to cement a win for a team.
The other game modes are more interesting as they seem to be what Chivalry was made for. They are generally a sequence of objectives one team is supposed to accomplish and the other team stop. This generally results in bottlenecks since some objectives are more difficult to achieve than others and strong teamwork is required to hold or assault a point. These make for the best game types since you get the respawning of free-for-all and the team play of team deathmatch to get a nice long match with little objectives to feel like there is something besides killing enemies to do. It ends up being quite confusing, however, since the general chaos at an objective is likely to see you killed by an enemy as much as an ally. The maps are great, generally lacking in choke points but also making some objectives easy or overly-difficult to defend or assault. Overall there is good fun to be had and a measure of strategy and skill involved in these objective-based modes.

Conclusion

I am quite happy with the game, but the flaws in design and handful of bugs (being able to move the camera quickly in the middle of an attack, needing to have the Steam beta, and not being able to click on anything while the server list populates lest the game crash [now fixed]) really detract from the potential of this game. The foundation is great, and Chivalry is at its core a game about timing-based first-person melee combat, but the rest of the game built around it is flawed, though fun. Though this means I cannot give it an enthusiastic recommendation, I recommend it nonetheless. It’s cost is about worth its content. Specifically, it’s worth it for people who have always wanted a decent first-person melee experience, but not necessarily for any other gamer.

Pros:

+$25
+Great one-on-one combat
+Fun game modes
+Something new and different

Cons:

-Multiplayer doesn’t suit the combat
-Game modes don’t give you enough feedback (e.g. no timers)
-Bugs

Final Score: 7/10

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