Mordheim: City of the Damned (PS4) Review

It’s fair to say that 2016 has been quite a good videogame year for Warhammer tabletop aficionados Games Workshop. Already we’ve had the absolutely cracking End Times: Vermintide, the criminally underrated Space Hulk: Ascension and now we have Mordheim: City of the Damned, which of all the licensed games released this year arguably bares the closest resemblance to the tabletop games that Games Workshop is known for.

Staying faithful to the tabletop game

Spun off the tabletop game of the same name, Mordheim: City of the Damned tasks players with picking from one of five different warbands, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Once chosen, said warband must then be used to frequently pillage and plunder the titular city of its riches; chiefly, a mysterious material known as Wyrdstones, which when gathered in quantity, grant the user immeasurable power.

To be terrifyingly reductive for a moment, Mordheim is essentially a game of two halves. On the one hand you have all the turn-based tactical beats that you’d get in a game like XCOM 2, and on the other, you have a warband management metagame of sorts, where you need to do everything from setting up contracts and buying new gear for your gang, through to managing their injuries and paying their wages.

Luckily to help you out with all the various bits and pieces that you need to know, Mordheim boasts no less than twelve(!) tutorials for the player to slog through in order to establish some rudimentary understanding of the game’s mechanics. It might seem like a heavy-handed approach to ingratiating the player with Mordheim’s finer points, but to be honest, each tutorial is highly informative and further incentive comes in the form of trophies that the developer has chucked in to keep players interested.

Some hours later, and once you’ve ploughed through the tutorials, the first thing you need to do is to pick your side and create your warband. Each warband that you assemble has spaces which must be filled with a leader, hero and a number of henchmen, and as your cabal of warriors grows stronger over time, more and more spaces become available, thus allowing you to widen your ranks. Likewise, you also have spaces for reserve troops who can be brought in take over when your primary soldiers find themselves injured or otherwise out of action.

With every mission taking place from a third-person perspective, Mordheim embraces its board game heritage resolutely by not only employing turns, but with every action being governed by dice-rolls that occur behind the scenes. From attacks and evasions, to simpler moves such as jumping and climbing; everything is decided by the almighty virtual dice, with modifications being granted depending on the abilities of the characters involved. So while Mordheim does, somewhat invariably, deal with a lot of RNG, in my experience at least it never feels unfair.

Though Mordheim is an admittedly grim looking place, with its myriad of festering streets, smashed churches and broken buildings, such geography actually plays a significant part in how you plan and execute your strategies. Characters with ranged attacks and spells, for example, can bombard the enemy from up on high, while nimbler, though more fragile warriors can escape from larger foes by using their increased agility to scale walls and suchlike with little fuss.

Governing just how much you can do with a given character during every turn, each member of your warband has a set number of SP (Strategy Points) and OP (Offence Points) that can be spent on a variety of different actions. To put in context, SP can be used for actions such as movement, climbing and interacting with objects in the game world, while OP points are spent on combat, with heavier weapons consuming more OP than lighter ones.  

The key to being successful in Mordheim’s seemingly endless tide of battles is to manage both your SP and OP effectively. Because enemies do not appear on the map until they physically cross into your line of sight, your strategy tends to be reactive at first; using SP to inch your forces forward and then leveraging OP to enter into the appropriately guarded states that offer a bonus to defending against attacking foes. Equally, OP can also be used to put your units into an Ambush or Overwatch state where they will automatically attack any unit that comes into their range; though in all cases it remains essential that both SP and OP are managed correctly, lest you not have enough of either at the end of your turn to leave your units in a robust position.


A substantial, but punishing effort

It is important to remember that your motley crew of armoured thugs aren’t just hanging about in Mordheim to poke holes in people and then hit the clubs afterward; instead, your whole reason for being in the city revolves around the previously mentioned Wyrdstones, a powerful material that all the sides in Mordheim are desperate to smuggle out of the city. Chiefly, it’s this whole smuggling activity that serves as the backbone for your warband’s fortunes because early on, you’ll gain ‘sponsors’ who will dish out money and other rewards to keep your group afloat in return for you scooping up as much Wyrdstones as you can put your grubby paws on.

Crucially, while you can smuggle out Wyrdstones to a number of different sponsors (each with their own rewards that increment the more contraband you ship to them), it’s always your primary sponsor who must be kept happy. Without exception, should you fail to supply your primary sponsor four times with Wyrdstones on both the date and the quantity that they request, all support for your warband will be withdrawn and the game will end.  

And here’s the other thing too; while the majority of Mordheim is spent locking horns with other factions in pursuit of the addictively green element, there are a series of actual core missions that further the game’s overall narrative for each of the five warbands. The drawback with these supposedly key missions though, is that the writing simply isn’t up to snuff, with the plot usually sending your merry band to “retrieve this” or “kill that” without any real exposition as to why. So those who are expecting well-written and fleshed out events and characters in Mordheim’s narrative, will somewhat unfortunately, come away disappointed.


As alluded to earlier, when you’re not dealing with the nitty gritty of putting sword to gut in Mordheim’s city streets, you‘ll find yourself managing the day to day activities of your warband. In most games, this would seem like micromanagement hell but Mordheim helps make things feel a little more tolerable by making you care about each individual soldier that toils under your yoke. Quite like the XCOM games, Mordheim does that terrible thing of letting you foster a bond with each of your troops. By giving them names and biographies, training them up, spending money on them and seeing them through countless battles; the feeling of losing any of your named troops is one that proves to be palpably heart-reaving.

Yet despite the futility of such cultivation, you can’t help yourself from doing it over and over; the feeling of getting an elite trained unit up to spec proving to be potently satisfying to say the least. You do have to take care of them though; whether it’s having enough money for their upkeep (which must be paid daily), or, enough funds to pay for their injury treatments, defaulting on any of these responsibilities will result in your warband abandoning your cause very quickly.

For those who crave conflict against more human intelligence, Mordheim also supports a series of game types to enable competitive online multiplayer shenanigans. Though less involving than the keenly felt ebb and flow of the game’s single-player campaign, such online scraps nonetheless provide sufficient distraction from Mordheim’s principal lure, not to mention the enticing opportunity to refine your armchair generalship.

Ultimately, much like the tabletop game that Mordheim is both based on and shares its namesake with, the digital version of the game demands a tremendous amount of patience and investment of time on the part of the player. Indeed to be clear, this isn’t a game where you can just hop in for ten minutes and then hop out again, simply because missions in Mordheim routinely last from between one and two hours (especially later on in the campaign).

In summary

Make no mistake; Mordheim: City of the Damned is an unapologetically challenging and often punishing turn-based strategy effort that doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Peel back that vicious and unforgiving façade however, and an oft-engrossing tactical effort reveals itself; one that is easily capable of swallowing hundreds upon hundreds of hours. Though not quite soaring to the same lofty heights as XCOM 2, Mordheim nonetheless acquits itself duly as one of the better turn-based strategy titles for PS4.



The Final Word

A finely tuned turn-based strategy effort that takes place in Warhammer’s grim Mordheim game universe, Mordheim is furiously enjoyable but it demands both patience and skill from its prospective armchair generals in spades.