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Written by Jason Dailey on 7/14/2023 for PS5  

Year after year we are inundated with first-person shooters on the market, and while yes, the FPS is one of the most popular genres in the industry (which I’m sure comes as a shock), not all first-person combat games need bullets to be good. Like shooters, first-person brawlers, if you will, tap into a variety of both time periods and weapon systems depending on the game. To that end, medieval FPBs have become one of my favorite spins on the genre over the years, which made me eager to jump into MORDHAU on console after hearing great things about its PC iteration. But while I went in wanting to love Mordhau with all my gamer heart, I came away feeling like I was denied by a high school crush.

As an online multiplayer combat game, I would argue that the one thing MORDHAU must get right in perpetuity is the melee combat itself, but that is simply not the case here. Sure, there were fleeting moments of brilliance where I had thrilling one-on-one battles with another player, with both of us trading blows, parries, and ripostes until one landed a killing blow. That is when Mordhau is at its absolute best – when evenly matched players square off. The problem is that those moments just don’t happen frequently enough, and the space between those encounters is filled with mostly dull, inelegant combat that exposes the game as a largely average affair.

Combat is both simple yet nuanced; you stab with the right bumper and swing with the right trigger. Depending on the weapon, Triangle (or your console equivalent) changes your grip on a weapon to allow for an alternate attack. Though with some weapons, such as the axe, Triangle will throw it at your enemy. Having played Chivalry 2 on console, it handles similarly in many ways, though there is one major variation, and it makes a world of difference to the flow and effectiveness of combat. Controlling the direction of your weapon swings in MORDHAU is done semi-contextually, meaning you must turn the right joystick and drag it across your screen to determine the direction of your swing. Sounds awesome on paper, right? Of course it does, but it just doesn’t feel right in the heat of battle on a console controller. I get why it was designed this way – it is an extremely cool idea and adds a touch of realism, because naturally, you would twist and turn your torso to swing a weapon in real life. It’s also a control scheme that makes more sense coming from the precision afforded by a mouse and keyboard on PC. Chivalry 2, in contrast, features dedicated button presses to determine the direction and type of swing. So, for instance, instead of needing to raise the camera up and bring it down to initiate an overhead swing, as in MORDHAU, I could simply select an overhead swing with a simple button press in Chivalry 2. In my experience, this matters a great deal when in the heat of battle because constantly having to manipulate the camera led to me losing track of what my opponent was doing, what my next counter move needed to be, or if I needed to feint an attack. For that reason, MORDHAU’s combat system made me feel like I had to play reactively much of the time (unless I came across a complete noob – sorry noobs), but if you’re like me, you’ll want to play offense just as much as you play defense. Another frustration was the way the game occasionally registered, or failed to register, my attacks. There were times I would manipulate my right stick accordingly, only for my character to swing at air – I guess because I didn’t time my swing properly, but I honestly don’t know. In other words, there is a better way to do this sort of combat, and I know so, because I’ve experienced it.

At the risk of dog-piling, I was also not a fan of the game’s near complete lack of any sort of haptic feedback or controller rumble, and oddly, what little vibration function is present is turned off by default in the settings. Despite hitting metal armor and other weapons constantly, as well as taking countless hits from enemies, there is no feedback in the controller whatsoever – except for when you smack rocks or other objects in the environment, oddly enough. It’s a glaring omission for a melee combat game on console, and it makes MORDHAU feel a bit lifeless.

Despite its shortcomings, the combat can still thrill you at times. Parrying and riposting are keys to successful encounters with an opponent, although you really stand very little chance of survival if you face off with more than one enemy. That’s understandable, in my opinion, as I don’t know how in the world I would survive in a fight against two medieval warriors myself, but I do posit that it will frustrate beginner players. Timing is extremely important in MORDHAU, both in picking your battles and deciding whether to block or swing. If you charge into a group of enemies by your lonesome, they’ll be off with your head in no time, while isolating a single opponent and trying to take them out as quickly as possible is your best chance for success. Once engaged in a fight, it is important to “keep your eye on the weapon”, so to speak, as you’ll need to size up the swing type and timing of each incoming strike. A couple of well-timed parries or ripostes are all it takes to quickly put an opponent in the dirt.

In terms of content, the multiplayer-only title boasts a nice variety of game modes – Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Skirmish, Frontline, Invasion, and Horde. Skirmish is a round-based team elimination mode, Frontline is a tug-of-war mode where teams fight over control of locations, and Invasion is a personal favorite of mine that is an objective-based mode. One match of Invasion, for instance, has one team defend a rolling convoy carrying the king, while the opposing team fights to keep it from reaching its destination and ultimately killing the royal noble. You do have the ability to play local matches offline against the AI, but it comes with two major caveats – you can’t earn XP offline, and the AI is, well, not very intelligent. AI-controlled teammates and enemies would routinely render themselves useless by bottle-necking into one giant mosh pit, essentially breaking the game. AI enemies could also be easily tricked by moving around the map in certain ways that prevent them from engaging with me. In short, do not buy this game to only play local matches. However, one thing the AI does hilariously well is generate names for its non-human warriors; two favorites of mine were Sir Pallas the Flatulent and Teabag the Terrible.

There is a nice variety of weapons and default character classes on offer, including swords, axes, maces, spears, bows, and hammers. The default classes are geared up well enough to allow you to pick-up and play. If you’d rather customize your own loadout, you can do so by selecting various types of armor and weapons, each of which are assigned a point value. You get a certain number of points with which to build a class, so you can’t just overload your warrior with all the best gear. As you level up (in online play at least), you can also unlock new pieces of armor and weapons.

Look, I so badly wanted to love MORDHAU; without a doubt, I am its target audience. On paper it is everything I want from a first-person melee game – gory medieval combat, a nice variety of weapons, and some fun game modes. The nature of the game necessitates that it absolutely nails the feel and flow of combat above all else, and unfortunately on console, it has fallen short. Occasionally the game will fire on all cylinders, but in the four years since it first launched on PC, MORDHAU has, for the most part, been riposted by the competition.

MORDHAU exhibits flashes of brilliance, but the console port of this four year-old medieval multiplayer game is marred by combat that feels inelegant and dull on a controller.

Rating: 6.5 Below Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.


About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

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