Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Preview: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

I'm not sure how this happened. The video game industry has gone for quite some time relying on the medium- to long-range combat offered to us by firearms, focusing on giving us titles like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Counter-Strike and so forth. And yet, in the span of two weeks, we are suddenly bombarded by not one, but two games that shove a sword in your hand and tell you to get within inches of your opponents in order to kill them.

Now, don't get me wrong; I'm actually quite excited at this prospect. As I mentioned in the preview for War of the Roses, I find a good swordfight far more personal and involved than simply aiming a gun and shooting an enemy from afar. A swordfight requires courage, strategy, skill and more than a dash of luck, and I am glad that the industry is finally developing ways to emulate that sort of experience in a game. And after getting a taste of what War of the Roses has to offer, I'm excited to get my hands on it again and take the fight to those damn Yorks! Lancaster forever!

That being said, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is the other game I mentioned above and, while War of the Roses looks suitably involved and entertaining, Chivalry is another beast entirely. Primarily because, where War of the Roses is a third-person experience, Chivalry puts you directly in the boots and armour of the soldier by being a first-person game. And if you thought it was intimidating to go up against a soldier with a greatsword in WotR, imagine what it'll look like when you can see the gleam off the blade inches from your face!

Anything I Should Know First?

The first, and most interesting, thing anyone should know about Chivalry is that it is actually a redeveloped retail version of a Source mod called Age of Chivalry, a total conversion mod of Half-Life 2. Age of Chivalry was a multiplayer mod that pitted two warring factions against each other in a Dark Ages medieval warfare deathmatch, and became fairly popular as a medieval combat game. In response to its popularity, Torn Banner Studios, the company behind Age of Chivalry, purchased a developer's kit for the Unreal Engine and have spent the last two years rebuilding the game in the new engine.

And oh how pretty it looks...
Age of Chivalry was a critically acclaimed multiplayer mod; it featured class-based combat, similar in ways to Team Fortress, and focused mainly on objective-style gameplay as opposed to simple team deathmatches. You chose one of two fictional factions -- either the Agathian Knights or the Mason Order -- and warred against each other. Simple enough premise, really.

What set Age of Chivalry apart, of course, was the combat: instead of your typical FPS that put a gun in your hands and pointed you at the enemy, you were given a sword, a mace or some other melee weapon and forced to get as close to the enemy as possible to stop them. Admittedly, each class had a ranged weapon of sorts (throwing knives, hatchets, javelins or even dedicated ranged weapons like longbows), but the main focus was on the melee combat, a concept fairly foreign to -- yet very popular with -- gamers.

Anything Else?

As mentioned above, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is the first commercial release from Torn Banner Studios, proving that modding is a viable option for those interested in breaking into the video game industry, especially in this day and age.

In fact, it was largely because of a Kickstarter campaign in August of this past year that Chivalry was even possible; Torn Banner Studios funded the game on the crowdsourcing website, earning almost $86,000, well above the necessary $50,000 to fund the project. This allowed them to release the game as a commercial product (and include a few extra stretch goals) and is just another example of how Kickstarter helps put indie developers on the map and in the market.

What Do We Know?

Unlike War of the Roses, I have no hands-on experience with either Age of Chivalry or Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, so I really have no particular insights into the gameplay. That being said, I have researched what I can and it seems that everything that was in Age of Chivalry -- the multiple classes, the objective-based gameplay, the melee-focused combat -- is in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare in one form or another, which is good because it was the success of AoC that allowed Torn Banner Studios to open up to a commercial market.

A grand melee every round? Sounds like a lot of fun to me!
The classes from AoC ranged from the Man-at-Arms, a fast-moving lightly armoured soldier, to the hulking Heavy Knight, a heavily armoured beast of a man with brutal two-handed weapons. The game also included three ranged classes, though all classes featured a thrown ranged weapon to use for medium distance engagements. There were nine classes in total, a number that presumably will be returning in Chivalry, though I would expect the developers to update and perhaps alter some of the classes to better fit their new vision.

The other core component of Chivalry is the focus on objective-based maps, as opposed to routine deathmatches; instead of simply running at your opponent and trying to kill as many people as possible, the teams are given objectives that they must complete in order to succeed. This can include things like storming a castle gate, pillaging a town or escorting a wagon to its destination.

The developers also state that, unlike other games where the objectives are represented by things like flags, Chivalry will immerse the player in the game by having the objectives actually be tangible, interactive things. For instance, instead of taking a town by simply standing around until a flag is raised, the attacking team will have to kill the peasants in the town and burn the buildings to the ground by throwing torches onto the roofs. This is just one example of the sort of objectives Chivalry will offer, and it honestly seems to be a breath of fresh air into the admittedly stale formula for objective-based multiplayer gaming.

Otherwise, Chivalry looks to be doing many of the same things as War of the Roses; the combat is up-close and personal, is controlled via mouse movements, and will require all of your concentration and skill if you want to best your opponents. And, much like with WotR, you will always feel a bit of respect for your opponent when you are fighting, whether you emerge the victor or not; because of the personal nature of each engagement and the skill involved, you know that they were trying as hard as you to come out victorious.

Walk softly and carry a huge axe. Or two.
The different weapons force different playing styles: a soldier with a mace and shield will need to get as close as possible, while a soldier with a halberd will need to keep the enemy at a distance in order to remain effective. You will also need to be mindful of how much armour each class wears, as the more lightly-armoured classes will take far less of a beating. Much like Team Fortress 2, each class has it's own strengths and weaknesses and it is up to the player to decide which class they favour over the others.

The upgrade from the Source Engine to the Unreal Engine has certainly given the game a noticeable graphics update; while Age of Chivalry was a fine enough game, the gritty edge and finer attention to detail the developers have given Chivalry: Medieval Warfare -- not to mention the fantastic lighting engine -- certainly gives the game a more professional look, something that only bodes well for the future of Torn Banner Studios.

And I Care Why?

Torn Banner Studios -- and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare itself -- are a true Kickstarter success story; only a year ago, they were just a group of people who made a popular mod, and now they are their very own studio. While there have been other success stories of modders getting jobs in the games industry, simply on the merit of their efforts, it is very seldom that you see an entire studio break into the industry without either backing from a bigger company or winning some sort of competition.

For those who still aren't buying it, let me ask you a question: when was the last time you played a first-person game where you use melee weapons instead of firearms? When was the last time you spent a whole minute circling a single enemy, trying to find an opening in their defense for you to slip your blade? When have you ever burned a village to the ground as opposed to simply standing around waiting to "capture a territory"? Chivalry gives you the ability to do things you can't do in other games and, for that reason alone, is something worth playing.

What Should I Do Now That I Know?

This is going to hurt...
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is going to be a PC-only release, so my sincerest apologies to all the console gamers out there. Interestingly enough, however, I have seen Chivalry neither advertised on Steam nor listed in the Store up to this point. I find this odd simply because War of the Roses received front-page billing for about two months leading up to it's release, but perhaps that's simply the pitfalls of being a brand-new indie developer.

The developers say that Chivalry is to be released on Steam and the game is set for release on Oct. 16th, though I believe you can preorder the game directly from their website in the meantime. If you were smart, though, and pledged money to the Kickstarter campaign you've already had beta access for a while. The rest of us poor sods will just have to wait!

Last Remarks?

To be quite honest, a part of me hopes Chivalry does better in the market than War of the Roses. Not because of any issues with WotR, mind you -- I very much enjoyed my time playing the beta and am looking even more forward to spending time with the official release -- but simply because Chivalry is released by a small indie developer that started with a mod and worked up from there. It's a true underdog story that I hope comes out with a happy ending!

Also, first-person medieval warfare. How cool is that?

I'm planning on doing a comparison piece between WotR and Chivalry after they are both released; they are so similar, it would be impossible not to compare the two. So keep an eye for that, and the rest of our content!

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