Out of the hundred odd games I've ever reviewed, I've never felt so fated
to play something as I have Chivalry II. You see, just last week, I'd finished tracing my heritage back to a medieval knight of intimidatingly high renown. Old mate was a Marcher Lord. Your rough historical equivalent of a Chivalry II account grinded up to max level.
During my research, I often found myself wondering what my forebear's 9-to-5 was like. Wikipedia wasn't really painting much of a picture. Then, weirdly, the review opp for this medieval “first-person slasher” dropped into my lap, and lo, I was allowed to get my Sir David Mathew
Just without the inconvenience of excruciating permadeath.
What I'm presenting is an imperfect comparison, obviously. Chivalry II is a multiplayer-focused brawler whose fictional bloodletting merely apes actual medieval battles. Though, in another weird cosmic coincidence of DNA tracing, Torn Banner Studios says it was inspired by the battles seen in Game of Thrones. Author George R.R. Martin drew his own ideas from The War of the Roses, Sir David's main brouhaha.
Out of the hundred odd games I've ever reviewed, I've never felt so fated to play something as I have Chivalry II.
It's also worth noting that Chivalry II only lets a maximum of 64 players try to open one another up, like ring-less pudding cans. Its style of murder can be attempted in three modes (TDM, FFA and Team Objectives) and you'll go hammer and tongs on people for roughly 15 minutes at a time.
In terms of evolution over the original, Torn Banner has unsheathed a double-edged sword: player count is way up from 32 but some extremities have been cruelly lopped off (modes like Duel, Last Team Standing and King of the Hill). It's also fair to say that this package still falls short of capturing how nutso the real deal got.
Quick example, Sir David is remembered for playing a pivotal role in the actual Battle of Towton
in 1461. Being a civil war decider, the player cap on that particular match was what historians call the "largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil”. The lobby held roughly 75, 000 players that day.
Unlike Chivalry II, which auto-balances where it can and “bot slot” empty places in its 8 launch maps, the matchmaking on Towton was broken. Sir David's team (clan name: y0rk) was rolling only 35,000 deep against a force of 40,000 Lancastrians (aka “l4nc4573r”).
Worse, it's said that the outnumbered clan leader of the Yorkists, King Edward IV, sent out the following pre-match, team-wide comm: “the leav'r penalty f'r this TDM is death. Log out at thy peril, scrubs.”
To make all of the above numbers "live" for you a little better, the total attendees on that particular server represented a whopping 2% of the English population at that period in time. Oh, and forget about rounds. The largely hand-to-hand combat started in the mid-morning and carried on for 10 hours through a bitter snowstorm. The lag issues must have been crazy come afternoon tea time.
In terms of evolution over the original, Torn Banner has unsheathed a double-edged sword: player count is way up from 32 but some extremities have been cruelly lopped off (modes like Duel, Last Team Standing and King of the Hill).
Chivalry's netcode seems rock solid in comparison, and this universe has its own civil war going on. I was quite surprised how well and frequently the lore gets woven into proceedings.
Chivalry (2012) set the scene of the Mason Order rebellion led by Malric Terrowin against the ruling elite Agatha Knights. What's here picks up 20 years in the future, and this factional tale is expounded via pre-match pep talks by NPCs, along with the odd motion-comic cutscene. Amusingly, the player community has taken to LARPing all of this online, sort of like WoW's Horde vs. The Alliance shenanigans.
Speaking of goofy role-playing, there's a sizable emote wheel and sound bites to pitch at your enemies. Torn Banner clearly wants the player-base to have irreverent fun here, though trying to be a “saucy knave” will likely get you killed in an environment such as this. Don't be fooled by the implied knightly respect in the title. Chivalry II is chaos.
Yes, there are honourable, master fencers out there looking to respectfully 1v1 you, for sure. But for every one of those dudes, there are 10 bloodthirsty brawlers who have no compunction about ganking you, 20 to one – possibly by using your own cut off arm as the murder weapon. And when you are maggot food, they'll prune off your head, teabag your torso and hurl your bonce at your closest ally. We're talking sheer, Monty Python-esque savagery.
Allow me to give some pro tips to those of you playing this on console. You can avoid an absolute pantsing by doing two things: stick with third-person view for maximum situational awareness and turn off crossplay with PC gamers. The controller setup is functional, but the unique melee system was obviously built with mouse users in mind.
The mainly three button attack system of “slash, overhead chop, and stab” is deceptively simple. The easily chainable, lateral nature of the first attack is great for crowd control; the overhead delivers hellacious damage; and the stab eats up distances quickly. Where things get trickier is the need to throw in a mouse drag (or right stick “camera” flick) in an effort to simulate the tilting of your hips during such a swing.
The controller setup is functional, but the unique melee system was obviously built with mouse users in mind.
In first-person-view mode, and even with your FOV set to “Eyes on the Sides of my Head Like a Fish,” doing this while keeping track of your intended target is tough (note: console gamers currently cannot tweak this option at present). Unsurprisingly, this unique attack system bleeds across (literally) into the block and parrying. Now your drags/flicks have to be done to intercept the direction of an incoming weapon swing. Do that, and you'll earn the right to execute a table-turning riposte.
There are extra techniques aplenty here. Ripostes, flowing three-hit combos, feints, jabs, held parries and a good ol' Spartan kick-to-the-chesticles all have the power to change anybody's stars in a fight. Two skilled opponents can have a 1v1 duel that will be a wonderfully nuanced blade ballet. An understanding of the “initiative” system also makes gang-up scenarios way more survivable for the soloist.
One of the gateway drug moments of Chivalry II is when you successfully use the momentary autoblock of a riposte and the non-stamina-penalty of your counter strike, again and again, to pinball bounce from one would-be attacker to another. When you adhere to the correct “right of way” of every move and have some timing, luck and skill, you can whittle down an over-eager, kill-steal-hungry horde into nothing but a pile of limbs and palpable embarrassment.
Better yet, Torn Banner has eliminated the bullshit “helicopter spin to win” tactics of the previous game.
The depth increases when you factor in four main classes which branch out into three remarkably distinct subclasses. These all come with their own weaponry and high risk/reward special attacks that warrant many hours of tactics variation and upskilling. That said, if you choose archer, I say a goddamn pox on you.
When it comes to keeping you hooked for the long-term, there are cosmetics to go chasing. Though the 3D models aren't as cutting edge as the uber-gory combat system, there's certainly enough scope to build a medieval beast. I couldn't make Sir David here, because historical reports say he was a freakish “Mountain Who Rides” — 6 foot 8 inches in an era where the average male adult didn't exceed a height of 5 foot 5.
Can you imagine seeing an armoured that
clomping towards you on a battlefield? You'd call hax.
One of the gateway drug moments of Chivalry II is when you successfully use the momentary autoblock of a riposte and the non-stamina-penalty of your counter strike, again and again, to pinball bounce from one would-be attacker to another.
Anyway, it's worth noting that the various UI for the above systems are some of the clunkiest, ill-thought out things I've seen in a while. For starters, the server list browsing is kinda borked and the search function does odd auto-refreshes. There's also way too much faffing about when you're dealing with weapon customisation/skins after you switch factions (i.e. no 'assign to both factions' option).
Last but certainly not least is a purchasing system that almost seems like it wants to trick you into misspending your hard-earned on crap you just want to inspect. Torn Banner says this is high on the fix list, but yeah, be very careful.
Other in-battle issues include a difficulty partying up with friends, and this weird inability to switch your opening class until you die for the first time. Then there are hilaribad physics glitches that catapult people around and off the map (without the aid of the actual catapults).
And it also feels like the Square/X button is far too big a catch-all for too many actions. I found myself accidentally picking objects up when trying to do voice lines or revive a downed ally. Little momentary hiccups that cost me my head once or twice.
Be all those peccadilloes as they may, I still found Chivalry II weirdly irresistible. Like a halberd aimed at a head, Torn Banner's novel combat design swings for the fences and usually connects with mind blowing results. I've had an absolute blast learning to become a shrewder fighter in this school of comically hard knocks. The improved hit windows and a general sense of being able to visually understand why I was being done in by somebody, removes a lot of the frustration I felt with the original.
I also find myself constantly wavering between two very different flavours of matches here. Some battles are cackle-at-the-screen affairs, where I cast aside all sense of knightly propriety and go down in a hilarious blaze of glory with a broomstick in my hand. Other times my weapon of choice will be a lit chicken desperately hoiked at a mob using the only arm I have left on my person.
Like a halberd aimed at a head, Torn Banner's novel combat design swings for the fences and usually connects with mind blowing results.
Other matches have been way less slapstick. If you get into the objective modes, where everybody is doing what they should be, Chivalry II can become one of the most authentic and addictive online multiplayer experiences you can have.
The thing that clinched this, for me, were the surprisingly cinematic matches. Hell, one of them gave me the thrill of achieving Sir David's greatest deed. While horrendously outnumbered in the Protect the Noble objective mode, I fought off multiple attackers and saved my liege's life.
For doing the very same for Edward IV on those unimaginably bloody fields of Townton, Sir David prestige'd up into the rank of Grand Standard Bearer of England. Side bonus: he even earned a sweet cosmetic upgrade for his armour! (The right to use the word 'Towton' on the family crest.)
Completed bucket list achievements aside, I think Chivalry II is a beautiful mess of a thing. No one can deny that the UI is about as antiquated as the subject matter and the visuals are only a few notches above utilitarian. My time on the PC version offered the prettiest views of human nature at its ugliest. I was surprised to spot this odd, muddying texture effect that plagued the PS5 version. Distracting but patchable.
Spot rusting aside, Chivalry II's got heart, humour and has polished those combat fundamentals to a high sheen. Providing the devs can hammer out some of the launch day dents quickly, this knight's tale could become the surprise hit of 2021. Give it a shot. Because it's the attacks you don't see coming that'll bowl you over the hardest.