What’s better than this? Knights being knights! Men-at-arms being men-at arms! All having a grand old time screaming as they run into battle, hacking limbs off each other, until a perfidious archer ruins everyone’s day, interfering with noble duels and bloody scrums with their boring hail of sharp, pointy sticks. Face me coward! I will beat you in mortal combat! Urk, a man has caved my head in from behind with a warhammer whilst I was fending off three other soldiers. So it goes.
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That’s your average life in a round of Chivalry II, Torn Banner’s sequel to the 11-year-old source mod turned full release. It’s the same blend of exhilarating, nuanced first-person melee combat that has some fighting to get out the chaos of 40-64 player brawls, and other, more miserable, people ruining it all by shooting arrows into the fray for lucky headshots. Set during a fictional conflict between the Mason Order and the Agatha Knights, it’s less about gritty historical realism and more about tongue-in-cheek bloodbaths.
Chivalry II is a unique experience, because it seems to be made up of two halves that are uncomfortably pressed up against each other: a well thought out melee system, with parries, riposts, feints, and variable speed attacks is shoved up against the absolute nonsense of 64 people running at each other screaming, with zero strategy or thoughts in their head: just mash buttons, kill folk, maybe stand near an objective and spam emotes.
Perhaps surprisingly, this isn’t a bad thing at all. The combat is good enough that a skilled player can hold their own against overwhelming odds, channelling Arthurian legends, parrying and countering blows with preternatural swiftness, before cleaving mobs of lesser warriors in twain with mighty sweeping blows. Other players simply run into battle to have their heads instantly detached from their body. One minute you’re mounting a glorious charge with your fellow soldiers, and the next you’re watching them lose arms, getting peppered with an assortment of thrown objects (live chickens, cooked turkeys, anvils, balls of dung), or getting obliterated by ballista fire and errant catapult projectiles.
I imagine this is exactly what medieval combat was really like, having absolutely no context outside of dimly remembered history lessons and a diet of videogames and fantasy movies. Where most games put you in a position of considerable power above regular peons, Chivalry just makes you grist for the mill: one of a near-limitless wave of bodies churning against objectives which slowly get covered in blood and discarded weaponry. Every care has been taken to ensure you always have something to do each life, whether that is the aforementioned throwable objects and weapons that litter the map, or the operable catapults, ballistas, and more.
Objectives and maps are also fairly varied – there are straight-up deathmatches fought across atmospheric, misty plains, sieges that go from assaulting a castle’s gates all the way to dismantling the siege weapons within that are targeting your fleets, and one particularly fun map even tasks attackers with pilfering gold, or at least helping NPCs do that whilst everyone swears at the archers. Whilst there isn’t a massive variety in maps, each one is visually distinct. Whether it’s blood-soaked muddy battlegrounds with peasants hanging from trees, or an all-out assault at a castle on a shoreline during a crisp dawn morning. The visual style in the game is less po-faced than Mordhau, with everything having oversaturated colouring, and soft-focus visuals that make it feel a little more jubilant, when the walls aren’t slathered in the blood of your foes.
In terms of the actual combat, there are four classes in the game, Archer, Vanguard, Foot Men and Knight. Each class has their own subclasses that come with specific gear and deployables, so whilst a Knight Officer might have access to an area of effect heal (activated by tooting a horn) the Guardian comes with a shield and a banner that you can put down to heal allies over time. Each subclass also has access to a set of primary and secondary weapons, all with their own pros and cons, which is where the combat starts to shine.
There are a handful of ways to attack in Chivalry, from basic swipes and heavy swipes, overheads and stabs that can be turned into heavy variants. You can also able block and dodge moves, and doing so at the right time and following up with an attack will turn the attack into a riposte which deflects all incoming attacks – at least, that’s the promise, but netcode and lag issues mean it doesn’t always work out right. Despite what the limited verb set in combat would suggest, there’s a decent amount of nuance on offer. Swinging early can give you the advantage, but deft players will space well and block late. Ducking under a blow can leave you free to retaliate, turning into swings speeds them up, whilst turning away slows them down – it’s intuitive stuff and when you hit that flow state you feel like a real monster.
Every weapon in the game also has its own pros and cons – bladed weapons like longswords and falchions tend to be faster and their swings carry on even on contact with the enemy, making big cleaving blows possible. Blunt weapons like war hammers and maces stop on contact but deal huge health damage, and knock the wind out of enemies quicker. Polearms have great reach, but if an opponent can get inside your range that becomes a disadvantage as they harry you with lots of blows. If all else fails you can throw just about anything you can put in your hands and as mentioned before it’s fairly easy to scavenge weapons from around the map.
The combat is unfortunately both the high and low point of the game. Unlike Mordhau it lacks a dedicated duel mode, instead leaning into the carnage and chaos, which makes it hard to get a real handle on the ins and outs of combat. Just as you feel in control, a ballista bolt pins you to a wall, someone drops an anvil on your head, or a man with a halberd pops up from behind you and chops your head off. By the same stroke, you’ll often end up doing the same. With friends, the game becomes a total blast of shouting and laughing as you coordinate assaults, or distract enemies whilst your pal runs up from behind and tackles them to the ground. Sadly, nearly a week after launch party invite issues persist, but when everything goes well, it’s the best way of playing the game at present.
Longevity in the game comes in the form of grinding weapon and armour cosmetics, subclasses, and other weapons. For the game to have any real legs, it will need more maps, more modes, and perhaps a more obvious way of accessing duel servers beyond community-run offerings in the server browser. That said, maybe chaos is what Torn Banner intends with Chivalry 2. There’s certainly a real charm to how silly it can get despite the violence, a slapstick futility to rushing objectives, a sense of camaraderie when a wave of teammates spawn together and all scream as they charge right into the arc of a rock thrown from a catapult. There’s almost an element of performance to it, a sort of grim, violent roleplay in the life of one of many nameless grunts sent to die, more often than not perforated by an arrow from a cowardly archer.
Chivalry 2 is out now for (deep breath) PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and the PC via Epic Games Store. This review was conducted on the PC version of the game.
Chivalry 2 is a rambunctious, bloody, and slapstick multiplayer action game that is perhaps a little bit chaotic for its own good. With a deep combat system that doesn’t get a proper showing due to a lack of a duelling mode, and a proliferation of archers who sap a lot of the fun out of the game’s messy brawls, Chivalry 2 is a hair away from being great. Whether it stands the test of time will depend on how much attention Torn Banner gives it over time.
- Visually clean and crisp, with an emphasis on boldness over gritty realism
- A wide range of weapon styles with their own ins and outs to learn
- Vicious, in your face combat with a surprising amount of depth
- You can throw almost anything you can get your grubby hands on
- The chaos can undercut the combat’s depth severely, and there’s no real way to duel yet
- Connection and party invite issues can make getting a game with with friends harder than it needs to be
- All those awful, cowardly archers