Chivalry 2 (XS) - Review
, posted on 06 July 2021 / 3,267 Views
It's awesome when an impulse buy turns out to be an excellent decision. Since I typically like to try a previous installment to game sequels whenever possible, I'd thought of holding off playing this until Chivalry: Medieval Warfare left my backlog. But the call to arms by friends made me bypass that rule for Chivalry 2 – which was for the best. After all, not having an encyclopedic knowledge of Torn Banner Studios' past didn't disrupt my engagement with one this year’s most addictive multiplayer games.
The medieval land of Agatha enjoyed unity under King Argon for a short time. As with several age-old stories, he was too eager to expend his forces on another war in a foreign land. Initially a subtle dissenter to this new conquest, General Malric Terrowin eventually amassed his own splinter faction within this army. They quickly became known as The Mason Order. After their king goes missing, the tension between rightful rulers bubbles over and violent in-fighting ensues at home. With no clear victor (yet), The Mason Order and The Agathian Knights are still clashing for the heart of Agatha.
It's no great shakes, but I still enjoyed this context for the Red-vs-Blue fights. Superfluous as it may seem, each large-scale multiplayer match (40 or 64 player sizes) is preceded by a rallying call to arms. Both commanders may be talking nonsense to you about who deserves the throne and hamming up your enemy's past sins, but the point is you want to believe it. Your commanders are confident about this tale, so why not you too? As you and fellow brethren/sistren belt out war cries, the battle horns start blaring, and your opponents exchange in kind; there's a sense of momentum of wanting to fell every Mason/Agathian within view. It took me back to Titanfall's narrative/multiplayer blend in its campaign.
"Easy to learn, difficult to master" is a trite phrase that succinctly describes Chivalry 2's core combat. The big trifecta of main attacks are your horizontal slash, vertical slash, and stab. Each of these fills an obvious role: horizontal swoops are a great means of crowd control, vertical can be an excellent opportunity to bash an enemy's head, and stab is a quick move to disrupt a heavy wind up. Less damaging, but no less threatening, are kicks and shoves as a means of temporarily breaking a block or stunning someone mid-swing. Even with this portion of options, you're probably internalizing the modest mix of successive attacks at your disposal.
What's just as important – if not more so – than attack variety is camera control. For starters, vertical slash and stab have to land on a mobile target, so making micro-adjustments before the forward momentum can make the difference. But where mastery of this truly shines is with horizontal swings. Let's say you and an enemy are looking directly at each other and both perform a sweeping hit at the same time - who wins? Whomever moved their camera pre-swing shortens the time between wind up and contact. Think of it like an extension of your character's body; with the horizontal move it's like torqueing your hips. Should you face down a crowd, this maneuver widens the extent of a full swing too. An already-impressive horizontal swipe covering 160 degrees standing still, to 260 degrees with fluid camera moves, can be the difference between life and death. I've rarely felt such euphoric sensory feedback like I had upon landing two successive swipes against five Agathian Knights (or was it ten?) while on the jousting tournament grounds. It's a pure encapsulation of the blood-drenched gladiator.
Offense won't get anywhere without a good defense. Chivalry 2's understanding of defense makes extended bouts feel exasperating and triumphant. It's not as easy as holding the block button to stay standing; after all, lifting a heavy weapon or shield drains stamina. As with attack, it's about timing your block. Aside from a quick dodge to make space, your two retaliations are counters and ripostes. Counter is about shield timing and quickly mirroring your opponent's directional attack, voiding the effects of stamina and knockback. Ripostes center on a perfect block and then responding with a different move, creating a short-lived invulnerability from forward-facing attacks in the process.
Tie this offensive & defensive moveset with feints and you can see the varied amount of options at your disposal. The rock/paper/scissors dynamic of kicks, parries, and attacks will make up the majority of time but added layers like throwing your primary weapon could be the finishing blow. That's what's great about most battles for a less-refined player like myself: the constant cost/benefit assessment in play. Whether you're grappling with how two-handed weapons can manage one-handed shielded enemies or facing a two-handed with a longer reach, it's easy to contemplate what does or doesn't work as you climb this skill ceiling.
For all of the praise I enjoy heaping on the combat, some dull edges need more time on the whetstone. For one, hit detection isn't quite there yet. That's not to say its fighting system is clumsy or anything, only that it's roughly 5% away from an exceptionally polished level. The majority of this percentage stems back to when you're in 1v1 duels. Since an enemy's dodge (sideways or backwards) can look like he's gliding, there's some visual confusion when seeing a stab or overhead not land; conversely, I've been surprised when a few did land too. Naturally, I won’t complain about the latter examples! Finally, animations from morphing attacks (feinting) feel too visually spasmodic in first-person mode; almost as though there are a few frames missing during the transitions.
What good is a combat system without a fun arsenal? Chivalry 2's weaponry is among the most lovingly-detailed I've seen for the Old Medieval era. This being class-based multiplayer means each class & sub-class has its own accoutrements. Vanguard, Footman, and Knight all have a melee emphasis, whilst the (cowardly) Archer sub-classes have expected ranged options: bow-and-arrow, crossbow, and throwing spears (also a valid melee option). The plurality of primary & secondary melee weapons range the gamut of swords, axes, lances, maces, and the list goes on. This doesn't even include the environmental options like throwing decapitated heads, barrels, and whatnot. Siege weapons like catapults and ballistae are also strategically placed and can play a pivotal role at halting or advancing a siege. You're really spoiled for choice; that said, some slightly-padded damage stats have already revealed a few favorites.
The crucial question is this: what makes Chivalry 2 feel like something more than a fun, new medieval slasher? When you look past the visceral smashing, crashing, slashing, kicking, braining, bludgeoning, piercing, tearing, shooting, throwing, hacking, and cleaving there's this underlying comedy to the proceedings that I would've never anticipated. One moment the mounds of corpses on the battlefield serve as a stark reminder of how costly an objective capture may be, the next someone with the high-pitched 'Squire Boy' voiceover is insulting my mom and pelting me with my friend's head. One person may use the pre-designated voiceover to cheer for Agathian glory, while another gives a deadpan delivery by saying "Ya! Let's kill the people I don't like, I guess!" It's able to swing back and forth between battle-hardened seriousness to Monty Python sketch routine without feeling discordant or disingenuous at all. It puts you in this LARP-ing spirit that I didn't know I was missing until playing this game.
All of these fun details wouldn't coalesce so well without the respectable cinematic presentation. This comes with some important qualifiers: it's a middle-market multiplayer game and I played it on an Xbox Series X. Despite being cross-gen, I'm not incredibly confident how base last-gen consoles manage all of these technical elements with 20v20 or 32v32 matches. For Series X, the majority of my experience felt smooth. There are certainly some bugs to discover, such as flashing lights shortly appearing at the bottom of my TV screen, but never to the point of feeling like a rushed 1.0 version. Obviously the studio size and budget doesn't mean this is the sterling example of all Unreal Engine 4 titles; then again, there's nothing wrong with being impressive on its own.
Beyond its technical chops, Chivalry 2 succeeds in visually and aurally depicting cacophonous warfare. The plethora of decorative options, from insignias draped over a suit-of-armor to colored chainmail, and the many medieval accoutrements – weapons, armor, or otherwise – feel lovingly-crafted. There's something about the expert craftsmanship upon getting a new sword skin that makes you want to earn the blacksmith's labor; a knight can only be considered valorous after his weapon is drenched in carmine. Torn Banner's immersive audio design is multi-faceted and... dare I say, crunchy? The sense of momentum when nailing a swing, regardless of weapon, never gets old. Although oftentimes set to the background, J.D. Spears' first foray into mid-budget gaming space earns my respect. Several of the best tracks can perfectly translate to your custom mixtape for other medieval or high-fantasy titles.
An all-too-common bugbear with MP-focused games is the launch value; the blurring of lines with these examples and AAA live-service games has gotten foggier over time. If $40 is when your purchasing threshold becomes more stringent, I still believe Chivalry would pass the stress test – with some caveats. There are four options to choose from: offline practice, free-for-all, 40-player & 64-player mixed matches. Mixed matches consist of team deathmatch or team objective. Within these groups, there are three TDM/DM maps and five objective maps. It's not overstuffed, but not scant on content either.
From my more subjective lens of quality-over-quantity with content, I have some misgivings. Although it can be a good way to hone your skills, I'm not enthusiastic about deathmatches here; this game truly comes alive during objective-oriented play. I'm also not the biggest fan of two maps: Fighting Pit (TDM/DM) and Battle of Black Forest (Objective). The former's gladiatorial arena is so overly-designed to the point of being uninteresting, while the latter feels slightly too... routine compared to other locales. But those less-engaging arenas are counterbalanced by maps with a stronger personality and better design quirks.
Firm footing is among the most important facets to becoming a master duelist; likewise, Torn Banner Studios resolutely planted its feet on two distinct sensibilities: the visceral and the comedic. Dead bodies and pools of blood are scattered across the captured town square, yet one straggler with his arm severed is putting up a nasty fight and insulting my mum before dying of blood loss. It gleefully harnesses the silly and chaotic to such operatic excesses that I can't help but indulge in the beautiful carnage. It's not without some mechanical annoyances and weapon imbalances - which could be updated relatively soon - but Chivalry 2 remains steadfast at being an immensely entertaining time.
This review is based on a digital copy of Chivalry 2 for the XSRead more about our Review Methodology here