Review: Chivalry II
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a thing for medieval stuff. Knights, castles, siege weapons, swords, bows, everything really. I also really dug the more fantasy type stuff like wizards and elves and such. I have some real pieces of armor, swords and stuff in my personal space, so that should validate my passion for this stuff.
Alongside that, I also enjoyed technology and playing games on PC. I particularly enjoyed first-person games, from Unreal Tournament to the early Call of Duty games (not so much the newer ones). And in 2012, a game would come along that would fuse aspects of the FPS genre with medieval combat, and that game was Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Much like UT and the other FPS games I liked at the time, this was a great pick to just fire up and smash some heads in when you’re bored (Although it did honestly feel a bit rough and more like a mod than a stand-alone game). Almost a decade later, in 2021, we have the sequel here to up the bone-crunching, limb-severing factor. Let’s dig in and see how well it pulls that off.
Developed by Torn Banner Studios and published by Tripwire Interactive, Chivalry II was released on June 8th, 2021, for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. The PC version was played for this review.
A Bloody Background
Despite the original game being purely deathmatch or objective-based medieval combat, with no single player, it did have some lore and story to set the the stage of a conflict between the Agatha Knights and the Mason Order. In the original game, there wasn’t a lot to it besides whatever was needed to create a purpose to the scenarios and locations.
Chivalry II sticks with this formula. Despite this fact though, it is considered an actual sequel, with the first game representing the first war between the two factions and the second representing a second, ongoing conflict. While entirely optional, there is a section within the game detailing the history of the world you’re playing in, including major characters, historical battles, and so on. The tutorial itself even encourages you to role play and you have access to numerous voice overs during gameplay to put yourself into the battle: battle cries, insults, commands, etc.
Additionally, there are cutscenes before each match begins setting the stage for the battle that’s about to take place (even for the free-for-all deathmatch arenas). This adds a lot of flavor to what is, at its heart, a simple, tried and true multiplayer game concept. The only problem is, there’s no way to skip these scenes; every player sees them every time. It’s fun the first few times but after that, you kinda want to skip it. Perhaps if a majority of the players press a skip button, or the cutscene is omitted on servers for more experienced players, it would streamline the experience for regulars while allowing new players to be drawn into the experience.
‘Tis Just a Flesh Wound
Outside of the lore making Chivalry II basically a sequel, the core gameplay is not dramatically different. That said, you’ll find that it is refined in many ways, but also compromised in a few. The game is all about straight-up brutal melee (and sometimes ranged) combat, with every hit landed causing steel to clash and buckets of blood to spill Mortal Kombat style. The game offers twelve classes in four archetypes, just like the original: the archer archetype, home to the classes that focus on ranged combat; the Man-at-Arms archetype, featuring lightly armored melee fighters who are more quick and nimble and fight as close as possible to disorient the opponent; the Vanguards, who focus on heavy-hitting two-handed weapons; and the Knights, who are slow and heavily armored and fight defensively. Among all the classes a variety of weapons are available and through the game’s experience system, you are encouraged to explore them all and discover the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Further, you have a variety of moves at your disposal. There’s a range of attack types that are consistent across all weapons, blocking and parrying, and the motion of your swings can be leveraged to gracefully avoid attacks while landing your own. Additionally literally anything you can carry in game can be thrown at someone. Throw all your weapons and you’ll be down to your fists, but you can pick up almost anything to use as a weapon, like a box or even a recently-severed head. A tutorial (guided by a simultaneously gruff, loud, and somewhat robotic voiceover-actor) effectively and efficiently teaches every move you can do, and the learning curve is not steep at all. It’s pretty easy to learn but hard to master, and that’s a solid mark of a good game. The skill sets and the overall combat system are refined, rather than redefined, from the game’s predecessor.
I also really like how the game retains the old-school dedicated server system (with party forming and automatic queuing available). You can jump into a game quickly via the 40 player, 64 player, and free-for-all queues, along with a single player bot-match practice mode, or you can use the server browser, which in particular will allow you to join servers freely instead of being matched to what the game decides is the most optimal one. The main step back here is just that the queues (aside from free-for-all) are multi-game mode. You can find a server running just one via the server browser, but you can’t queue into just one mode.
And speaking of modes, that’s one spot where the game takes a small step back. The original game had more modes to choose from. While the ones absent in Chivalry II are almost certainly the less popular ones, I generally object to modes being removed for popularity reasons. Particularly if dedicated servers can be set up by the community, just allow those people who do want it to have it. This is a bit of a rant on my part as I have the odd tenancy to fall in love with the least popular game modes in quite a few online multiplayer games, but if your favorite mode wasn’t team deathmatch, team objective, or free-for-all, you’re out of luck in Chivalry II. At least for now, since updates are a thing.
That said, the game modes themselves are also (mostly…) more refined from the original. The maps are well designed, the objectives are more clear in the Team Objective mode, and in the team modes, wave-based spawning means you’ll always spawn together with your allies. Aside from some minor bugs everything feels smoother and more polished from the original, which even today can be a bit “janky,” as the cool kids say these days. That said, despite the improvements and the paring down of game modes, there was one quirk in particular that frustrated me.
Free-for-all. This is where you want to go if you just want to indiscriminately bust some heads. It’s just a wild deathmatch with a huge number of players. It’s loads of fun, but it feels a bit shoe-horned in. Bizarrely, even though it’s a free-for-all as the name implies, the game still uses a wave spawning system in this mode. This means that every ten seconds, a whole bunch of recently-dismembered players will all spawn at once. Since the maps for free-for-all are a good deal smaller and there seems to be a limited number of spawn areas, this means more often than not, someone else will simultaneously spawn next to you, leading to you (or a target) to be half dead before your feet even reach the ground as your character bounds into the arena from outside.
This can get very frustrating since you will die right as you spawn far more often than any deathmatch mode in any game I’ve ever played. It’s particularly painful as an archer because there’s little you can do to defend yourself in that situation. By the time you can switch to your side arm, you’re already dead. Ultimately it’s not THAT big of a deal because free-for-all is really just violence for the sake of violence and nobody will care too much who actually wins, but it’s a dose of frustration alongside your bone-crushing fun. And it is really fun, even with this noticeable issue. I just want to make that clear.
The biggest improvement in Chivalry II is the graphics. The environments are great and well-befitting a blood-soaked battleground. They all look great and are fun to play; I just wish there were more of them. The character models and the armor and weapons all look great, with many customization options available as you play. When you get hurt, blood runs down your armor or soaks your clothing. The sound of steel clashing is realistic, and the battle cries of the players along with the background sounds of war make the experience incredibly immersive.
Even without the gameplay itself, the overall battlefield experience is worth the price of admission alone. This game is ultra-violent, and it’s not afraid to show it. You can cut off arms, legs, and heads, spraying blood everywhere. If you don’t like these things, honestly this might not be the game for you, but you can turn them off (What happens when someone else picks up and throws a severed head or limb when you have this setting off, I don’t know).
Voice acting outside your battle cry is a little spottier, but Chivalry II is not a game that takes itself too seriously, despite the encouraging of role-play. There are many options for voice types, and while the production quality is good, some of the lines feel out of place, what with the “your mom” jokes and other not-so-witty one liners you can utter. Some of the voices also feel a little over-acted (the tutorial drill sergeant being the worst offender). There’s pop culture references as well, and the game will even say “It’s just a flesh wound!” when you lose an arm, encouraging you to fight to the end. Nice touch.
The game is light on music, but what is there is solid and appropriate to a medieval battle simulator. Outside of the menus, you’re mostly just hearing the sounds of war, unless a match is approaching its conclusion, where music is applied to add tension. I would have liked to have more, but given the design of the game I can give it a pass as “not very important.”
Chivalry Isn’t Dead
This game is tricky for me to score. Chivalry II doesn’t really break new ground. That’s not really a bad thing though, as the original was a bit rough but super fun. In most regards, the game is vastly improved and polished over the original. It is just so satisfying and fun to play that I can ALMOST overlook the minor bugs here and there, and the gameplay issue I described. If these things were addressed, this would be darn close to a 10/10 from me.
Whether you’ve always been a medieval combat fanatic, or you love games like the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises but wished for them to go back in time a few centuries, it’s hard to go too far wrong with Chivalry II. Just be mindful of that bloodthirsty knight that spawned right next to you!
Review copy provided by Torn Banner Studios for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.