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Medieval Hack-and-Slashing at PAX East 2012

Updated Tue, Apr 17, 2012 by Ralphedelominius

There is no shortage of First Person Shooter titles on the game scene in this day and age; in fact, at PAX East 2012 I daresay that I couldn’t take three steps without tripping over a demo booth that featured one. But buried deep on the main exhibition floor are a pair of games in development that depart from the typical modern or futuristic era of combat and give us a taste of the up-close-and-personal fighting days of yore. (I think ‘yore’ places it somewhere between ‘eons ago’ and ‘a long time ago, in a land far, far away’, but I could be wrong.)

War of the Roses

War of the Roses is a new IP from Fatshark under the Paradox Interactive umbrella. Set between 1455-1485 “in the wake of the ‘death of chivalry’ at Agincourt,” the game aims to re-create the feel of personal combat you can only get from running amok in a suit of armor. Civil war is sweeping the land, as two rival houses (Lancaster and York) contend for the throne. (For added realism, I think they should ship with a helmet peripheral that cuts your vision down to narrow slits. They could even put some kind of fake sweat dispenser that drips slowly down your nose and on your neck. Or players could collect their own sweat and fill the reservoir with that. The developer I spoke with didn’t seem too keen on the idea, but that’s OK, I’m used to being ahead of my time.)

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I used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took a dagger in the face.

The game is focused primarily on the team multiplayer dynamic, though a single-player campaign will also ship with it that provides a steady progression and potentially unlocks items for use in multiplayer encounters. I was able to play the Alpha build that they had running, and got in a few good matches of multiplayer mayhem. There are a good assortment of character classes to choose from, offering a variety of weapons from broadsword or axe for in-your-face fun to light or heavy crossbows for in-your-face-from-way-over-there hilarity. As someone who believes that life-threatening combat is best enjoyed from a distance, I naturally went for the Heavy Crossbow and went in search of someone’s day to ruin.

Our battlefield of choice was a small farm or town setting with plenty of cozy little spots for an ambitious sniper to hole up in. I quickly learned that the ranged classes, or at least my choice of Heavy Crossbow, aren’t particularly suited for a lone-wolf style of play. This is polite-speak for “I got my ass handed to me.” Repeatedly. Not that this is a bad thing – the game obviously rewards proper use of team tactics, so I should have been pairing up with one of the slow-witted melee types (stereotypes exist for a reason!) and hid behind their chainmail skirts as I fired off bolts of death into our foes.

As with any Paradox game, special attention to detail is given towards historical accuracy whenever possible. In game terms this means that the crossbow, while quite powerful if it hits you, takes an eternity to reload. I had time to finish my mojito and order another in the time it took to crank that puppy back up again.

Not that this feature doesn’t have its charms. At one point, I found myself in a rather comical short-range duel with an opposing crossbowman. We spent a couple of minutes firing at each other, reloading, firing again, until I got the brilliant idea to run up to him with my short sword drawn while he was laboriously cranking another bolt into his ‘bow and stab him over and over again. Yarrr! Wait, that’s pirates. Huzzah? Huzzah! In your face, Lancaster! No, really, my sword is in your face. You should get that looked at.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Chivalry may have died at Agincourt, but it’s alive and kicking you in the ‘nads in Torn Banner Studios’ offering of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Tucked away in a small booth, not far from the purveyor of Moustache Monocles (I am not making that up, by the way), the development team had a playable build of Chivalry running with a one-on-one arena battle available to experience. There were a surprising number of people lined up to try their hand, and the line grew longer as I watched. It might have been the guy playing in full chainmail and helmet that got their attention. Come for the cosplay, stay for the dismemberment!

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Not sure whether to title this one "Ni!" or "It's just a flesh wound."

Chivalry employs a dynamic melee system that allows you to control your attacks with precision. You go in with sword a-swinging, and your opponent raises his sword to parry – but with a quick move of the mouse, you change the course of your swing to go in under and gut him like a fish. Now this is more like it!

The game only offers four character ‘classes’ to choose from (Knight, Vanguard, Archer, and Man-at-Arms) but there is a wide variety of weaponry available to all. Players who really learn the system are rewarded by the “Freeform Combination System” that allows you to combine attacks and blocks at a greater speed, making for some true whirlwind-style assaults.

I familiarized myself with the control scheme as I sat down to pit my skills against those of fellow Ten Ton Hammer minion Reuben “Sardu” Waters. For a game with so much freedom of action, the controls are actually a quite simple combination of mouse and keyboard to get yourself around and into the thick of things. Sardu came running in from the opposite side of the arena, sword raised on high, posed to deliver a crushing overhead stroke that was sure to split me open from neck to crotch. Unfortunately for him, I chose to sidestep slightly; his haymaker attack going ‘swoosh’ past me. A couple of quick stabs later, and the camera pans out to show me gleefully chopping away at his armless corpse. On to round two!

I would have happily sat there all day trading blows with Reuben, but the back of my head started getting uncomfortably hot from the angry glares of everyone else waiting in line for their chance to hack someone into a bloody pulp. I considered trying to get in one last round in the arena, but the impending hail of Bioshock top hats and cardboard novelty shields was sure to put me off my game.

Out of all the games I was able to get a hands-on with at PAX East 2012, this one was one of the most enjoyable for me. Quick and dirty combat right up front! Enough so that it overcame my natural desire to camp in the back and pick off stragglers… you’re using the same sort of arsenal as you’d find in War of the Roses, but somehow Chivalry has an entirely different feel to it. Paradox is well-known for producing very detailed and accurate historical simulations, and this foray into the First Person world with War of the Roses feels like that – true to historical context in almost every way. Chivalry has a much more arcade-y feel to it, which is more likely to appeal to the twitch gamer crowd out there that’s bored of repetitive Call of Duty and/or Battlefield multiplayer. Both are worthy additions to a genre of game that I haven’t seen done since 1998s Die By The Sword.

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