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Chivalry II (console version) review

For (dis)honor

I’m not going to say that Chivalry II is a more “realistic” representation of medieval combat than we see in most video games. First off, I’m not an expert on medieval combat, so I can’t really say what’s realistic and what’s not. But also, in Chivalry II, you can kill someone in full armor by chucking a cabbage at them. Even without a Ph.D in history, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing that happened.

But there is something genuine in Chivalry II that you don’t see in games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, where you’re cast as the hero and are meant to be able to kill hundreds and thousands of soldiers during the course of your journey. In Chivalry II, you’re one of 64 soldiers all wailing on one another with swords and axes and halberds until someone’s head falls off.

I know that Chivalry II isn’t the only game like this on the market. After all, it is a sequel, so duh. And there’s the more recent Mordhau, which is kind of like a spiritual successor to the original Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. But neither of those games really make you want to take a step back and look at the carnage unfolding around you. The original Chivalry is, frankly, not so great to look at, and Mordhau’s zippy keyboard-and-mouse gameplay makes it look like you’re fast-forwarding through the Battle of the Bastards. But on console, when you take a step back using the free-floating death cam in Chivalry II, you see a beautiful landscape of destruction being created by a bunch of controller players who have no idea what they’re doing, especially if you turn off cross-play matchmaking.

When Chivalry II works, I absolutely love it. The combat is easy enough to learn, but there are enough advanced maneuvers to make every encounter interesting. It’s bloody and brutal, but it’s also full of cheeky, Monty Python–inspired humor and the kinds of emergent gameplay moments that will leave you in stitches. You can take it seriously and try to win, or you can run around picking up horse dung and throwing it at people.

But, at least at launch, it’s also plagued with matchmaking bugs—especially when trying to play with friends—that often make it more frustrating than fun. And when compared to other similar games in the genre, despite adding more players, the maps and subclasses still feel somewhat limited.

As I said, Chivalry II’s combat is an excellent balance of accessibility and complexity. For melee characters, you have three basic strikes—horizontal slashes, overhead slashes, and a stab—that you can combo together as you see fit. When attacking, you can drag your cursor in any direction, which will impact the timing of when an attack makes contact with an enemy. You can essentially speed up how quickly the attack will reach the enemy by moving your cursor in the direction of the swing, but you can also throw them a changeup by slowing down the attack.

Likewise, you can hold down the button for each attack type for a heavy version of that move. Heavy attacks take longer to execute, but they will also do more damage to your enemy’s health bar or, if they block it, their stamina bar. You can also use heavy attacks to throw off your foe’s rhythm if you’re in an intense back and forth and they’re expecting a normal attack to land sooner. Catching your rival off guard and landing a powerful overhead heavy, crushing their skull after a prolonged bout, is one of the most satisfying things you can do in the game.

Chivalry II’s blocking is one of its better design choices. Instead of forcing you to time a block perfectly, you can hold down the block button to anticipate enemy attacks. However, doing so will slowly drain stamina, and if an enemy attack lands when you’re blocking without stamina, you will lose whatever weapon you’re holding, leaving you in a precarious position for the rest of the fight. You can also dodge to the left and right or backwards to gain a positional advantage, but timing is much more crucial here and leaves you open to taking a hit if you don’t time it right.

What’s great about Chivalry II’s blocking system is how it lends some readability and strategy to a one-on-one duel. It’s absolutely clear when a player is blocking, either with a weapon or a shield, and this is information you can take advantage of. Kick an enemy while they’re blocking and you can stagger them for a free follow-up hit. But if they drop their block and then you kick, you will do a small amount of damage but leave yourself open to a more damaging counter.

There’s more to defensive play than just blocking, however. Time a counter attack properly and you will give your opponent just a split-second to react, or riposte them by immediately following up a blocked attack with one of your own and you will be able to block another player’s incoming attack while you’re attacking. It’s part rock-paper-scissors, part chicken, where you’re constantly trying to guess your opponent and psyche them out.

Chivalry II’s combat might sound complex, but the game provides a thorough tutorial to teach you all the basics. Besides, once you actually jump into a match, Chivalry II becomes much less about making 1,000 IQ plays and more about strength in numbers. The best thing you can do for yourself in Chivalry II is stick close to your teammates. It’s possible to fight off and kill a couple of players, but if three or more start surrounding you, you’re as good as dead. That’s why it’s incredibly important to make sure at least one other teammate is around you when getting into a fight, and if you see one of them getting surrounded, you should probably do the, you know, chivalrous thing and back them up.

Now introducing 64-player matches between the fictional Agathian and Mason forces, Chivalry II’s gameplay feels both more chaotic and more controlled than you might expect. If you’re matchmaking in the 64-player playlist, you’ll either find yourself in a large-scale team deathmatch on a relatively open battlefield. But you might also find yourself in one of Chivalry II’s objective-based, linear maps, where one team has to complete a series of objectives and another team has to stop them.

My favorite map is “Escape from Falmire,” where the Agatha forces have to storm a Mason keep to rescue one of their champions, who the Masons are holding prisoner. Agatha has to push deeper and deeper into Mason territory by rescuing prisoners on the road, blowing up the gates to the keep, rescuing even more prisoners inside the keep, capturing a bridge, storming some more gates, and then opening the cell where the Masons are keeping the champion. However, once the champion is rescued, the match isn’t done. A random player then takes control of the champion, and the team must escort them to a ship on a nearby dock. If the Masons kill the champion, who has more health than a regular character but can only use whatever weapon he can manage to find on the ground, then they win, but if Agatha escapes, they win. That format might seem to favor the Mason team a bit, considering I’ve yet to see an Agatha victory on Escape from Falmire, but who wins and loses is really besides the point. It’s all just an excuse to bash each other’s brains, and in that regard, it’s more than effective.

The problem is that, as fun as Chivalry II’s gameplay is, fighting on the same eight maps can start to feel pretty repetitive, especially considering three of those maps are basically just arenas for team deathmatch. Within a few hours of playing the game, I unlocked an achievement for winning on a particular map ten times. Not just playing on it ten times—winning on it ten times. Reader, I assure you, I did not win every match I played on that map, not by a longshot, which means that map came back into the rotation a lot in my time with Chivalry II. Yes, the maps are fun and the objectives are varied, but I can only play them so much before the “been there, done that” feeling starts creeping in.

Fortunately, there’s a decent amount to unlock, both in terms of gameplay items and cosmetics. Each of the game’s four main classes—Archer, Vanguard, Footman, and Knight—have three subclasses, most of which have three to four weapons to unlock. Leveling up a class and unlocking all three subclasses doesn’t take very long; where the grind comes in is unlocking all of the weapons.

Each subclass also comes with an item like throwing knives or a spike trap, as well as a special ability that works basically like a super ability in Destiny 2 or ultimate ability in Overwatch. Your special ability’s meter will fill up over time, but doing damage and getting kills will help that meter charge up faster. These special abilities are really what distinguish each subclass within a main class. The Officer subclass in the Knight class has a Trumpet that will instantly regenerate nearby teammates’ health, while the Guardian subclass will place a Banner that will slowly heal teammates standing near it over time. These abilities, in addition to the different weapons, help distinguish subclasses within a main class. It’s varied enough that you’ll probably have favorites, but balanced enough that every subclass feels viable.

What’s slightly disappointing about Chivalry II’s subclasses is how much overlap there is when it comes to the special abilities. There are many repeats between classes; for instance, the Guardian’s Banner is also the special ability for the Crossbowman in the Archer class. Likewise, the Devastator in the Vanguard class and the Crusader in the Knight class both share the Oil Bomb special, and all three of the Pointman’s subclasses have the same Bandage Kit special ability. It would have been nice if the special abilities for each subclass were more varied and if there were more options. It’s not a huge deal, but it does lend to a feeling of sameness between classes in a way that wouldn’t fly in other, more competitive games.

But beyond a lack of variety and content, Chivalry II’s biggest issue is with its matchmaking and the countless bugs I’ve experienced trying to play with friends.

These bugs come in many forms. One of the most prevalent is my friends not loading into matches that I’ve loaded into, even though we’re partied up. That one happens seemingly every other match. When we do get into a match, we’re often not placed on the same team. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that I’m playing on the Series X, so I’m loading into a match much faster, but that just shouldn’t happen. When it does, I often can’t switch teams, even though at least half a dozen slots on their team are taken up by bots. When I do manage to switch teams, I often can’t see their gamertags above their characters’ heads, making it near impossible to coordinate an offensive push or defensive formation.

If these were just occasional bugs in a much bigger game, it wouldn’t be that big of an issue. But these bugs pop up every single time we sit down to play, often multiple times in a single two-hour gaming session. Sometimes we end up spending more time in the main menu trying to cleanly connect to a match in a full lobby than playing the game. These issues have become so prevalent that, as much as I enjoy getting into sword fights and shooting people with arrows in Chivalry II, it makes me dread having to log on when that’s the game my friends want to play for the evening. It seems that developer Torn Banner is at least aware of some of these issues, but it’s unclear how or when they will be fixed.

Until then, Chivalry II is best as a brief distraction. It’s bloody, it’s hilarious, and it’s fun. In most circumstances, this would be enough. There’s enough depth in the combat that hardcore players can really dig into the mecahnics, but enough accessibility that casual players can have success ganging up on more skilled players. But given its current problems, it’s not fun enough to let me overlook its frustrations for hours at a time. There is too little content and too many connection issues for extended play sessions.

Images: Tripwire Interactive

★★★☆☆

Chivalry II is great fun when it works. Its combat is simple to learn and less simple to master, but incredibly rewarding no matter your skill level. The new 64-player matches and objective-based modes ensure intense, prolonged battles, and the variety in the classes will keep you motivated to grind for that next weapon. But the lack of variety in the maps and subclass abilities, and the overwhelming connection issues, make the game more frustrating than it should be.

Developer
Torn Banner
Publisher
Tripwire Interactive and Deep Silver
ESRB
M - Mature
Release Date
06.08.21
Chivalry II is available on Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox Series X. Code/hardware was provided by Tripwire Interactive and Deep Silver for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.

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