Video games do shooting well, they do racing well, they do running and jumping pretty well, but one of the areas that games fall short in is hand-to-hand melee combat, which is frequently reduced to a single button press for the rare situations where guns couldn’t get the job done.
If you’re looking for something that replicates the epic-scale battles of something like “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings,” then there’s few options out there. But luckily there’s a niche genre called melee slashers that bring the complexity of hand-to-hand combat to epic, large-scale battles.
And that genre saw the return of the king last month with the release of “Chivalry II,” a franchise that essentially invented the genre nearly a decade ago. Set in a Hollywood version of Medieval times, “Chivalry II” pits up to 64 players against each other — split between the blue-clad Agatha and the red-clad Mason — in matches to storm castles, free prisoners, attack the kingdom’s heir and loot a city of its gold that test their team’s ability to play together and focus on the objectives. There’s also madcap team deathmatch modes that lean into the mayhem.
In “Chivalry II” melee combat is expanded well beyond the single button of other games. To attack, you have side-to-side slashes, punishing overhand swings, stabs, quick jabs and off-centering kicks. With opponents able to block, dodge, riposte, counter and interrupt, it becomes a tense battle of wits and skill to outsmart your opponent in the heat of the battlefield. Each one of your attacks can be modified by dragging your point of view to strike quicker, to adjust your aim mid-swing or to delay your swing. You can also throw off your opponent’s timing by starting one attack to cancel it and feint into another. It all combines together to make for some truly epic moments where everything comes together, where you’re dodging and dicing your way through big crowds of enemies.
You also have a wide range of weapons to pick from, including swords, maces, spears, shields, halberds and, yes, bows that adds another rock-paper-scissors layer to the game. I love using the heavy two-handed maul, an incredibly slow but incredibly deadly weapon that can smash its way through most defenses. Its major weakness? The low-power, fast-attacking short sword that can easily interrupt every swing of the maul.
Just watch out because your wild wide swings can also damage your teammates — something that happens a lot with the two-handed maul — and even knock them down.
“Chivalry II” isn’t the first game to adopt this type of gameplay — it is a sequel after all with the original coming out all the way back in 2012 as well as a more recent take in 2019’s “Mordhau”—but it does it the best. Many of the concepts in the hand-to-hand combat, like who has the initiative to make an attack, are clearer, which make it easier for newcomers to get a handle on the unusual combat system. There’s also some serious quality-of-life improvements over most multiplayer games, like its short down time between matches and big variety of mission objectives.
But where “Chivalry II” really shines is in the heat of a crowded battlefield as you and your teammates battle back an onslaught of enemies attempting to storm the castle. There’s both the finesse of the fight and the near-slapstick comedy of a large-scale multiplayer video game that makes every match challenging, unique and, most importantly, a load of fun. It also means that players with different skill levels all have their place. Really good? Then, sure, rush head-first into overwhelming numbers. Still figuring things out? Then stick together with your allies and play the numbers game.
My gaming group has already put in more than 30 hours with the game with the main complaint being the game’s shoddy implementation of a party system that makes teaming up a hit-and-miss exercise. That aside, though, “Chivalry II” has already taken over the top spot as our go-to multiplayer game after a long day of not storming the castle walls.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If You Play
Game: Chivalry II
Rating: 4 out of 5
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation, Xbox
Internet usage: 20 GB download, internet required for multiplayer
Release Date: June 8, 2021
ESRB Rating: Mature