Developer Torn Banner Studios bills Chivalry II as “a multiplayer first-person slasher inspired by epic medieval movie battles.” Despite sounding like an over-promise, that’s exactly what it delivers. If you’ve ever wished for a game that simulates the Battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, this is it. I only wish it could incorporate more fantasy races, classes, or even magic. Even if it remains rooted in satirical history, however, that will be enough.
Subsequent lives in Chivalry 2's objective maps have quieter beginnings. You spawn a short jog away from the front line, where one team is trying to accomplish a typically medieval goal (burn the tents, push the siege towers, destroy the trebuchet), while the other stands in the way. Some objectives are more fun than others (carrying gold from one spot to another is a bit of a chore, but escorting payloads is always entertaining) and I find attacking more satisfying than defending in every case, so there is a better side to be on. Each map tells the story of a battle between two factions, the Agathians and the Masons, a setup that could have been superfluous, but which is treated with such comedic seriousness that it feels essential. There's even a lore codex.
Chivalry has 12 set classes divided into four archetypes, with four available at the start and the rest unlocked as you go. You can also unlock new primary and secondary weapons within each class, so there's a lot of meaningful progression to work toward. I was a little disappointed I couldn't just go crazy mixing and matching, but I soon found that there are kits to support just about every playstyle I could imagine, from a deadly crossbow sniper to a frenzied, axe-hurling berserker.
The core of the experience is this brutal and methodical combat that feels like the marriage of Skyrim and Dark Souls. The default first-person perspective is a stroke of brilliance. The feeling of anxious claustrophobia as an enemy rotates out of your field of vision is intense. Parrying, dodging, and blocking each has a vital use. There are slashing attacks that alternate direction, stabs, and overhead strikes. Each of these can be executed as a heavy attack. You can even change the direction or attack type on the fly. Surprising your enemies by mixing things up is crucial. Spamming the attack button will get you kills, but it will only get you so far.
Chivalry 2 is part theater and it's better for it. Sometimes you'll come across two players bowing at each other, or crouching up and down. What are they doing? It doesn't matter. Just let them do it. I never attack someone who's goofing off, and when I really need a break from the fight, I'll pick up someone's head or whatever else I can find lying around and stand around shaking it and shouting, even when arrows start piercing my chest. (Cowardly archers would go after an easy target.)
I am having a ton of fun with Chivalry 2. The maps, outside of a few balance issues, are a total blast – everything from the shining armor to the soaring castle walls looks great and there are a huge range of objectives to keep things interesting. Whether I'm swinging a sword or plucking away with a bow, combat hits that elusive sweet spot between accessible dumb fun and rewarding, skill-based mechanics where the wheat is separated from the chaff. When you respawn and everyone around you is spamming the battle cry button as you rush headlong into certain death, you just know you're in for a rockin' time. I don't think I'll be putting away this sweaty coat of mail for a good while.