I've always enjoyed things that only really serve one purpose. A cherry pitter, a bottle opener, a whoopie cushion, these are objects that do what they do and very little else, but they do it very well indeed. Chivalry 2 sits in this satisfying space of precision and focus, offering up an experience that may seem limited at first glance. This small scope has allowed the developer to prune and polish a handful of mechanics that serve as absolute masterclasses in design. Sometimes it's okay to not tack on a singleplayer campaign, or an open-world section. Sometimes it's better to stick to what you're good at.
It's likely that Chivalry 2 will be a lot of people's first foray into the series, and into the often-intimidating space of melee-focused medieval simulation. What the game does incredibly well is present a combat system that is easy to grasp at first, and more importantly, one that is heaps of fun from the get-go. A brief tutorial shows you the basics, before you're dragged kicking and screaming into a huge online battle. It's brutal, bloody and genuinely terrifying at first. But as you swing and stab wildly at your foes, Chivalry 2's deceptively deep combat systems start to unfurl. After a few hours or so, you're playing a completely different game to the one you were previously. It's wonderfully satisfying, with every single battle you take on providing new tactics and skills that evolve naturally as you play.
Tools of the Trade
Whether you choose to charge into battle with a crossbow or a war club, you always feel like an important cog in you team's war machine. Each class has different skills and equipment, sure, but I don't think I've ever played a multiplayer game where I've found so much joy in trying out every available loadout. I have my favourites, the Ranger that focuses on hurling two-handed axes into crowds of flailing enemies, though I'm constantly picking up new weapons from the field, trying them out and grinning as they connect and send an opponent's head flying.
Perhaps I'm doing Chivalry 2 an injustice by focusing on its very good and very serious combat systems. It's also extremely silly, leveraging Monty Python and hilariously over-the-top gore to produce genuinely ridiculous slapstick comedy. Your character will be mid swing, get their arms chopped off, and cry 'oh bloody hell, it's my Mum's birthday tomorrow' as they walk shell-shocked across the battlefield. You can doubletap a button to release a terrifying war cry, but sometimes it just trails out of your mouth like more of a whimper, emphasising just how terrified your character is as walls crumble and burn around them.
Fish, Cabbages and Chickens
Then there's the fish, the cabbages, the chickens. You can pick up pretty much anything you find while out fighting and can throw them at enemies. I've actually killed several men with chickens at this point, there's even an option to commend players on killing you once you die. There's nothing quite like beating someone to death with a fish and then having them say 'yeah, fair play mate' as they lie crumpled on the ground.
As I mentioned, Chivalry 2 focuses on a few things and does them very well. While this means that every battle is satisfying and fun, it can get repetitive at times. There are a handful of maps and modes, but they all mostly amount to large-scale team deathmatches. There are no horses, and the catapults and traps littered around are difficult to use and rarely worth the trouble. Yet there is surprising replayability and variety in the combat, as you unlock specialisations for each of the four main classes. Playing as a knight with a shield is completely different to wielding a polearm. You're always improving and learning new ways to best opponents too, so there's plenty to keep you busy.
This Means War
Chivalry 2's grand sense of scale is perhaps its greatest accomplishment. Matches can house up to 64 players, and the maps are cleverly designed to make sure almost every opponent is visible in the distance. It feels like war, and looks like war. Each map is little more than a battle-torn English field or a castle courtyard, but once they're filled to the brim with players screaming bloody murder and throwing everything - anything - they can get ahold of, Chivalry 2 can look very impressive. I played on PS5, with a visual fidelity option and a performance mode. The performance was tip-top in either option, so I opted for the graphics boost. Everything from the trails of blood your weapon flicks into the air to the oil bombs exploding at your feet look great. You can even swap into third-person view to get a better look at your character too, with deep customisation and cosmetic options to play around with.
Roleplaying Over Simulation
It should be stressed that while Chivalry 2 does present a fairly pure depiction of medieval warfare, it's not exactly a simulation. The game's wacky sense of humour makes it easy to roleplay, you'll sometimes see players just throwing rocks from up on castle walls for example. There have been matches where I've focused on lighting enemies on fire, or some where I only used throwing knives. Each map is a sandbox of deadly tools and clever ambush opportunities. You can do very well in battles once you learn not to take things too seriously. The best demonstration of this is in the aforementioned battle cry system. You can hurl a comically loud yell at any point while fighting. There's no real in-game benefit, but hearing your team join in around you can seriously fire you up. It's a morale boosting system that relies on players rather than in-game mechanics, favouring fun above all else.
To be honest, I was taken off guard by how much fun I've had with Chivalry 2 so far. It scratches a very specific itch, and while I probably won't be signing on every night for the rest of the year, I have found myself loading the game up to play a few matches and hone my skills with the war club. The combat is the highlight for sure, but Chivalry 2's unique brand of slapstick and gore elevates it from being a straightforward medieval simulation game. By focusing on nailing the moment-to-moment fighting, it allows for player experimentation and roleplaying, rewarding those who want to have fun above those who take themselves too seriously.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Reviewed on PS5