When it was first released in 2012, Torn Banner’s “Chivalry: Medieval Warfare” epitomized the profound but alluring weirdness of the niche PC multiplayer gaming scene. Based on a free mod made in Valve Software’s Source engine called “Age of Chivalry,” it sought to replace the assault rifles and flak jackets of a typical arena shooter with broadswords and plate mail, complete with complex melee mechanics that brought an unexpected layer of depth to what the likes of “Doom” and “Quake” viewed as weapons of last resort. But as studio founder and president Steve Piggott readily admits, while Torn Banner brought much in the way of ambition and innovation to the original Chivalry, they were lacking in experience. Now, seven years later, after the disappointing sorcery-themed follow-up “Mirage: Arcane Warfare” failed to set tills alight, Piggott says they finally feel ready to revisit the game that made the studio with “Chivalry 2.”
“I just want to be really clear that Torn Banner is ‘Chivalry,’” he says. “That’s who we are as a studio, that’s why we exist, that’s where we came from, and we want to do that justice. Even at the time we made the original game, we knew that there were aspects of it that could’ve been far better. But also, we didn’t want to release a sequel that offered only an incremental change, like in the big sports games. We wanted to make a true sequel to the game that put us on a map as a studio, and now we finally feel we can deliver on that promise.”
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While seven years is a veritable age in the frenzied world of games, both Piggott and his colleague Alex Hayter emphasize that the “medieval combat” micro-genre hasn’t really shifted much in that interval. Still, they note that the competition has gotten fiercer as of this April, when the long-in-development “Mordhau” finally exploded onto the shelves of Steam with more fervor than anyone could have predicted, selling over a million copies in its first month. But while Piggott says that he’s happy to see the minds behind “Mordhau” find success in such a seemingly-niche space, he feels that “Chivalry 2” is ultimately a far more ambitious prospect, focused on expanding the public’s perception of what the genre can be, in addition to fixing some of the niggling issues of its predecessor.
As Pigott sees it, the clanging-steel fantasy of the original “Chivalry” was expressed through small-scale combat, with the player cap for most game-modes coming in at a then-standard 24. With “Chivalry 2,” he says it’s all about upping the scale to 64, and making those players feel like actual foot-soldiers storming a village, then scampering up the walls of a castle keep. The elementary tug-of-war point-capturing of the original could make the conflict feel stagy and artificial; in its sequel, both teams will adjust their objectives and spawning points frequently as the conflict progresses. For example, if the attacking team has to massacre some peasants to stoke fear, the defending team might actually spawn as them, brandishing pitchforks and rocks rather than gleaming steel.
“Our approach to it is very experiential,” he says. “Our goal is to make the player feel like they’re in whatever their favorite battle scene is from a great movie. We keep going back to the Battle of the Bastards, from Game of Thrones. At the end of a match, we want the players to feel like they’ve just gone through the stages of a real battle. You might start in a village, then attack a castle’s walls, then go up to the keep. We want players to have a fluid, cinematic experience, from the feeling of swinging a sword to riding through a village. Some people called attacks in ‘Chivalry” a bit clunky, or hard to read. We’re making sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Pigott says that Torn Banner’s approach to putting horses in the game is a good example of what exactly he means by fluidity – making sure they feel like powerful thousand-pound beasts rather than smooth motorcycles that neigh rather than rev. But while the game is still in an alpha stage, and the trailer is more proof-of-concept than representative of the actual experience of the final game, the duo seem confident that “Chivalry 2” will cleave its way back to its rightful place at the top of the genre it created. “Let’s be really clear about that,” Pigott says. “We’re happy that other games are successful, sure, but we want ‘Chivalry 2’ to be the best medieval multiplayer game ever. And we’re going to try our best to make that happen.”