Mordhau (opens in new tab) isn’t really set up to be fair. Its marquee PvP modes, Frontline and Battle Royale, both pit disorganized, flailing hordes of buff battle boys against each other. It is brutal, chaotic, and often hilarious. But that chaos can also be frustrating when you’re just trying to enjoy a fair fight. Steven’s guide to playing Mordhau like a bastard (opens in new tab) is all about how to adapt to Mordhau’s unfair battlefield, but I’m after a purer, more idealistic Mordhau. I want honorable fights unblemished by rogues looking for easy kills. I thought I was out of luck, but then I found my people—the wholesome folk of Mordhau’s duel servers.
Duel servers are a truly wonderful respite from the rest of Mordhau. The servers rotate through a pool of smaller maps suited to lower player counts, and stepping into the open is a feast for the eyes—a landscape of people beating the snot out of each other in organized private duels. Some are watching others fight, waiting for the chance to challenge the winner. Others are adding to the drama of a brawl with some lute music.
“Duel” isn’t a special mode within the game, though it definitely should be. Mordhau players quickly began renting custom servers to set up their own rulesets for dueling. Within just a few days, a proper subculture had formed around a few constant rules: 1v1 duels, no RDM (random deathmatch). Challenges are handed out nonverbally using the “flourish” emote. If your opponent flourishes back, the duel has been accepted, and the battle begins. After a fight, duelists crouch to let challengers know they need time to heal before the next bout.
We're now a few weeks after launch, and there are always plenty of duel servers running near capacity.
The duel server social experience is the polar opposite of a match of Frontline. Not only do people largely respect the rules of honor (lest they be banned), but they're just nice. I’ve played against so many polite combatants. Even if I’ve just brained an opponent with the hilt of my sword, they still drop a “gf” (good fight) in the chat and even commend me on my chambering skills.
That politeness extends to how duels are fought, too. In Mordhau, mismanaging your stamina to zero forces you to drop your weapon. Usually, this is the opportune moment for another fighter to take an easy kill shot. Stamina management is part of Mordhau’s meta, so it’s fair enough to expect a swift death in the chaos of battle. One time on a duel server, instead of taking off my head with his executioner's blade, my opponent stood still and waited for me to pick up my sword.
I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t want to win that way. They wanted a 100 percent even fight. That is some next-level honor. In our second bout, I came out on top. The win felt a little hollow after he'd had me dead to rights, but I made sure to thank him for his honor.
Duel servers have really helped me hone my general fighting skills. Private 1v1 fights are where I practice different fighting styles and weapons I haven’t mastered yet, getting used to their animations outside the confusion of bigger battles. But duels can also be brutal. In every server, there are at least one or two players far better than everyone else.
They know how to drill right into my mind. They can bait out a foolish attack, punish it with a brutal headshot, and immediately fake their next hit to finish me off. It’s useful to have a quiet space to fight better players and learn their ways. But hey, if I don’t feel like losing eleven humiliating duels in a row, the beauty is that I never have to fight them. Duels require consent from both parties, so I can pick my fights carefully.
Protected by the server’s rules, I've noticed players feel free to try new things and embrace the roleplay. My favorite interaction was only a few nights ago, when I found someone had cordoned off a small corner of the map into a micro arena using the game’s builder class. Pieces of player-made cover lined the perimeter of the fighting area, and a man in a black and white-striped referee uniform was officiating 1v1 fights. Lined up outside of the ring were eager fighters waiting to take on whoever came out on top. Naturally, I jumped in line.
We peered through gaps in the wall to watch the fights unfold. When it was finally my turn, I was up against an intimidating level 31 halberd user who had won the past four fights with barely a scratch. The body of the last challenger, a sword user like me, was still warm at my feet. The ref called on our flourishes to ready up and banged their staff on the ground to launch the duel. I put up a good fight, even got a solid hit in, but the brute successfully baited a badly-timed block from me and I eventually took a fatal hit to the chest.
With emotes, the small crowd of spectators cheered and laughed for my foe’s victory. As I respawned, though, chat gave me a nice little ego boost. A few people said it was a great fight, and that I “almost had them!”
This is my perfect little corner of Mordhau.