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Smashing swordplay: 4 free Steam games with superb melee combat

Don't let your mom watch you play these. (Image source: Ubisoft, Valve)
Don't let your mom watch you play these. (Image source: Ubisoft, Valve)
Melee is an oft-overlooked video game mechanic. Even some of the best games and developers miss the mark on melee, which is okay—every game can't be perfect. If you do want to scratch that sword-swinging itch though, fortunately there is a wealth of games that do it justice. Some of them are even free.

1. Warframe

It may seem unsurprising that a game sold with taglines like "Ninjas play free," and is often sold by its developers as space ninjas, would have good combat. On the contrary, Warframe was primarily developed as a game focussing on a balance between gunplay and melee combat, though it has evolved to have rich, satisfying melee systems.

At first, the melee system in Warframe doesn't seem particularly complex, but you quickly learn that every weapon is carefully designed, each with its own set of animations, sounds, damage, and effects that make every weapon feel unique, and allow you to feel the weight and impact behind every blow. The cherry on top of the power trip and visceral feel of Warframe's melee is the way melee integrates into the extreme levels of mobility of the frames and the game's parkour system. 

The variation in weapon type is also impressive, with hundreds of weapons, ranging from heavy swords, katanas, and daggers to maces, whips, and poleaxes, among others. While the variation is impressive, melee play really comes into its own when you start to explore different stances and customisation options available to you—not to mention the Zaw weapons system that allows you to craft your own weapons using an array of parts that each bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the bloodthirsty abomination you're bound to create. 

2. For Honor

For Honor is a melee-first game that makes you re-evaluate both the melee systems used in other games and your own sanity. It's unlike anything else out there, for better or worse. Ubisoft's wacky melee system seems fine when you're just playing around with piddling every-day foes, but when you go up against another hero, the whole thing becomes a game of stances, feints, parrying, and blocking—feeling much more like an actual martial art than a video game. Every move needs to be carefully considered—at least far more carefully than other games—and every blow timed so as to not leave yourself open for too long and pay the ultimate price. 

On top of the semi-awkward, not-quite-quick-time combat mechanics, For Honor also throws you into the thick of it with oddball control schemes and a variety of classes for you to explore. Others have spent hours writing articles trying to understand and explain the combat mechanics of For Honor, but it's honestly better to just dive in and explore it for yourself. 

Correction: while For Honor was free for a time, it has since reverted back to its normal price of ‎US$14,99—still not a bad deal, but obviously not free. 

3. MultiVersus

MultiVersus lets you finally find out who would win those hypothetical battles between characters like Batman and Finn from Adventure Time. MultiVersus pits Warner Brothers characters against one another in a 2.5D platform-fighter, making it a go-to for parties and families with multiple children. While the melee combat in MultiVersus isn't particularly deep or complex, it's certainly fun, with each character bringing their own animation style and zany moves to the table. On top of the game's lightheartedness, the low, low price of free, relatively small download size, and reasonable minimum system specs make this a great game for everyone to try out at least once. 

As a discerning gamer, you'll know that melee games are just better on a controller—like the 8Bitdo Ultimate Wired Xbox Controller, available on Amazon

4. Swordcery: Prologue

Swordcery: Prologue is a free-to-play prologue—read demo—for Swordcery—an ARPG slated for some point. While it is still a demo, the prologue has a lot to bring to the table to get you hyped for the final release of the full game. The basic premise of the game's melee combat system revolves around weapons—primarily swords—imbued with magical properties that grant them spells, magical effects, and other unique mechanics. It checks all the boxes for a solid third-person rogue-lite melee experience: variation in weapon, unique light and heavy combos, and immersive animation and sound design. 

If you're the type that enjoys a good hack-and-slash experience, but you're looking for something with a little more depth, Swordcery: Prologue is worth more than a passing glance. 


Valve (1, 2, 3, 4), IDGB/Ubisoft

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2022 08 > Smashing swordplay: 4 free Steam games with superb melee combat
Julian van der Merwe, 2022-08-16 (Update: 2022-09-15)