Now you too will be able to zip around attacks with a rubber spine that would make Neo proud.
Guide to Footwork and Perk-Free Dodging
"What's the point of this guide?"
This guide is intended as an intermediate-level introduction to the use of footwork to dodge attacks, no Dodge perk necessary. The goal is to provide you with an additional tool in your tactical arsenal that you can use at any time, just like chambers and morphs. While the concept is simple, I try to provide as much insight as I can into how and why to execute them in a certain way. Take the guide in parts, try one new thing at a time, and keep what works for you.
"What should I know before reading?"
You should know the three phases of an attack - windup, where the weapon is drawn back; release, where the character "grunts" and the attack is capable of doing damage; and recovery, where the attack has ended but the opponent cannot parry yet. You should also be comfortable with all the basic mechanics like feints, chambers, and morphs.
Additionally, it would be helpful to be aware of how players can alter when an attack hits by leaning into/away from it (accels and drags), since these present tricky situations for dodging.
"Is the author worth listening to?"
I'm a casual player with a few hundred hours in Mordhau and more in Chivalry. I'm not exceptional, but I really enjoy thinking about different techniques and how to incorporate them into a coherent playstyle. I have tried the opposite of many of the things written to make sure I'm not talking out of my rear, but I would still encourage people to read critically and experiment for themselves. Most of my experience has been gained using a limited number of weapons and loadouts.
Why Dodging Works
The whole idea of an offensive dodge is to evade the enemy's blade without needing to parry, leaving you free to begin your own "counterattack" while the enemy is still in release. Your counterattack should hit them near the end of release or during recovery and score you a free hit. Regardless of which kind of dodge you're attempting, always strive to begin your attack early so that it's ready to release as soon as you turn back to face the enemy. Meanwhile, causing the opponent to miss drains their stamina. Advanced players may be able to save themselves from being hit by skipping recovery with a "combo-feint-to-parry" (CFTP), but this will cost them even more stamina and put you in a better position.
Defensively, dodges help you keep more of your stamina and may save you from being hit if you have just mistimed a parry.
A Word on Equipment
The Problem with Dodge
While I wouldn't call the Dodge perk a total waste of points, it still has its issues. There's a bit of lag before you really start moving, and the whole animation feels clunky to me. The horizontal dodges require you to face perpendicular to the direction of motion, which makes it hard to lean forward/back in a way that can help you avoid an attack (a very important component, in my opinion). Dodging backwards and running back in can be effective but costly in stamina. Above all, Dodge costs equipment points to bring and stam to use, whereas "manual" dodging can accomplish many of the same things and more for free.
Regarding the rest of the loadout, dodging can work with most any combination of armor and weapon. Even slower builds should be able to fare well, as footwork has much more to do with being quick than being fast. I would go so far as to recommend very heavy armor if you are just starting out with these maneuvers, as they enable you to take risks without dying immediately and let you teach yourself exactly how much you can get away with. Complementing an expensive heavy armor build, I would suggest a cheap, fast weapon, as their short windup times make it easier to punish an opponent after dodging their attack without needing to throw in additional feints, etc.
The simplest kind of footwork involves merely staying out of reach of your opponent's weapon. In practice, many engagements will involve both parties hovering in and out of range of each other, searching for an opening or inviting an attack to create an opportunity for themselves. If you can convince your opponent that they know where you're going to be and then place yourself slightly further away, you can rush in and attack them after they miss their swing. You might start forward a few times as if you plan to close with the opponent, only to back off again; more boldly, you could charge straight at your opponent at the start of the fight, only to come to a stop just outside their range. You could even initiate an attack outside of range, feint it, wait to see if your opponent tries to punish the would-be miss, and jump on them when they subsequently whiff. Playing duels can be very helpful for learning to "hover" organically, though it will take time to learn the reach of various different weapons.
Being mindful of your spacing can also help you overcome feints. Opponents performing a feint followed by a real attack will sometimes feint from too far away; in this case, you can freely counterattack into their first action, since there is no way it could hit you even if it wasn't a feint (beware of being faked out as described above). On the other hand, beware of morphs, which will delay the start of the attack and allow the opponent to travel further while it winds up. Similarly, heavy drags could catch you at the very end of your opponent's release phase, when you might think it's safe to move in for a punish. Be wary of slow weapons and smart enemies.
The remaining techniques are generally performed while remaining in range of your opponent, meaning they could hit you if they predict exactly what you are going to do. Unpredictability is key to these methods - don't use them too often, and be as sudden and explosive as possible when you do perform them.
Lateral dodges involve running perpendicular to the line between you and your opponent, maximizing how quickly you move through (or out of) their field of view. They are usually effective against mostly vertical strikes - such as the ones produced by scrolling down on the mouse wheel - and stabs. The basic components of the lateral dodge are:
- Identify the direction of the attack.
- Turn fully to your left or your right.
- Look down to duck your head.
- (usually) Sprint forward for some period of time.
- Keep moving and start a counterattack.
The angle of the attack determines which direction you should move, and whether a simple turn and crouch might substitute for a proper dodge. Always identify what kind of attack is being thrown at you before attempting to dodge. Here is the breakdown for each attack type:
Stabs will usually be pointed directly at you, so you can dodge freely to either side. Stabs that start off to one side of you are dangerous, because this means they will likely cover a wide horizontal arc during their release phase. Consider using another defensive option if this is the case.
A weapon's stabs tend to have shorter release phases than strikes but the same recovery period. This means that you don't have to sprint forward for quite as long after hearing the enemy's grunt, but also that they will start and finish recovery sooner if you're not on top of the opportunity.
Since opponents only have a limited time to correct a stab before its release phase ends, you can sometimes get away with subtler movements.
Notice that I use a stab for my counterattack, which has a chance to chamber the opponent if I mess up and don't move far enough. To prevent chambering when I don't need to (which will allow the opponent to immediately parry), I "hide" my blade by keeping it just to the right of the incoming attack until I am closer and ready to release the counter. Tucking in closer to the opponent also forces them to turn further if they want to hit me.
Overhead Attacks (starting from top-left or top-right)
Overheads start high off the ground but become increasingly hard to duck under as they progress, finishing with the weapon's point close to your feet. You should therefore move toward the side the attack is coming from, where it is at its highest point. Looking downwards while you do so aligns your body parallel to the path of the opponent's weapon, getting your head out of the way sooner.
Underhand Attacks (starting from bottom-left or bottom-right)
Underhands are at their most dangerous as they begin, since they start too low to get under and sweep upwards to catch any jumps. In this case, you should run away from the direction of the strike and give it time to rise above you before it catches up. Again, you should be leaning downwards to duck your head away from the line of attack.
Underhands will usually hit early or not at all, so you have a bit more flexibility to use smaller movements without fear of the opponent adjusting in time.
Note that this is a somewhat riskier dodge since I am uphill from the opponent, meaning their attack starts lower relative to me and becomes harder to duck under. Relative elevation is a great thing to pay attention to as you become more experienced with dodges.
Ducking and Jumping
Ducking and jumping are meant to counter horizontally oriented attacks, which lateral dodges will struggle to avoid. Ducking is the much more common of the two. Remember to be sudden, explosive, and unpredictable. Also make sure to start a counterattack as you perform the dodge - they're good for more than just defense, but your window is small.
The higher you think your opponent is aiming, the more likely ducking is a good idea. It's a prime way to foil that spear trying to headshot you or the zweihander swinging for the bleachers. Your odds of success get much better if you are standing downhill from your opponent (e.g. on Mountain Peak or the staircases of Crossroads).
When performing a duck, it is usually best to lean forward rather than back. Since the camera is at head height but many attacks are aimed at the target's center of mass, most players will be angled slightly downwards during their attacks. As a result, leaning forward will help keep you in the "safe zone" below the opponent's weapon, as demonstrated by this expertly crafted diagram:
The attack angle is exaggerated here for clarity and the real difference is pretty minor, so you can "matrix" backwards to your heart's content if you insist. Leaning back also makes much more sense when you are near the edge of your opponent's range and just need a little extra distance to make their attack miss. This makes it a great complement to proper spacing.
Here is one example of a duck:
As explained in the video, this attack seems to be masked by the opponent's body orientation and probably gets accelerated to catch me by surprise. While dangerous, it should have no chance of hitting me after the first fraction of a second in release phase, leaving me free to counterattack. You might notice that the attack takes my opponent well past me, but following their shadow on the ground helps avoid total confusion once I straighten up. You can't hear it over their banter, but the characteristic "woosh" of a missed weapon swing can be a good indicator of when it's safe to stand up again.
I rarely use jumps since they cost stamina and don't give you enough height to clear most attacks. I have found them useful against "footdrags," overhead attacks which spend most of their time off-target but cut in at the end to hit your feet. These attacks hit with a huge delay, so jumping to raise your feet off the ground is a good last resort if you parry too early and realize your mistake.
Jumping can also present a more favorable hitbox to your opponent than whatever they were aiming at - a horizontal strike to the head becomes a torso hit, and a blow to the torso might hit the legs instead. If your armor is balanced across all three locations, jumping can make for a good damage control when you've messed up a parry and want to trade stamina to potentially save some health.
When to Dodge
One of the hardest parts of dodging effectively is deciding when and when not to do it. You are forced to make a decision and act very quickly if you want a chance of succeeding. Ideally, you should consider not only the attack's angle but also the enemy's weapon speed, body orientation, relative elevation, distance, and tendency to drag/accel. Skilled swing manipulation (drags and accels) is a warning sign of a dangerous opponent who will probably catch most dodges if you do them too early or too often. On the other hand, an accel is a great opportunity to really smoke the opponent, since they won't have much time to realize what you're up to. Keep your moves diverse and try to remove as many unknowns as possible by waiting for or baiting out a certain kind of attack.
Elevation has been discussed in the context of lateral dodges and ducks, but it also plays an important role in spacing. I believe that your horizontal move speed is the same regardless of incline, so you're actually moving through the world faster while going uphill or downhill (same old horizontal speed, plus some vertical). This can cause people on slopes to close distance faster than you might have predicted, so be careful if you're trying to stay out of range.
Staying close to enemy during battle is a trade-off - your angular velocity (how fast you "orbit" the enemy) will be higher, but stabs will reach you faster and you are vulnerable to kicks. Kicks are the antithesis of dodges because they ensure the enemy knows exactly where you will be just before an attack; it would be wise to change your distance fluidly and only attempt dodges suited to your current spacing.
The Stamina Game
Dodging holds an interesting place in the overall meta for fast weapons. At higher levels of play, opponents are less affected by the raw speed of your feints and morphs. The short release phases of quick weapons also curtails how much swing manipulation you can pull off with them. In this scenario, you are constantly fighting an uphill battle, because smaller weapons will lose a straight-up stamina fight 95% of the time. Dodging is a massive equalizer here - you save the stamina that would have been drained parrying, cause the enemy to take a penalty for missing (up to 13 stamina for weapons like the maul) and potentially make them burn even more stamina trying to defend themselves, all while retaking the initiative. It's an inherently risky maneuver, though, so on average you are trading some amount of health away for more stamina.
Many of these dodges require you to temporarily lose sight of the opponent; it could occur that they feint their attack while you have no way of seeing it. If you are mid-dodge and have not heard a grunt by the time you expect, the best course of action is usually to face them and chamber any incoming blow, or attack them if there is none. A simple parry is usually not advisable here. When the enemy sees their first feint did not work, they are much more likely than normal to feint or morph the following attack.
The Last Resort
Finally, dodging is not just an offensive move but a defensive asset. If you parry too early for any reason and are about to be hit, dodging is like a second line of defense.