First-person melee combat ain't an easy thing to pull off in a video game. Anyone who's played an Elder Scrolls game—from Arena to Skyrim—knows what I'm talking about.

In Skyrim, the less you see, the better things look. It's one of the reasons I suggested playing with a shield—the combat feels punchier if you can't see how disconnected it actually is.

But that's mostly cosmetic—janky first-person combat is passable in a single-player game, but what about a competitive multiplayer game? Skyrim's combat system is far too imprecise to ever work in multiplayer, where fairness and balance are paramount. And that, indie developer Torn Banner Studios is hoping, is where Chivalry: Medieval Warfare comes in.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is based on a popular Half-Life 2 mod Age of Chivalry. Medieval Warfare is a brand-new game built on the Unreal engine (as opposed to Half-Life's Source engine). They've been working on it for a little while, and the game should be finished sometime this year.

I met with Torn Banner president Steve Piggott and lead level designer Justin Pappas last week at the Game Developers Conference to talk about the game. So of course, the first thing I asked was, "I've played a lot of Skyrim. How is this different?"

Piggott answered by explaining their detailed hit-detection system, which you can see running in the video here. It sounds very cool. Each blade has a unique vector that it traces as it slices, and the mouse allows players to arc and redirect their attacks mid-swing. As a result, swords can bounce off of one another, and the game's three main attacks can be tweaked and adjusted on the fly. Swordplay will be fast and responsive, and will be tracked across multiplayer servers to keep everything fair and good-looking.

Medieval Warfare's maps are designed around objective-based play (though there are also other traditional FPS game-modes). There are 6-8 different campaigns, which play out over 2-3 maps apiece. For example, attacking soldiers will first have to to breach a castle's walls, then fight their way up to through courtyards, before finally killing a king to win. There are four main classes: Archers do as you'd expect, using bows and arrows to kill at range. Men-at-arms are the harassment unit, and are fast on their feet and lightly armored. The Vanguard have a deadly lunge attack, and use long-ranged pikes to keep enemies at a distance. Knights are heavily armored and slow-moving, and are basically an armored tank.

Everything Piggott described sounded pretty cool to me—in his words, the intensity of having to get in close with your foes will make for an intimate, exhilarating experience. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare doesn't have an exact release date yet, but it is nearly complete and should be out sometime in 2012.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare [Official Site]