The melee knife from then to now
Published: July 8 2021
Last updated: September 6 2022
The humble origins of the trusty melee weapon
Melee weapons are always there for you. Often overlooked but never forgotten. Every gamer on earth has a story about a fantastic sneak attack they pulled off because of their melee, or the time they took someone out after running out of ammo because of the humble melee. For me, I remember whooping my sibling at Halo 3 with the energy sword. From the faithful crowbar to an OP argument-inducing sword of light, melee weapons pop up in pretty much every shooter.
The history of the melee weapon in gaming
Much like many things we take for granted in games, the origin lies with tabletop games. More specifically, you guessed it, Dungeons and Dragons. But pre-DnD, in the fantasy world of France, the word “mêlée” meant disorganized hand-to-hand combat. Basically, a confused up-close brawl. Like you might find in a school playground, but more violent.
In relation to gaming, the first mention of “melee” would be in the 1812 tabletop wargame, Kriegsspiel. It's unclear if the original gameplay involved the word, but players would go on to refer to a hand-to-hand combat play as a “melée,” regardless, with other war games following suit. Notably, the ruleset for H.G. Wells' 1913 Little Wars would really popularise the word's usage in tabletop war games.
The 1968 medieval wargame Siege of Bodenburg was given a makeover by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren when they published their modified ruleset, Chainmail, in 1968. This included a mechanic for melee combat. The modified ruleset also included a fantasy supplement that would go on to become Dungeons and Dragons. The popularity of DnD would bring many gaming tropes with it. Melee being one, but did you know the game enemy Slimes originates from DnD? Side quests, character designs, even critical hits, all from a tabletop game back in the '60s! But we're getting off-topic.
The first fps game to include “melee” as a non-ranged attack was the 1992 game Wolfenstein 3D. In it, players could select the knife, as they would a gun. This could then be used in close-range combat. It was riskier to use than a gun, but you were rewarded with higher damage. This set the standard for melee weapons in gaming.
Melee weapons today
It's difficult to think of a game with combat but no melee weapon. From Zelda to PUBG, it carries our gameplay. Here are a few we think are worth an honorable mention.
Crowbar - Half-Life
Can you talk about Half-Life or, in fact, melee weapons without mentioning the iconic crowbar? If you Google Image Search anything related to Half-Life, you'll see this bad boy. It's basically as synonymous with Half-Life as Gordon Freeman. As the first weapon you obtain in the game and the only melee weapon in Half-Life 2, the trusty crowbar will get you through anything. From puzzles to bludgeoning your low-poly enemies with a 'swoosh' and some blood splatter.
Sky-Hook - Bioshock Infinite
The third Bioshock game was revolutionary in gaming for many reasons: paving the way for the “daddy-daughter” genre that would be so popular in the 2010s and playing with the very idea of what it means to play a game. The Sky-Hook was quite the melee weapon. Not only could it maul enemies, but it was also a neat mode of transportation. In the original design, you could totally disembowel enemies. Though nerfed slightly, the Sky-Hook remains not only badass but also a really cool example of a game using its melee as a means to advance gameplay itself.
Frying Pan - PUBG
Not only an iconic joke weapon but also an homage to the very origins of Battle Royale. Being able to one-shot your enemies with the same tool you'd use to make breakfast is really something. It also makes for some funny moments and some excellent community memes. The very existence of the pan references the 2000's film Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル, Batoru Rowaiaru) based on the novel of the same name. In the movie, teenagers are forced to battle to the death with whatever they can find. One character has a pan lid shield. The inclusion of the PUBG frying pan clearly refers to the 'battle with what you can find' nature of Battle Royal, both the film and the game genre that it spawned.
Halo - The Energy Sword, Gravity Hammer, and…your elbow?
Halo is remembered so fondly by so many gamers as a great single-player campaign. But Halo was also the game at the heart of some of the greatest LAN parties ever hosted. With the new, evolved Halo Infinite coming up, the fanbase is as hype as ever, and the franchise shows very little sign of ever slowing down.
The Gravity Hammer is somewhat a melee weapon but also a kickass ranged weapon. Some of the best clips of Halo multiplayer show players being literally thrown around by this crazy mallet. It's pretty iconic. Though, perhaps not as iconic as the Energy Sword. Obviously a rip off of the Lightsaber, but more capable of impaling your friends. If you saw someone with this glowing nightmare, you'd be bolting for the hills. Unless you had a Needler and some balls of steel, of course. The Needler was something else…
But one of the most underrated weapons in so many games is you; not your incredible wits or stunning good looks, but your character's physical self. Many games have a fist or maybe a kick, but a well-placed elbow in Halo is unmatched. The strategy of running at your opponent, blasting your equally matched weapons, and then being the first to elbow that sucker down. Chef's kiss. Master Chief would be proud.
The Master Sword - Legend of Zelda
Looking at any image of Mr. Link will likely show him wielding the Master Sword. To any of you who didn't grow up cool, The Legend of Zelda franchise contains the playable character Link, who has yet to be in a game without his trusty Master Sword. In each chapter of the ever-expanding Zelda universe, the Master Sword plays a role. Not only as an awesome Sword that makes you OP as heck but as a plot device, a callback to the earlier games, a fan favorite. When a new Zelda game is announced, we want to know 2 things: where our favorite characters are and what's new with the Master Sword. A game without it would probably cause mass outrage. Can you imagine the Twitter storm? It's distressing to even think about…
Just how quintessential to the games can a sword be? Well, let's think about some great uses of the Master Sword. In Ocarina of Time, it opens and closes time itself. In Skyward Sword, the Goddess Sword works its way up to becoming the ultimate Master Sword. In the most recent of Link's adventures, Breath of the Wild, Link uses the Master Sword to defeat Ganon and can only obtain it after reaching a certain level of health and solving the mysteries of the Great Hyrule Forest.
Mark 2 Lancer Assault Rifle AKA 'Chainsaw gun' - Gears of War
It might not progress the story or be a significant symbol of the game, but this is an assault rifle with a chainsaw as a bayonet: it kicks major ass. Someone thought, “what's more badass than killing scary mutants with an assault rifle?” and came up with this beast. For that, they deserve a raise. Maybe a million raises just because of how much fun it was to use.
The melee weapon is many things. It's always by your side; it can be either a desperate bid for victory in a messy brawl or a strategic part of your regular play. It can be the key to a level you're stuck on or just a really badass way to kill some aliens or something. Whatever it may be, don't let it be overlooked!
Did we miss your favorite melee weapon? Something that just springs out as the coolest melee weapon of all time? Let us know on our socials! @glootesports! See you there!
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