Medieval mounted combat and a kingdom to conquer. Sounds like the perfect Sunday afternoon.
During recent years, it could be said that my PC gaming has been slightly over shadowed by the consoles. There is something about playing on the big screen that has made it more appealing than sitting in front of my monitor. But in the past couple of weeks, I have found my love of the simple PC game reignited by some of the truly magnificent games that I have been playing. A couple of small, casual games were the first to pull me back and keep me playing, even though my reviews were finished. Then there was the amazing Settlers 7, a game that I can honestly say that I love and hate in equal proportions. Finally there is this unassuming game called Mount & Blade: Warband, which provided me with a fair few unexpected surprises. Am I really comparing the playability of this game to Settlers 7?
Mount & Blade: Warband, from Paradox Interactive, has an intriguing concept that instantly appealed to me. Within a medieval setting, the player must travel the land and run errands for the local Lords, whilst building an army of mercenaries large enough to eventually take control of the whole game world. For some reason, this appealed to the power monger within me. This was not the only thing that grabbed my attention, mind you. The game also promised me multiplayer battles with up to 64 other players, across modes such as deathmatch and capture the flag, and these battles could all be enjoyed from horseback. Mounted medieval online multiplayer combat. That is something new that I have not really seen before and I must admit that it really appealed to me.
Now, I have never had the opportunity to play the first game, Mount & Blade, so i cannot make comparisons and talk about how much the game has advanced. However, I have heard that the game has been improved graphically, although the mechanics of the game seem to be largely untouched, at least in the single player mode. This is just what I have heard though, and cannot promise this to be the case.
In fact, if graphical improvements have been made, I can’t help but wonder how bad the first game was. Upon starting the game, all of my expectations were dashed as I looked upon graphics that can only be called disappointing. The 3D element is blocky and your character moves awkwardly and looks positively ugly. The textures are bland and lifeless, although maybe in keeping with the medieval world. The map view that is used in the single player campaign is even more uninspiring, with a little horse sprite representing your band as you travel across vast areas from one settlement to the next. To look at, the game is not what I was expecting.
Then I started to play. You begin as a single warrior in this war torn land and need to build up your own army of hardy warriors that will follow you against insurmountable odds. Travel from settlement to settlement, hiring locals to join your cause, and running errands to keep the cash flowing. Manage to do a few favours for a local Lord and your reputation will grow.
Mount & Blade: Warband is a game that the player will need to invest a vast amount of time in. To build an army of any worth, and start taking on entire kingdoms, the player will need to have the means to pay his troops, aswell as equip and train them. Getting this kind of cash involves doing some pretty heavy missions, and that means having a decent army. You see the dilemma. The player needs to start slowly and not simply hire every peasant that they come across. I found this out the hard way, as I simply did not have enough money to pay all of my troops. Pick fights with small groups of bandits or take on transporting missions to get the cash rolling in.
The combat encounter all play out in real time, with the opposing forces being transported to a battlefield. As you make your way across the terrain, the enemy will come running towards you. Think of it like a less tactical Total War game, in which you actually get to participate. From the back of your horse, charge the enemy and hack away with your sword, or stay at arms length and use your crossbow, whilst watching your troops get stuck in.
Should you lose the battle, your character will be captured and have to begin again from scratch. Victory, however, will give numerous rewards. Firstly, should the conflict be part of a mission, the player will receive there bounty. Secondly, all of the opposing armies weapons and armour can be harvested and either used for equipping your troops, or sold for food and cash. Thirdly, both you and your band of merry men gain experience, allowing you to level your character up and make them more powerful, and also improve your guys. With experience, even the lowly peasants that joined your band can become hardened veteran warriors. But remember that improving your troops also increases their cost, so watch your outgoings.
As the game progresses, you become more powerful and your army grows. You can then take on entire castles, in glorious siege battles, expand your own kingdom, tax your villagers and even get married. The road to the throne is a long and arduous one, but certainly well worth the investment of time.
But it has to be said that the most of the excitement surrounding this title seems to revolve around the online multiplayer modes. With up to 64 players, these battles can become quite the experience.
With a handful of different modes that should be easily recognisable to most players of online games, there is something for everyone. The game follows a simple format of earning gold and improving equipment, before heading back in to battle and earning more gold. Combat from horseback takes a little getting used to, but allows for some exhilarating encounters.
Mount & Blade: Warband is a game that really does not look good. But, if you can look beyond the uninspiring graphics, beneath that is a game that will simply take over your life. With its long lasting and involving campaign, and incredibly fun multiplayer modes, Mount & Blade: Warband will provide hours and hours of entertainment.
Mount & Blade: Warband is available from GamersGate