At first glance Mount and Blade: Warband may look like nothing more than your average indie game, set against the all too often used medieval backdrop. Like it’s predecessor Mount and Blade, Mount and Blade: Warband (referred to as Warband) is a stand-alone game that blends bits and pieces of several popular genres including elements of RPG, simulation, and sandbox-type gameplay with touches of strategy and kingdom management thrown in for good measure. However, at the very heart of this game lies an open-world medieval playground that may very well steal a hundred hours from your life.
You begin your adventure in the land of Calradia (a kingdom torn asunder by constant warfare amongst it’s five factions) and what you choose to do will help to shape that kingdom around you. Whether you decide to become a mercenary for the King of a faction, build an army and take the kingdoms by force, or become the rich merchant peddling your wares across the land, Warband gives you unlimited choice and complete control over the intricate workings of the kingdom.
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC (Microsoft Windows)
Players: Single Player, Multi Player
Genre: Action-RPG, Strategy Simulation
Release Date: (NA) March 30th 2010
Release Price: Steam – $29.99 USD
Upon loading up a new game you are given choices in regards to your background, heritage and gender which are determined through a series of chosen responses to specific questions. These choices make only minor differences in terms of gameplay and affect only a few points of your starting stats and skills, which work much the same way as your average RPG. The option to customize your new heroes facial features, name and your starting stats and skills are also included, so whether you want to be a bald-headed, broadsword-wielding barbarian or swift archer raining down arrows in to oncoming cavalry, you’re given that choice almost immediately.
Gameplay is split in to two different sections: the kingdom map and menus, or combat. The map is a real-time representation of where you and all the lords, peasants and bandits are at the present time. When not on the move the map is paused, allowing you to contemplate where to go next, however a simple left click on the location you want to move to and the game unpauses allowing everyone to continue moving freely until you reach your destination. The inventory can be accessed on the map screen and is basic, but can sometimes be a pain to navigate, as the use of big icons and clunky controls can make moving items around harder than it needs to be. Other menus, including the notes section, offer a broad range of details on lords, ladies and basic history of Calradia. Overall, while they can be awkward to use, the menus are straight forward and it doesn’t take long to get used to switching items quickly or working your way around the map.
Included on the map are cities and villages and, once you arrive at any of these, you’re given the option to buy supplies to feed or outfit yourself and your units, enter tournaments and speak to lords or ladies. Guildmasters and elders can also be spoken to within towns and cities, and they offer quests ranging from training peasants to defend themselves against bandits to hunting down an outlaw for a bounty. Doing these quests can often net you a few coins and a nice reputation boost with the city or town. Most importantly, however, this is where you recruit your men. Clicking the “Recruit Volunteers” button gives you the option of hiring some untrained farmers for your warband, who then follow you in to battle against your enemies and gain themselves experience which can be used to upgrade them in to more advanced troops.
Where the Mount and Blade series truly comes alive is in its combat system. Rather than simply “button mashing” your left mouse button to swing your sword, you move your mouse in the direction you want to attack. Moving it right with a left click would cause your character to swing from his right, while moving the mouse down would have you thrust your sword in a low stab. The same applies for blocking. The AI also makes full use of the combat system with soldiers having the same defensive and offensive capabilities that you have. Matching your blocking to your enemies swing can take quite a bit to get used to and, even with the tutorial offered from the main menu, can be quite tricky to master, however if you find it too difficult, or simply annoying, you can switch it off and make it completely automated by adjusting the settings in the options menu.
For those more inclined towards battling it out with other players, TaleWorlds has included a multiplayer component. The combat in multi-player is much the same as what takes place in the single player battles, although fighting against enemies that aren’t AI controlled allows for a much greater use of tactics. At the start of each round you are given an amount of denars, the games fictional currency, with which to buy your items. Once equipped, you’re pitted against your opponents in a number of different game modes ranging from deathmatch to capture the flag with up to 64 players.
Like any game out there, Warband does have its faults. As mentioned earlier, both the user interface and lack of tutorial can sometimes become overly frustrating, especially to those just starting out fresh with no prior experience in the Mount and Blade universe. It can also become quickly repetitive, especially towards mid-game, and some may find this repetition to be tedious. However, this can be rectified easily by the incredibly vast modding community who continue to make leaps and bounds in pushing the boundaries of gameplay, graphics, or even complete overhauls of the entire game which can offer a refreshing feeling.
Overall, this second offering in to the world of Mount and Blade is a welcome change to the otherwise fairly generic hack-and-slash dominated RPG spawn. Whether it’s micromanaging and leading your troops in to battle within the open-world realm of the singleplayer game, or the glory of semi-realistic medieval combat with others from around the world in multi-player, Mount and Blade: Warband offers the ability to become that fabled lord or lady, in a world that is entirely yours to dominate.
8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.