Mount And Blade: Warband

Hey guys. Today we’re covering a medieval warfare/strategy game from Taleworlds Entertainment and Paradox Interactive.

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In M&B, the player creates their character, and is set loose in Calradia, a land of warring nations. In theory, the ultimate goal is to rise to a position of power in this world. In practice, the game only ends when you retire, where your deeds and such are tallied to give a final score and your adventurer’s ultimate fate. Personally, I haven’t reached the point where I would want to do this, in spite of a couple hundred hours of play.

The progression is typical RPG fare with a side of troop management. Recruit guys, fight with those guys to beat up other guys. Keep the good equipment they drop and sell the rest. Use the money to upgrade your guys, get more of them, or buy even better equipment. And while the game is titled “Mount and Blade”, you don’t have to be the walking tank on horseback if you don’t want to. Archery, swords, lances… anything available to the NPC soldiers can be used yourself. Heck, you can sink all your points into non-combat stats such as Charisma and Persuasion, and rely on companions and troops to do the heavy lifting in battle.

Speaking of which, the companions are a nice touch. You’ll find them strewn about in taverns throughout the land, looking for work. Each has their own back-story, strengths, and other companions that they clash with due to differences in ideology or what-have-you. They also have contacts that can inform on the factions, and ways to help convince Calradia that you are the best candidate to rule the land.

Observe, the only guy smart enough to realize all these different troops should be used together.

Observe, the only guy smart enough to realize all these different troops should be used together.

The combat system is easy to pick up, and fairly intuitive. Mouse 1 will ready a strike with your equipped weapon, and you can change the angle of your attack by moving the camera. Blocking works similarly and stops all damage, so this isn’t Oblivion/Skyrim style “trade whacks with the enemy until someone drops.” Momentum can lend more force to attacks, or steal it away, and weapons like spears can’t deal their maximum damage if you’re up in your opponent’s face, encouraging proper timing. However, once battles pass the size of about 30 combatants per side, the melee gets messy, especially if you have a chokepoint like a bridge of a siege ladder. There really isn’t any strategy at that point beyond grabbing the biggest two-handed weapon you can find, and swinging it around until you die or the enemy is beaten back.

Additionally, you may give orders to your troops while in combat. There are a lot of options, but I got by on “Order troops to the top of the nearest hill, put infantry ten paces ahead of the archers.”

Sometimes the hills look funny, though.

Sometimes the hills look funny, though.

Now, while the combat is fun, it’s only a slice of the game. This is overall a strategic game, and you’d do well to remember that. You can fight off armies for days, but unless you start thinking outside of the next battle you won’t make much progress in the war. You can befriend the villages dotting the landscape, which gives you steady access to new troops and supplies, no matter where you operate. You can do favors for the lords of the land, then use that to convince them to listen to your plan or stop attacking or to help broker peace between factions. These are generally done through quests, or saving their bacon from attackers. While the quests aren’t anything ground-breaking (fetch/delivery quests, kill roving bandits, tail this spy), they are a change of pace, often sending you to the other side of Calradia to complete them. It helps to be reminded that this is a decently-sized world.

There are several factions, each with distinctive styles. For example, the Swadians are what most people think of when medieval warfare is brought up: heavily armored knights, with crossbows for support fire. Then you’ve got the Rhodoks, who out-tank every other faction but struggle to actually kill enemies with their unwieldy spears and poleaxes. Then there’s the infantry-based Nords, and so on. The weaknesses of each group are the logical results of their preferences in combat, like the Khergits being able to harass enemies for days thanks to all their troops being on horseback, but they have difficulty in sieges where, as infantry units, even their elites are only average.

M&B can be intimidating for newcomers, because there is a great deal a player can do. The tutorial helps somewhat, but there’s just too much that the player will have to figure out or look up. Personally, I appreciated the variety of options once I understood them, but it took a certain amount of time invested. You can also notch down the difficulty in various ways to ease yourself in. You can make you and your men take less damage, make the AI less clever in terms of tactics, or cut down on the number of troops that can be deployed at once in a battle. It’s also great for feeling like a complete badass, and who doesn’t love that?

The graphics… well. I suppose you can’t have battles of 100+ troops and have everyone look like a pretty princess, and this did start as an indie game, so I won’t judge Taleworlds too harshly for it. The battlegrounds and troops are at least colorful, and the designs of armor and weapons look quite authentic.

They can be hard to appreciate at times like this, however.

They can be hard to appreciate at times like this, however.

If you want to mow down some defenseless infantry with an heavily armored horse (or any other combination), Mount and Blade: Warband can be found on Steam for about $20.

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