Mount & Blade – Warband
was originally released back in 2010 as a stand-alone expansion pack to the PC title Mount & Blade
. Six years later, TaleWorlds has ported the title to current generation consoles giving a new audience the chance to conquer Calradia, but has this been a worthwhile endeavour?
Even when it was first released, Mount & Blade - Warband
was not the best looking of games, Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
, a game that pre-dated it by five years, had a greater variety of landscapes, bigger textures, and higher poly-count models. In the six years since its original release, the graphics engine hasn't received any form of an overhaul either. The World map is bland and devoid of any real landmarks besides trees and settlements. Towns all have similar layouts and all share the same repetitive textures, while NPCs share a pool of around 10 different faces making you wonder if the world is filled with clones or if everyone has very close family ties. With graphical snobbery aside, Mount & Blade
has a lot more on offer.
Your first hurdle to overcome is the lengthy character creation process that begins with a series of multiple choice questions about your childhood and upbringing. This gives your character some depth, but it merely affects how certain lords regard you early on, as well as assigning your starting skills and stats. Choosing to be the child of an impoverished Lord might give you a slightly easier time at the beginning, while female characters have it harder in the largely male-dominated time-period.
After establishing you character's back-story, there is very little plot. However, Calradia is a realistic depiction of a fictional medieval world, meaning that everything is grounded in reality; there's no magic or monsters to be found anywhere. Instead of trying to defeat some great demonic threat, Mount & Blade: Warband's ultimate goal is to bring the world together under your banner. This will be a long and arduous process, of course, as you start your journey as an unknown newcomer to the land.
As the game begins, you arrive in a village in your chosen starting area that is under attack from a local brigand. Once safe, you are approached by a man seeking your help in freeing his brother. This short introduction teaches you a few of the basics, such as navigating the world and recruiting soldiers to join your cause. Once these introductory missions are out of the way, you are kicked out of the door with just the clothes on your back and a few coins to your name as you begin your journey to claim the throne of Calradia. How you go about this is left completely up to you, and the game doesn't guide you in any way whatsoever.
The learning curve is almost vertical to begin with and requires more than a little trial and error in order to get to grips with the game's various mechanics. There is a lot to do in Calradia, but a lot of wandering is needed to discover much of it. Visiting nearby villages lets you recruit villagers into your growing army and buy general supplies. Defeating bandits will help you to raise your renown and assisting Lords in combat will help to increase your standing with them so that they will pay you some sort of notice.
In order to know what is going on in the wider world, you need to do a lot of research in the bland menus that are better suited to a mouse than they are a controller. It is within these menus that you will find which of the world's factions are at war, where specific characters were last seen and which Lords control the various settlements that are strewn across the world. The menus are overwhelming at first glance and searching through a database the size of the Encyclopaedia Britannica may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but it is a necessary evil in order to keep track of all of the political turmoil.
As you and your Warband gain reputation throughout the world, you may be asked to work for one of the Lords as a mercenary or earn enough renown to join the nobility yourself. With your own vassalage, you'll be granted your own fief of land as well as a town that can be improved to increase the amount of tax that you will receive from it, allowing you to better outfit yourself and pay for the upkeep of your men. With this new-found level of authority, you can wage war on behalf of your king, plunder and capture towns and begin to bring the world under a single rule.
Another benefit of joining the nobility is the chance to marry into one of Calradia's noble families. Marriage is not the only way to rise in power and stature, but it does provide players with another avenue of progression. Unfortunately, the process of earning a lady's hand isn't much more complicated than visiting her on a few occasions and fighting off other interested parties with a simple one-on-one duel. You would expect the other interested party to feel begrudged by you stealing his possible bride to be, but the ramifications never boil down to much more than losing some reputation, which can easily be fixed by doing a few jobs for him.
Combat is Mount & Blade
's strongest feature and it forces players to think about their attacks tactically. It can feel sluggish and cumbersome at times with hits not seeming to register, but it feels satisfying to come away from a fight with nary a scratch. Battles are all about reading an enemies attacks and blocking with the left trigger to parry at the right time. When their guard is down, then you need to counter-attack with the right trigger. Wildly mashing at the attack button will leave you open to counter-attacks, too, something of which the enemy AI has absolutely no qualms with taking advantage.
As the title suggests, Mount & Blade
is about more than just swords and axes; combat on Horseback also features heavily and has a completely different feel to regular melee combat. Running headlong into enemies will often bring your mount to a sudden halt leaving it defenceless and often quickly surrounded. As with most Calvary units, flanking your enemies blind-side is often your best option before retreating and coming back for another attack. Mount & Blade
features multiplayer for up to 32 players across a host of different modes, focusing purely on the game's combat. Alongside the regular deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag variants to which most of us are accustomed, there are a few more specialised modes. Conquest, for example, tasks teams to capture and hold key locations on the map, while Siege mode challenges one team to capture the inside of a castle while the other team attempts to hold them off.
No matter the mode, the player first chooses between two factions, then one of three troop types: ranged archer, infantry, or cavalry. Much like in games like Counterstrike
, starting equipment can be purchased and equipment must be bought after every death. Additional money is earned by defeating opponents and completing objectives. As with the campaign, combat in multiplayer is both slow and methodical, requiring the use of tactics and coordination. Rushing off on your own is likely to lead to a quick death, putting your team at a distinct disadvantage.
There is a total of 56 achievements up for grabs that encompass the different aspects of the title. Many of the achievements are linked to the number of enemies defeated or towns captured. Some are of a more political nature, such as being chosen as a Marshall, getting married or attaining a -50 relationship with a lord, village, or faction. Several of the achievements also have a counterpart for completing the same tasks as a female -- due to their lesser standing in medieval society, these may prove more difficult to obtain. There are also a number of achievements that are linked to the game's multiplayer, such as successfully defending a castle in siege battle mode, or defeating certain numbers of opponents using specific weapon types.
Mount & Blade: Warband features some innovative ideas that many other games in the genre haven't explored. The focus on the political nature of warring countries as well as the actual combat gives players multiple ways to play. It is unfortunate that many of these features are left largely unexplained, though, and they require more than a small amount of trial and error to figure out exactly how to proceed. The steep learning curve and low production values may put many people off, although its open-endedness offers players far more replayability than many other games in the genre.
- Extensive open sandbox
- Realistic medieval combat
- Huge amount of replayability
- Graphics not up to current-gen expectations
- Steep learning curve
- Low variety in quests
The reviewer spent about 14 hours recruiting soldiers, building his reputation and attempting to woo a lady. He earned 10 of the game's 56 achievements. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.