Ok, I got bored of waiting. So it's week 29!
I got married last week.
After several months of wooing and a cart-load of dowry gold, the girl’s old man finally consented to permitting me his daughter’s hand in marriage. As a wedding gift, the king granted me leadership of his armies and a considerable wage, asking only that I continue my fight against the treacherous Swadians.
Within a week, my army was gone. I’d dashed them to pieces against the defences of Shariz, leaving our kingdom without defence. The king had revoked my position as lord of his armies and installed his favourite, a big-moustached ponce I’d duelled in the past and who, as a result, was not particularly on the friendliest of terms with me. All in all, a busy week in Mount and Blade Warband.
TaleWorld Games first began the Mount and Blade series back in 2008. Graphically basic, it was the innovative melee combat system that drew players to its banner. Unlike the majority of contemporary fantasies, swordplay was not limited to bashing the attack button. Instead, players have full control over the direction of their swing, choosing between overhead strikes, horizontal sweeps and stabs to best their opponent. Similarly, blocking is not automatic, but players must raise their shield to deflect in the direction of incoming swings. Combat in Mount and Blade requires finesse and skill, or at the very least stabbing someone in the back while they’re looking the other way. But most of all, you can do it from the back of a horse.
No. I have no idea who is winning either.
Few games capture the real essence of the chaos of a medieval battlefield, but Mound and Blade does exactly that. Swords clash with a tumultuous racket, and the arrows constantly peppering the field mean instant death is a constant threat. Add to that the dozens of men on horseback circling the battlefield, and you’ll have a rough idea of the utter chaos that is Mount and Blade.
Whilst there are games that have a real excitement in making a perfect headshot, it is all the more thrilling to watch your arrow arc perfectly across the battlefield and strike home in a foe, knowing that it was your skill in calculating the trajectory that made it possible. I have often found myself in tense stand-offs with enemy archers, both of us attempting to out-think one another in predicting just where the other will pop up next.
Oh, it was us apparently. Hoozah!
Multiplayer is an interesting environment. New players will often gravitate towards the archer class as it is more familiar to those versed in first-person shooter mechanics, and easier to score cheap kills. As a result, the battlefields are often littered with inexperienced archers. This is however not a detriment to the experience; their mere presence fills the battlefield with life, introducing a tension to siege warfare where you cannot predict whether the archer drawing a bead on you is a mere novice, or a master at his class.
The more experienced soldiers who have many hours under their belt will soon begin to specialise in their own close combat styles. The sheer number of lightly armoured archers in play mean that a skilled close combat player will be able to slice a trail of devastation through their ranks, presumably laughing maniacally whilst he does it.
The singleplayer is a radically different experience. On a huge overworld map, politics and intrigue combine in a Machiavellian fight for the throne of Caldaria. Your part in this world is completely down to you. Do you join one side or another in an attempt to swing the balance in favour of one of the competing cultures, do you play bandit and loot the various caravans that trundle across the landscape, or do you forget about it all and fight in the arena for scraps? On the battlefield however, the knowledge that the outcome of the fight may impact the thrust of the war itself brings a tension to proceedings.
This guy doesn't like me. I think he just wants his arrows back.
I have joined the helplessly outnumbered defenders against sieges worthy of Helm’s Deep, knowing victory is an impossibility. I have leapt a line of infantry on horseback and driven my sword into their commanders back. I have loosed an arrow into the eye of a heavily armoured cavalryman mere seconds before he charged me down. You can keep your Call Of Duty, I’m having far more fun poking people in the eye with a pointed stick.
Whilst Mount and Blade, Fire and Sword has recently been released to mixed reception, Warband remains the firm favourite of players and modders alike. The modding community has developed a plethora of exciting variations on the medieval theme. My personal favourite is a Napoleonic mod that drops you into the midst of riflemen and musket bearing infantry. Cowboys and indians, samurai, even fantasy have had similar treatments by a knowledgeable community.
Inevitably, Mount and Blade dwells in a niche market. It will never achieve millions of fans worldwide, nor will it make the Turkish Taleworld Games the most successful developer on the planet. But what it is, is unique. If every shooter clone on the market was as fresh and as innovative as Mount and Blade, there would be a lot of happy gamers out there.
(Written for Contains Moderate Peril 25-10-11)
Thought it was about time we started this Game Club up again, so took the initiative.
Mount and Blade is awesome, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. £19.99 on Steam is quite a price to drop on a game you might not enjoy, but amazingly, a very generous demo is available that allows you to play the single player to level 7. If you've never tried it, seriously, give it a go. You'll be hooked within an hour or so.