I should preface this review with the stipulation that I absolutely adore the original Mount & Blade. It provided a unique hands-off style of story telling not seen in modern games. Rather than handing the player a narrative to follow, M&B gave gamers the tools to make their own narratives. The only other game I’ve seen do this is Sid Meier’s Pirates!. That being said, let me say that I love Mount & Blade: Warband.
For those of you who missed out on the first game, allow me to explain the basic premise. The M&B games are medieval action/adventure titles mixed with RPG elements and a dash of real-time strategy. You start off as a lone soldier, equipped with basic armor, weapons and a horse. From here you are free to do anything you want. You can go to local villages and raise a militia, fight off bandits and brigands, or go to a city and fight in tournaments.
As the game progresses, you will be forced to raise an army (otherwise you’ll just be overwhelmed on the battlefield). A cool feature of M&B is that all the units you recruit gain experience and level up. This allows you to customize your army. For example, in my party I utilize cavalry charges and archers. By carefully leveling up my soldiers I am able to achieve a small, but effective fighting force.
The one draw back to raising an army is that you have to pay your soldiers. Luckily M&B gives gamers plenty of options when it comes to making money. Some of these options include: traveling from town to town selling goods like a merchant, looting and plundering villages, capturing enemy forces and selling them into slavery, and collecting taxes from land you own.
As you begin to raise an army, you will undoubtedly draw the attention of one of the several kingdoms in the land. You can either remain a mercenary unbound to any allegiance but money, or you can side with one of the kingdoms, running errands for the king, going on campaigns to reclaim land, etc.
One of the coolest features of M&B is that you can siege castles and gain territory for yourself. Once you gain land, you are able to upgrade the castles and villages you own, resulting in higher taxes (paid to you) and more eager recruits.
The game essentially functions on two levels: the travel map and the battlefield. On the travel map you are presented with a map of the world. You are free to move about wherever you want. If you come into contact with another army you will be presented some dialogue options. You can either be friendly to them, establishing important alliances, or you can be a jerk and charge into battle.
If you go the battle route, you will be taken to the battlefield. From here you are given a 3rd person point of view of your character. By using the command menu you can order your troops to take up certain formations, charge the enemy, etc. In a way, the battlefield functions similarly to the Total War series of games, except you actually get to control your character.
Battles offer gamers a wide variety of options and strategies. There are essentially three types of units: infantry, archers, and cavalry. Infantry and great for clogging cavalry charges, allowing your archers to pick off the horsemen. Archers are weak in melee combat, but are effective at causing panic and forcing infantry to spread out. As a line of infantry spreads out, this allows cavalry to charge freely, utilizing their mobility to knock down enemy units.
One cool feature of M&B is that melee attacks do increased damage the faster you’re going. For example, if I’m standing still and swing a sword, it will take three or four hits to bring an enemy down. However, if I’m charging full speed on my horse, one swing will make heads roll.
Some of you may be thinking, “I thought this was a review of Mount & Blade: Warband, not the original.” Well, to be honest Warband doesn’t change that much of the original game. Although it is being marketed as a full on sequel, Warband only adds small changes like the ability to marry into families which add more political options, the ability to raid bandit camps, new weapons, updated graphics, and multiplayer.
While the addition of multiplayer is a major feature, there just doesn’t seem to be a strong community behind it. While working on this review, I tried to play multiplayer almost every night. When I would get to the server selection screen, there would only be around 10 to 15 servers with people playing in them, which is a shame considering how much fun a game is when you have a full server.
The best part about Warband‘s multiplayer is the wide variety of game modes to choose from. There is everything from classic Deathmatch to a counter-strike like mode called Fight and Destroy. My favorite game mode is called ‘Siege’. Here the game is split into two teams, one defending a castle, the other trying to get in. Nothing is more fun that having 64 people in a server all vying for control of a castle though the use of ladders, battering rams, and siege towers.
Regardless of the game type, multiplayer plays out like a mix of Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2; the game is split up into rounds, you receive gold for getting kills and winning the round, you can spend gold on upgrading your weapons and armor, there are three classes to choose from (infantry, archer, cavalry), etc..
If you are having trouble finding a multiplayer game don’t fret. There is a custom battle option where you can play different scenarios with customizable armies. Think of it like a skirmish mode from the Command & Conquer series. To be honest I found this more enjoyable than multiplayer games because I was able to command my army and was not forced to rely on other people for a coordinated attack.
Another thing worth discussing about Warband is the mod community. Both the original Mount & Blade and Warband have an extremely dedicated mod community that offer a wide variety of gameplay changes. I’ve seen everything from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars mods. It takes a little research to filter out the generic crap , but when you find a good mod, man is it good.
Mount & Blade: Warband is a fantastic game that deserves at least a look from every gamer. It is an ambitious project that offers a unique style of play that is unseen in modern games. If you haven’t checked out the original Mount & Blade, go ahead and skip it. Just pick up Warband and you’ll have a great time.
If you already have Mount & Blade and are not captivated by the prospect of multiplayer, I’d say skip it. There aren’t enough differences to warrant a $30 price tag.
Even though Warband boasts updated graphics, it still looks like it was made in 2004.
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Mount & Blade: Warband is a fantastic Medieval war sim, RPG and strategy game all rolled into one.
The music is appropriately epic with lutes and horns. Some of the voice acting is embarrassing if you have significant others around.
With almost endless options and unlimited re-playability, you will definitely get your $30 worth.
If you haven't played the original Mount & Blade, go a head and pick up Warband. If you already have M&B, you may want to skip it.