I’m not going to mince my words, Mount and Blade: Warband is no spring chicken. The original Mount and Blade released all the way back in 2007 (which feels eons ago) and Warband, the standalone expansion released in 2010 (these dates are making me feel a bit old now). Mount and Blade: Warband definitely shows its age; if it were a woman Mount and Blade: Warband would be an aged old shield maiden where years of turmoil have left her face wrinkled and she has trouble with stairs. But beneath the cracks and wrinkles beats the courageous heart of a warrior.
Looks aren’t everything and despite the muddy textures, low polygon counts on characters and menus that look very outdated, Mount and Blade: Warband is an awful lot of fun to play. The Mount and Blade series has always prided itself on two main things, an open sandbox world for players to do whatever they want in, and brutal, solid medieval combat mechanics. In these respects Mount and Blade: Warband definitely delivers, and so it’s wonderful that it has finally come to consoles.
Graphics aside Mount and Blade: Warband has an incredible amount of gameplay mechanics going on under the hood. The meat is of course in the combat, with the mechanics feeling meaty, visceral and just generally great. There’s more to combat than just hacking away at opponents until there’s nothing left; there’s a considerable amount to strategy when it comes to swordplay.
For example, each type of weapon deals different kinds of damage at different ranges and speeds, and are more useful in certain situations. A lance or a spear can be deadly if used correctly from a horse going at full gallop. The direction you swing from, the speed in which you move into the cut (and away) and the speed in which you turn into your strike all affect where the blow lands and the damage you do. With most weapons you can strike from four angles – left, right, overhead and a thrust – if you combine a strike from the left side and turn or move to the right your weapon will hit faster and harder, thus increasing the amount of damage you can do. You control the direction of attacks, and blocks, by shifting the camera in time with your attacks. It takes a little time to get used to and a lot longer to master, but eventually you can maximise the damage done in a single swing.
Blocking functions in a similar way, although if you use a shield it blocks the majority of your front. They can be broken if they soak up too much damage, although there is an automatic option for the direction to block. I found it more fun to have to manually direct my blocks to the appropriate side though. Blocking is just as important as attacking, as players can’t soak up damage like in other games, especially at the start of a game, and knowing when to go on the defensive or even retreat is key to staying alive.
All these little tricks and mechanics give the combat a more tactical and timed feel to them rather than hacking blindly at opponents. Combat becomes a rather intricate dance of death, with strikes, feints, blocks and parries all bouncing of each other. However, this doesn’t detract from the brutality of combat. The blows feel and sound heavy, and landing a two-handed hammer on someones face makes an almighty ‘thunk’ that makes you feel sorry for the poor bugger.
There is also plenty to choose from when it comes to weapons, with one-handed, two-handed and polearms ready for melee combat. Ranged weapons like bows, crossbows and thrown weapons for ranged attacking, as well as some weapons which could double up as multiple classes like axes that can be used in one hand or thrown. All the weapons have their place, with different pros and cons to each class and individual weapon. Polearms can do some serious damage from horseback while a one-handed sword and a shield can defend and make a few quick jabs at enemies. Players have four slots for weapons so they can mix and match whatever they fancy.
This all plays into Mount & Blade: Warband’s idea of choice, as players are able to choose the sex and appearance of their character, as well as some of their backstory. This not only changes the skills and weapon proficiencies but can also change any NPC’s attitude towards them. Women weren’t seen as equals in medieval society and so starting as a peasant women can lead to a lot of lords giving you abuse. There’s lots of choice in what players want to do, whether it is working your way up to being a lord or a king, being a bandit or playing as a free mercenary, players can do whatever they please. More than this there is a massive overworld filled with castles, towns and cities, each is unique and explorable form the markets to the tavern.
Tons of unique NPCs populate the expansive world, from lords to ladies, with each belonging to one of five factions, again with its own unique culture, architecture, armour and weapons styles and units.
There are also heavy RPG elements in place with an emphasis on player choice, with players having attributes such as strength, agility or charisma which all lead on to skills. The skills are varied and benefit different ways to play, from increasing accuracy on horseback to leadership which means you can have more followers in your army. There’s plenty to choose from depending on your playstyle.
While the game can start off slow it’s more important to not bite off more than you can chew. Taking on more guys or even less, but better trained, enemies can leave you getting defeated very easily. Slowly building your relationships with factions and lords, levelling up enough to get a big army and lots of useful skills, means you can face any challenge put in your way.
From sieging castles, looking after any fiefs (a town or castle you own or have been granted), to raising a massive army and stomping on anyone who gets in your way, there’s plenty to do and an expansive world to explore in Mount & Blade: Warband. A satisfying combat system always feels fresh and there’s also a multiplayer component with a large mix of different game modes to play to keep you occupied both on and offline.
For only £15 it’s a bargain that contains dozens of hours of fun.