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Friday, October 7, 2011

Mount & Blade - a GREAT game

Adventure is the first action/adventure type game I remember playing, and that came out for the Atari 2600 in 1979. I spent hours drawing maps as I worked through Temple of Apshai and thought that 1987’s Dungeon Master was a graphical masterpiece. I used to meet a buddy at the OSU library to play Pool of Radiance, since neither of us had an IBM computer. Long after I stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons with dice and character sheets, I was still playing computer RPGs.  
And that's what computer games
used to look like
(Temple of Apshai)
Adventure's dreaded 'Duck Dragon!'

Mount and Blade, from Taleworlds, is one of the most enjoyable games I have played in those thirty-plus years. It isn't a fantasy based game, but a medieval combat one with some RPG aspects, so you're in the neighborhood. Now, right out of the gate, you have to accept that the graphics are not going to blow you away. If eye candy is important to your gaming experience, this isn't for you. But the graphics are good enough for game play.

On a micro level, WOW! Melee combat is excellent. I played countless hours of NeverWinter Nights and Diablo 1 and 2, so I enjoy point and click games. But you actually have to learn how to fight in M&B: and I don't mean memorizing button combos. Fighting with a weapon (and shield if you choose) actually takes some attention and a bit of thinking. And when your horse gets cut down from underneath you, leaving you surrounded by foes, you'd best have mastered some weapons skills beyond that lance you were using.

Not the face! Not the face!

More enjoyable is the bigger battle. You can separately instruct your cavalry, infantry and archers, so placing your archers on a hill to rain down arrows while the infantry protects them from the front can decide a battle. Your tactics will be significantly impacted by the faction you are drawing your followers from. For example, the Nords are fierce Vikings, the Khergits horse-riding Mongols and the Swadians medieval French with fully armored knights and the like. I've played with all horsemen and also with almost all archers. You have lots of options to mix and match or just be a 'purist' with one faction's troops.

The first time I laid siege to a castle and my troops poured through a gap in the defense, taking control of the ramparts, I knew I'd be hooked for a long time. You fight for the castle, foot by foot. And likewise you can stand atop the walls and repel invaders.

On a macro level: I've seen complaints about M&B being purely a 'sandbox' game: that is, an open-ended game with no storyline or specific quest/goal to achieve. As an avid computer RPGer, I love quest games: both linear and non-. But with a little creativity, M&B can be more than just a sandbox. Create your own goals. Build a company of certain characteristics (i.e. all Nord huscarls). Resolve to capture certain towns and castles, creating a sphere of influence for your faction. Achieve a certain goal with one faction and renounce your loyalty, join another faction and war upon your former liege! M&B gives you the opportunity to accomplish your own goals after you create them. This kind of player creativity is more common to pen and paper RPGs than video games and it's neat to see.

A big bonus is that the modding community is fantastic! I've played a couple different mods and found they can really enhance the basic, 'vanilla' game. It's entirely up to you whether you want to play with a minimal change (like adding additional siege ladders) or complete overhauls (like playing out The Hundred Years War).

If you want a graphically strong game with a well-developed story and clear goals (and I often do), you probably won't like Mount and Blade. But if you want excellent game play with a mix of personal combat and strategy, with the ability to set your own goals, this is the best game out there for you.

I have not yet tried the stand alone sequel, Warband, but I understand you can start your own faction in that game, which would further expand upon the 'set your own goals' aspect.

Dungeon Master skeletons: awesome!