RPG Index: Single player Role Playing Games

Friday, 5 July 2013

Mount & Blade: Warband

If you're looking for Warband mods, try Floris or Pendor, they are the biggest and best available.

I have yet to play a better kingdom building game than Mount & Blade. No other title can really provide the same satisfaction of starting out a campaign alone and penniless, forming your own band of mercenaries, rising in power until you're ready to try for the throne. Sure, other games try to create this experience, but none of them do it as well as Warband. As far as single player titles go, this one's top quality bueno.

An intense melee brawl in Mount and Blade
Things can get a little crazy when the melee starts.

Genre: Action, Third-person, RPG, Strategy
Release Date: 30th March, 2010
Platforms: PC
Score without mods: 7/10
Score with mods: 9/10
Similar Titles: Total War, Chivalry, War of the Roses

Mount and Blade: Warband is the sequel to the original Mount and Blade. It hasn't changed much, it's the same game with buffed up features and some polish. It's not nearly as polished or pretty as it should be, in fact it still feels like a game in beta. Which is why it's strange that Warband is still one of the best games I've ever played.

A night battle in Warband
Taking a hill gives you a pretty overpowered advantage.

There are two sides to Warband. The campaign map and the battlefield. Most of your time will be spent on the map, traveling from city to city looking for quests and enemies to fight. However, once you make a little progress you'll be repelling armies left and right. There is zero story whatsoever, so don't expect any until you start piling on some mods. The battlefield is the fun part of Warband. When the fight begins, you can command your soldiers around the field at the same time as controlling your character. It's essentially third-person action, combined with real-time strategy. It's a great feeling, sending your infantry into the fray whilst charging alongside your cavalry into the flank. It's far more satisfying being in the combat instead of watching it from above.

The overworld campaign map in Mount and Blade
The overworld map isn't particularly pretty, but then again neither is the rest of the game.

Warband's combat really is something special. You can make use of various weapon types, including swords, crossbows, lances and even stones. Each weapon has limited functionality, so it's quite a hard decision to decide whether to keep that two-handed claymore for sweeping past people on horseback, or trade it in for a bow so you can nail enemies from afar. Moreover, dealing damage is directly related to physics. For example, if you're running at full speed on a horse and land a blow on somebody, they are going to take twice as much damage as they would if you were stationary. You can swing in 4 different directions, and if you swing in the right direction with your momentum, it will do significantly more damage. This is a unique feature that brings a new element of strategy to battle.

Upon starting your new character, fresh with your own backstory, Warband drops you into the lands of Calradia. From the beginning of the game, you are free to do whatever you want. You can try to besiege a castle at level one, if being hit by 40 arrows in the face is something on your list of things to do. Typically it's a good idea to kick off your campaign by recruiting a few peasants and searching for bandits to get early weapons and cash. Completing quests for villages and lords lands you reputation points and money, both of which become important as you progress. Once you have trained your men into competent swordsmen and archers, you become a formidable band of mercenaries prepared to fight some of the larger forces on the map.

A siege battle in the snow from the game Mount and Blade
Castle sieges can be really difficult with limited ladders to attack from.

The reason Mount & Blade: Warband is so addictive is because you can choose your route to power. If you want to become a peaceful diplomatic, you can help villages prosper by helping them with bandits and buying them grain. Then you can invest that money into various enterprises to turn a profit every week. Eventually you can join a faction and fight for them, with enough reputation your king might even reward you with a castle or city. Or, you can take the quick route to power. Loot and burn villages, ambush lords and ransom them for money. Take a castle for yourself and establish your own rogue kingdom. This is a fast way to piss off all the factions, but if you're prepared to fight them off you can create your own utopia; recruit your own lords to patrol your lands and manage your finances.

Rolling around the map outmaneuvering armies twice your size and crushing them feels like an entire game in itself. However, when you start conquering provinces and owning lands- it becomes a whole different ballgame. Suddenly you're posed with questions of state, who to appoint as a leader, how many troops to leave in the garrison, and even building upgrades to improve your cities and villages. Instead of going from country to country, you're posed with defending your lands all while keeping your own army strong and formidable enough to counter any threats.

Training peasant villages in Mount and Blade: Warband
Training peasants consists of beating them unconscious until they get stronger.

Even though Warband is definitely better than most of the medieval war games I've had the misfortune of playing, it's still inherently flawed and feels unfinished. Sometimes attacks glitch and miss or hit when they shouldn't have, and walking up hills slows your units down far more than it should. There aren't many quests and they are a chore to complete, which often makes it difficult to farm reputation with a village or person that you want on your side. It's possible to romance lords and ladies of the opposite sex, but it's time consuming and lacks benefit. Although all these features seem hastily tacked on it's justifiable due to the massive branches of options and mechanics in Warband. Even more so considering it was created by a small indie company. With a higher budget and a bigger team, there's absolutely no limit to how high the Mount & Blade franchise could reach.

When I take a step back and look at the overall composition of Warband, it's nothing less than fantastic. There are dozens of cities and keeps owned by different factions, all with their own economy. With some memory and a little perseverance, you can make money by transporting the right goods from town to town. Lords recruit armies and trawl across the map, picking off bandits and fighting their enemies. Over the space of a couple of months in game time, factions go to war and try to conquer territory. If you're not careful, you can indirectly help a faction by defeating their enemies, and then they will spiral out of control and take half the map. Dozens of companions can be found in taverns, who level up just like your main character. You can even throw some epic gear their way, if you want them to be a monstrous killing machine. My point being, every individual feature of Mount & Blade: Warband needs work, polish or an overhaul. However, when all those single pieces come together as a whole; it forms a beautiful game worthy of every fanatic collection.

Fighting in a tournament, Warband
Tournaments are a good way to rack up some cash, if you win anyway.

What's funny is, this is all just the core Warband game. You still don't know about the best part. Mods. Mount & Blade has one of the finest modding communities in existence, rivaling that of the Elder Scrolls and Total War. From small to complete overhaul, if there's something you want- you can find it. You can change the size of battles, add in story elements and even monsters. You can download packs with dozens of new units, or even entirely new maps. Don't like playing games with sub-par graphics? Download some HD textures and voila! Pretty. There are overhaul packs that make Warband feel like an entirely new game.

It's gotten to the point where I physically cannot stand playing the core Mount & Blade. It's a brilliant game, but it reaches near perfect with some of the mods you can download. If you're looking for an overhaul to make Warband so much more; try Floris or Prophecy of Pendor.

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