Review: Mount & Blade: Warband

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When I reviewed Mount & Blade at the end of 2008, I said “the target audience for Mount & Blade is rather small, but for that group of gamers it scratches an itch that has been around for years, and does so in a very satisfying way. The game provides hours of fun, and an experience that doesn’t get stale.” Fast forward 18 months to the standalone expansion Warband, and we find that everything has been improved yet the overall experience is somewhat diminished. How does THAT work? Read on and find out!

Because Warband is more of a ‘reconfiguring’ of the original than a real sequel, I will do more of a ‘delta’ review, looking at what has changed and how it has impacted the overall experience. For more specific details, check out my original review.

Mount & Blade: Warband is a funny sort of a game. It is an expansion to a game that really wasn’t a standalone story-based title, so in that way it is more like an add-on similar to what they do with MMOs. At the same time it is a fully-formed standalone game, so I guess I’d call it more of an adjunct release or perhaps even a reboot. Yeah, reboot – because once you play Warband you will never need to play the original Mount & Blade again.

Why does it matter? Well, it is STILL Mount & Blade, meaning it still has the best mounted combat gameplay ever. The combat systems have been tweaked and new animations added, but nothing has been done to hurt the overall excellent feel of combat, particularly mounted. It is better in all ways – from the beginning with single combat to the large scale mounted battles. It remains the best combat simulator for fantasy action combat games, and makes every other game – including the new RPG ArcaniA: Gothic 4 – feel clunky.

The rest of the combat system has also been tweaked and is a definite improvement over the original, but the changes are relatively minor and do not include any real changes to the skill tree or other abilities to augment the game. And the majority of the new content aside from the new story focuses on higher level players, so if you had played the original but never dug that deep this will feel like a very shallow update indeed.

It is also STILL Mount & Blade, meaning that the graphics are still distinctly chunky and the overall feel remains an ‘indie’ product. The interface is still laborious and unoptimized, actions require too much thought to execute, and everything aside from combat simply feels generic. It is all functional, sure, but it is readily apparent that the focus is entirely on delivering solid combat. And while that is a success, there is a feeling that by now we should be getting a bit more.

I complained before about the lack of multiplayer, and that is where the majority of effort has gone. You can now take your characters into battle with or against others, which is a great way to open up the experience. Sadly, the shortcomings in the interface carry into multiplayer as well, making it clunky and frustrating until you are actually playing. Also, multiplayer more than anything else reminded me that while the game touts ‘skill-based combat’, too often it is my twitch skill rather than the time spent developing my character that will determine success.

Since Mount & Blade: Warband launched, the price has dropped and there have been multiple sales. I have played it time and again – and the great thing is that Taleworlds is relentless in their improvements and tweaks, so the game they delivered six months ago has become much more refined. But it still feels like a big compromise – you get multiplayer, some tweaks and improvements to the gameplay … but largely it feels like a half-hearted effort, like a real standalone follow-up should have delivered more. Especially for those who bought but never spent too much time with the original – they have been largely left behind, needing to pay again and not seeing the benefit of the new content for quite a while. It is a really good game for what it does, but you really have to ask yourself “is this what I want in a game”? If so, buy without question. Otherwise … skip it without regret.

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Pros:
+ Excellent mounted combat
+ Solid combat system in general
+ Immersive environments
+ Budget Price

Cons:
– Story still not very compelling
– Graphics lack variety
– Indistinct soundtrack

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Taleworlds
Release Date: 03/30/10
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-64
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!