Review: Mount & Blade

M&B_2D_ESRB_lowrez.jpg Given that I am a big PC gaming fan and a lover of role-playing games, it almost naturally flows that I am a fan of small-shop and so-called ‘indie’ developers. Places like SpiderWeb Software have been producing excellent games with massive worlds and sprawling stories – but rudimentary graphics – for many years. So when, what feels like years ago, a small company called TalesWorld offered up a public test version of a game they were developing called Mount & Blade I gave it a shot. It was a rough version, but offered a great early look at an interesting combat system that included the best mounted combat I’d ever seen. Fast forward a couple of years and the game has found a commercial release in both digital and retail formats.

As is true with many ‘indie’ games, the market is fairly narrow. Mount & Blade is a role-playing game, and has a certain fantasy feel, but it is not an epic fantasy game. It is more like a game wrapped around a fairly simple idea: mounted combat that works.

That pretty much defines the game and the appeal. If you have played fantasy role-playing games and wished for mounted combat, this is an easy game to recommend. If you have played games like Two Worlds that offer limited mounted combat and wished that someone would do it right, this is an easy game to recommend. If you love games with detailed action-based combat systems, just get out there and buy this game already!

Technically the game is quite solid – when judged as an ‘indie’ effort. Graphics are reasonably well done, but nothing that will take your breath away in a year of so many games with stunning graphics. But they certainly get the job done – I would put them on par with ‘state of the art’ in 2002 or so. Sounds and music work well – the weapon and combat sounds are appropriate and effective, and the soundtrack stays out of the way while providing some nice atmosphere. Aside from the technical aspects of the graphics, there is the matter of presentation: the constant day / night cycle, the feel of townspeople going about their business, the feeling of the weather impacting your life, and so on. It might not be on par with so-called ‘AAA’ titles, but what Mount & Blade tries to do in terms of immersion it succeeds at quite remarkably.

Starting off, you develop a character by answering a series of questions to determine your strengths. Before starting out you get to review and change the assigned attributes and skills to shape your character just how you want them.

There is not too much of a real story – more a scenario with some settings and character setups for you to fill in. The formerly united kingdom has splintered and you have plenty to do… you need to work for many different Lords, deal with bands of villains, and perhaps pledge yourself to a king. You get some pretty wide open choices. And while there isn’t much of a compelling narrative to tie yourself to, what all of this freedom does is provide loads of replayability.

Because there are so many factions battling for supremacy, you can set yourself up as a good or evil character or simply a mercenary, and role-play your way through the game without the developers’ pre-determined notions stopping you. Unfortunately, while there are many paths and a near infinite number of quests, they are mostly random quests selected from a fairly limited template.

However, do not for a second think that you are going to be rolling around the countryside one-hit dropping dragons as I was by the end of Two Worlds; you are a skilled warrior, but you are not a one-person wrecking crew. You will need to find and recruit many warriors to fill out your band throughout the game, and they won’t all make it home. This provides an excellent balance and depth to the game – rather than just maxing out your sword-fighting skills and mowing a path of destruction, you need to hone your skills and complement them with a solid group of adventurers in order to succeed.

There is no multiplayer, which many find as a shortcoming; but the many ways you can approach quests and character development and the overall faction system just lends itself to such a huge amount of replayability within the single player game that I think it was a wise choice to focus on doing a single thing well rather than multiple things less proficiently.

As I said from the start, 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. There is a constant stream of updates and improvements, making every aspect of the game feel fresh. One of the best things about a game like this is that there is a generous demo too – so if you have a fairly modern PC just give it a try!

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

Cons:
- Lack of compelling story
- Graphics lack variety
- Indistinct soundtrack

Game Info:
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Taleworlds
Release Date: 9/16/08
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

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!