Mount & Blade Review (PC)

People often forget about the Indie gaming scene. Just because a company isn't Creative Assembly or EA, doesn't mean the games made by these small time developers aren't quality titles in their own right. Turkish-based TaleWorld's début game Mount & Blade is one such quality title. Set in a fictional fantasy realm that refreshingly lacks the trade mark elf or magic, the game has you and your character start from a humble beginning until you decide the fate of kingdoms... Sort of. Whilst one can become pretty influential in the game, for reasons only the developer knows, there's no way to actually become King or anything, but you can get pretty close.

One of the good things about Mount & Blade is that it doesn't conform completely to stereotyped genres - it tries something new for change. The dominant traits are action (with the combat) and role-playing (with the character development and interaction). There are also elements of strategy and simulation when it comes to the world map, as your character can be granted land to own, as well as taking it off your enemies. The basic story is in place – the world of Caladria is inhabited by 5 kingdoms, all of which who claim to be the successors of an ancient empire. You start out as a mercenary, and your main job is to fight, recruit an army, earn renown, and eventually pick a side. An entire game can probably be played without formally picking a side, but you'll probably end up annoying every other kingdom so much that none but one will hire you anyway.

The world of Mount & Blade is split into two parts: the world map, and the combat maps. The World Map is where you will spend most of your time. The player's party is represented by an avatar on the screen, and navigation of the area is all in real time (although you can pause whenever you want, or whenever you're not moving). The world map itself is completely dynamic – parties of bandits, farmers, trade caravans and enemy armies will roam the world, and players will often run into these other groups whether they like it or not. Towns, Villages and Castles are also represented on the map, and one can travel between them at will.

Combat mode is entered when someone decides to fight another person or party. A lot of the time there's a choice whether to fight all not, but in a lot of cases you will also find yourself being forced into conflict whether you're ready for it or not, so beware. The maps themselves are randomly generated based on its location on the world map. Fighting a Duel or in a Tournament? Then a roughly spherical arena shall be your battleground, or have you just been ambushed by bandits in the mountains? Then expect steep hills and not a lot of room to manoeuvre. The maps really do help flesh out the combat element of the game, as at one moment you could be leading a cavalry charge in a grassy field, to fighting for your life in a rocky knoll or a narrow ravine.

Its fresh take on RPG combat is one of great things about Mount & Blade, and is definitely one of the better feats of innovation to grace a PC game. Their take on Cavalry combat especially adds a sense of gritty realism to the game as you struggle with mouse and keyboard to aim that perfect decapitating strike. (Although, unfortunately, no heads literally roll in this game.) The whole combat element as a whole is probably the best part of the game, but only in the sense that it's the most complete. As well as fighting atop a horse, the player can dismount and join the ranks and utilise a number of weapons from bows and crossbows, to swords, axes and spears. There's a sense of epic-ness that comes with the combat mode, whether it be just against a small band of looters, or an entire army against another in an all versus all brawl. It probably boils down to the potential effect each player can have on any given battle. Master your blade technique and you could be feeling your enemies left, right and centre, single handedly driving a wedge through your opponent’s lines like you were Brad Pitt assaulting Troy.

Combat isn't just limited to open spaces either – fighting can take place in town, village or castle. Whilst villages cannot be taken over as such, when looting one, or helping a village fight off bandits, then the village itself will become the battleground. Towns and Castles can be besieged and assaulted using siege towers and ladders. There's a lot here to entertain when it comes to combat, and same again when it comes to the world map.

Unfortunately, as good as Mount & Blade is, it's far from perfect. While there is a combat tutorial, after character creation you are pretty much thrown into the game at the deep end, with not so much a hint or even a direction by which to start with. There are several neutral 'Training Grounds' with which the character is randomly assigned to start one, but due to the difficulty of playing the game without any help, you often find yourself just hiring yourself out to the nearest kingdom to begin. This slightly steep learning curve and the lack direction can often lead players to get bored, and if it weren't for the decent combat system, you probably would. The other major problem ironically comes after experience, this is the realisation that the game never ends.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it also means that nothing happens fast. Levelling up the right attributes to control larger armies takes a lot of time, and earning enough renown and favour to earn the right to control more then one castle at a time also takes time. By around day 400, you've probably done everything you can in the game, bar perhaps starting a civil war and owning or capturing a large town. One could argue that these things are something to ultimately aim for but most people only have so much patience. The later stages of Mount & Blade are also unfortunately a lot like gambling – when you make a mistake, it could literally cost you everything from your possessions and companions, to your army and castle. Having to start from virtually scratch can be very frustrating, and getting everything back isn't exactly a walk in the park either.

There is unfortunately a fair bit of wasted potential in this game, but that's not to say that Mount & Blade isn't good. For those who are more into the 'Indie' PC Gaming scene, then this is probably one of the better titles out there. Even those who are more a general PC game, this is well worth the try. Its fresh and dynamic view on medieval gameplay, as well as the fantasy setting (minus the clichéd elves and magic) make it a true gem. Unfortunately, at the end of the day this game is a diamond in the rough that sadly has too much rough in some places.

Top Games Moment:
Defending your castle against an army over 3 times the size of yours.

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By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Dec 16, 2008
Personally I consider this game to be an incredible achievement in modern age of games. because it proves that a group of enthusiasts can actually make an simple yet very enjoyable fully fledged game that brings pure joy from good concept and it's realization and not from million dolar's worth of graphic effects...
By AceofSpades (SI Member) on Dec 16, 2008
Mount & Blade is a well made game, fun to play there are a lot more things they could have done with it but it is still a good game
By Knave (SI Core) on Dec 19, 2008
I really love playing this game, despite the flaws and the wasted potential.

There is a very active mod community which adds a lot of extra gameplay features. And I think it's on sale right now at Gamersgate.

Try the demo, it's full featured with a level cap of 7 so you get a taste of the stle.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 20, 2008
Mount and Blade is one of the greatest revelations in recent times. It has an incredible, immense atmosphere, really sucks you in.
However, I found the final version actually more unstable than the several betas, one should definitely go for a patch!