Mount & Blade: Warband (Xbox One Review)
The clashing of steel on steel has never really been that satisfying or even that well showcased in medieval games. However, there are few exceptions. Back in 2007 a little title called Mount & Blade tried to rectify this by going for all out realism within a medieval setting. Employing large scale wars between governing nations, political bouts of courts and kings, economic ventures of trading and everything in between. Due to this medieval sim being well received it soon got an expansion titled Mount & Blade: Warband. Introducing new features such as courtship, new factions and an online multiplayer component. It simply improved upon a praise worthy recipe, but does this “realistic” medieval times simulator hold up as the new age of gaming is flourishing?
The “create your own adventure” games are usually divisive in terms of reception. A simple coin flip between a good or bad experience, a tolerable story that you can mold yourself or one would benefit from some attention from the developers. Having to create your own story rather than have one set out before you is a magnificent incentive for players to jump in and experience a story like no one else’s. And for the most part, induces a sense of immersion that narrative focused games fail to capture. Mount & Blade: Warband presents an appealing “create your own adventure” story where the objective of achieving “King” or “Queen” status through multiple means: War, Political, Economic and Financial growth. All of which have their own demands, be it through growing a large army to fend for yourself or gaining political favours with Earls and Jarls alike. Unfortunately, regardless of the path you choose, everything feels disconnected. Raising an army is simple as recruiting farmers for your cause, but battling can only commence once you have reason to attack someone or have invested enough time in your own political campaign to gain favour with neighbouring kingdoms. Forcing players to go down particular paths and engage in political disputes that they would rather avoid; ones which are incredibly dull as you’d guess given the nature of politics.
Even if you were bureaucratically minded, you’d still have a hard time getting anywhere as most conversations seemingly lead to dead ends. Completing a quest won’t necessarily tie in to any other quest and you’ll often need to venture for another avenue of exploit within the land of Calradia. With no concise way to achieve your end goal, players will most likely be wandering around aimlessly trying to instigate friendships or incite rivalries in hopes to further Mount & Blade’s “story”.
Though taking up a career in politics is all good and well, it’s certainly a less entertaining way of reaching the lofty status of King/Queen. Conquering neighbouring kingdoms and “reigning” havoc over the poor villagers within, is slightly more tempting and engaging. After all, what good is a medieval simulator without a little bloodshed? Combat feels calculated, every swing of your sword and every pull of your bow feels cogent. Having only a finite amount of health and numerous enemies to fend off, a good defense and knowing when to strike will see you overcome most challenges. Taking a backseat and firing from afar with a crossbow or bow and actually hitting a target can feel like an accomplishment in itself. There’s nothing quite like throwing a “Hail Mary” in a sea of bad guys and getting a headshot, not to mention the feeling when you achieve the perfect shot on horseback.
The way Mount & Blade’s A.I. works is far from stringent, often running in straight lines and hurling themselves towards the pointy end of their enemies spears. There are very few tactics in the way of full fledged combat. Enemies will often spam the same attack until the person in front of them is dead; especially when facing the player. More times than not if you are the last soldier alive the the enemy battalion will surround you like a hungry pack of seagulls feasting on a large box McDonald’s chips. No escape from the fray and no point in fighting back.
Traveling Calradia is not what you would expect, unlike most open world games in which players have full control over their characters, Mount & Blade offers a point and click substitute to the original RPG formula. The feel ends up akin to an RTS game, choosing a location to travel too and watching as your character moves their using the games poor path finding techniques. Landscapes are barren with a few sporadic villages and castles, none of which are that interesting to explore. Simple designed huts and houses leave little to the imagination and with no interactive objects, such as looting or even entering households, the idea of immersion becomes a bit less lucid. Text prompts are you main means of interacting with pretty much anything in Mount & Blade: Warband. Pillaging villages and laying siege to castles are all done via watching the in game clock. Choose to attack a farm and watch as time passes while you literally sit back and watch nothing happen, while Mount & Blade generates a response saying if you are successful or not. This dissociation from interactivity really pulls you away from the world of Mount & Blade and makes it feel more like a text adventure than a compelling medieval simulator where you can partake in everything medieval.
That’s not to say that Mount & Blade is a complete write off. Battles are still captivating, regardless of their scale, and the world continues to spin as you continue your adventure – ensuring there is always things happening in the background of Mount & Blade’s in world society.
One thing players might not be able to wrap their heads around are the outdated graphics. Character models are near enough block forms of the humans they are supposed to represent. Structures, like taverns and castles, are grey-ish piles of brick (actually pretty accurate) but fail to give any real depth the structures themselves. And even though the graphical detail is laughable by today’s standards it doesn’t really pull away from the experience of Mount & Blade as a whole. As long as you go into Mount & Blade: Warband with an open mind and understand that this is much older game than you’d initially think, then it’s still a fairly good and encompassing jaunt through the medieval era.
Finally, we move onto the Mount & Blade: Warband’s newest feature, the online multiplayer. Unfortunately I may need to be short and concise as my total exposure to the online community and its players was nada. There was no one other than myself exploring the nexus of Mount & Blade: Warbands servers. Netting myself a few wins against the CPU controlled opponents which were just as intelligent as their singleplayer counterpart, running head first into one another like blind lemmings. Game modes range from simple deathmatch to the more complex conquest mode, in which teams must hold points on the map to claim victory. The most interesting of the lot being Siege, a one-sided competitive game mode where one team attacks a castle being defended by the opposing team. Again, unfortunately I was unable to participate as some game modes require human players to be a cohesive part of the experience as I assume the A.I. is too dumb to interact with mode specific objectives.
Overall Mount & Blade: Warband is an astute medieval simulator that does well in its attempts to mimic a compelling medieval world to “experience” in one way or another, be it in battle or political nature. However, Mount & Blade: Warband fails to garner the immersion that it tries to accomplish. The detached world map takes the player out of this immersion by swapping the free roaming style of gameplay for a less compelling and more controllable form of point and click interactivity. Mount & Blade’s lack of graphical prowess doesn’t say much for it, but doesn’t detract from the core gameplay either, a moot point so to speak; differing from player to player. Mount & Blade: Warband certainly won’t be a game for everyone with many glaring problems at its core. I can’t speak for historical accuracy, I can barely remember what happened last week, but Mount & Blade: Warband certainly sets up a believable world full of characters that all have their own purpose and life to live out.
If you are a fanatic for old era titles such as this and others like Chivalry: Medieval Warfare then you’ll feel right at home. However, if you are someone who bathes in the next generation of gaming and is anticipating the next big release, then you won’t find anything to whet your appetite here. It’s about time we let history, be history.