To call Mount and Blade a big game would be an understatement. To call it a ridiculously huge RPG would be closer to the truth. This is a game that throws you into the deep end of a mysterious, medieval world and makes you fight to survive. But be under no illusions; this is not a game about magic and dragons. No, this game is about realistically modeled medieval fighting, with arguably the best horseback fighting yet seen in a game. This is a game about rpg-style choices, and almost limitless opportunities to save or destroy. However, it’s almost too big and boundary-less.
It’s also, easily one of the ugliest games to come out in 2008.
There are two modes in Mount and Blade; quick battle or campaign. The quick battles are a good place to get used to the kind of combat that you will probably never have experienced in a game before. Battles can be played from a first or third-person perspective, but are far better played from the latter. There are several different classes of weapons in the game, and you can play around with all of them; single handed swords, two handed swords, single and two handed axes, crossbows, bows, javelins, scythes, throwing knives and more. I could go on about all the different weapons for pages and pages, but that is a sample of the kinds of weapons you get to play with. Different situations require different weapons. For example, if you happen to be defending against a castle assault, you will find a crossbow and long scythe very useful. If you are on horseback charging into battle across an open plain, a large axe and javelin will be a practical combination. You have an inventory, and can only carry so many items at one time. This means that you can’t just tool up Rambo style and fancy yourself as a one man army. Armour is another main feature of the campaign. You can get armour for your feet, legs, torso & arms, hands and head. They all give different amounts of protection to different areas of the body. They can also weigh you down and reduce your running speed, so it’s worth keeping tabs on all that plate armour you’re wearing. Like the weapons, there is a whole assortment of armour you can choose from.
Buying weapons, food, armour, books, selling slaves, starting wars and besieging castles are just some of the things you can do in Mount and Blade. You can choose to be a (relatively) peaceful traveller, or a warmongering brigand. However, it’s a huge shame that most people will put the game high up on a dusty shelf before they get to experience these great parts of the game. That’s because when you start up a new campaign, you choose a few options to decide who your father was, what kind of personality you have and what profession you had. Then, you are plonked right into the middle of a huge country, with rivers, mountains, forests and plains. The only icon representing your character is a rather low-res image of a dude on a horse. From here you can direct your little man around this campaign map in real time, going into villages and cities, or just exploring the rather unpleasant looking map.
This game is definitely not one for first impressions. Expect to be running around, doing mindless, repetitive tasks for villages and noblemen like rounding up cattle, or chasing away bandits for at least the first few in-game ‘days’. It’s so very easy to think that the game has nothing more to offer than this. However, things start to pick up after a bit of exploration. As there is no actual storyline (you make your own), you can then choose to assimilate a small army, and join forces with one faction in this world. There are 4 main factions, and each have various alliances and rivalries with each other (however, you can make or break these alliances as you please!). Joining up with these factions is great fun, as you can then start earning money, get bigger armies, and go crusading for your king. Later on in the game, your leader might even grant you your own village to manage.
The graphics, as previously mentioned, are a little fugly to say the least. The campaign map looks like it came from a drawing by a 7 year old. I mean, just look at the rivers. Just look at them! The real time battles, while a lot of fun, also lack much shine. Characters look blocky, and while animations are smooth, nothing has much detail. There is an expansion pack coming out soon which is supposed to sport nice buffed up graphics, but its too little too late, really.
Anyhow, the gameplay in the battles is magnificent. Physics have been extremely well modelled, so when you swoop along on you stallion at pace while slicing with your great axe, the game will give you a speed bonus. When you kill a man’s horse while he is riding it, the horse topples over, sending its rider flying. It’s a hugely satisfying moment to use your crossbow to get a headshot from distance as well. It’s these moments that make you forget about the unnecessarily large and less well designed gameplay features. Melee combat while un-mounted is very well done too. Don’t just expect to be able to slash through enemies like a very well armoured knife through axe-wielding butter. You have to block just before they make the hit in order to successfully parry, and if you use a two handed weapon to block, ie without the use of a shield, the parry animations looks super.
The sound in Mount and Blade is nothing memorable. Expect standard classical musical scores and general bland. There isn’t much in the way of war cries or anything like that, but there is a mod which amplifies the sound of men dying…which could be interesting.
All in all, Mount and Blade is a huge game worth revisiting over and over again. There is a ton of stuff to do, and I haven’t even scratched the surface in this review. Yes the graphics are nothing to look at, but the gameplay, especially the battles, is very well done. A great action-orientated RPG.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Massive, open ended gameplay, fantastic physics-based combat, the best horse combat seen in any game
Graphics could be 5 years old, takes a while to get into, quests often involve monotonous tasks
Mount and Blade is a huge game worth revisiting over and over again. The graphics are nothing to look at, but the gameplay, especially the battles, is very well done.