Guest Author - James Shea
A redesign of the original "Mount&Blade", "Warband" includes graphical and gameplay overhauls to attract a new audience to a good, but troubled, product. Combining intense medieval combat with politics, economics, and courtship, "Warband" provides a full spectrum of possibilities for gamers.
The game takes place on a peninsula divided into six countries: Swadia (European knights), Rhodok (European peasants), Nords (Vikings), Khergit (Mongols), Vaergirs (Russians), and Sarranid (Saracens). The game's world is one of chivalry and lords, and warfare between these five countries is intermittent and legalized. The player starts as a new adventurer in this land, choosing from a variety of backgrounds and motivations. The character can be male or female, and while this choice doesn't affect stats and skills it does have some bearing on political choices and courtship.
Like "Sid Meier's Pirates!", the game's progression is largely up to the player; they can become a mercenary, a bandit, a trader, or a lord. There is essentially a large open-world environment, and the player is just part of it. Lords amass armies and attack enemy castles, caravans travel from city to city, and brigands gather in force to attack settlements and travelers. The game largely feels like it is alive even without the player being there to cause things. The player still has an opportunity to leave their mark on the world, though; they can start as a lowly commoner and work their way up to be a lord, a marshal, or even a king.
The main focus of the game is on combat, though. Soldiers can be recruited from friendly villages, and gain experience by fighting or training. They can then be upgraded for a small fee (to cover their equipment). Their advancement depends on where they're from - Swadian soldiers can become men-at-arms or knights, Nords soldiers can become warriors or archers, and so on. In battle, soldiers are commanded by the AI, but can be issued simple orders. They're basically reliable enough that battles won't be lost due to their stupidity or getting stuck on an object, which is nice.
Melee combat is "directional" - by moving the mouse, players can attack either as a sideways slash (left-to-right / right-to-left), an overhead slash, or a thrust. The weapon needs room to swing, as well; for example, trying to slash with a weapon in tight quarters will result in the character's arm not having room to move and the attack failing. Shields are important, as well, since they're the only thing that's capable of stopping an arrow or crossbow bolt. Mount&Blade's combat, therefore, has a more "common sense" bend to it. Still, it's sometimes difficult to judge depth, which is important due to the reach of weapons and so on. This is especially true of fighting on horseback, when it's often difficult to tell if your weapon will hit or if you're at a bad angle to try and swing at someone.
Politics play a large role in Mount&Blade, as well. By aiding nobles or helping them with their problems, a character can ingratiate themselves into a nation's upper class. This can result in lands, allies, and royal favor. Characters can also marry into noble families through courtship - reciting poems, dedicating tournament victories, and so on. Nobles and ladies have different personalities, as well. Some nobles will think it chivalrous to let an enemy lord go, while others will think that it is weak or soft-hearted. Some ladies will be pleased by sappy love poems, while others will prefer more realistic or serious stories.
There is a multiplayer mode in Warband consisting of short skirmishes. These can be either open-field battles or sieges, with each of the two sides being a given country. Players can choose between being a horseman, an infantryman, or an archer (though the Mongol-esque Khergits replace the horseman and archer with a lancer and mounted archer, respectively). The mode is relatively fun, although somewhat shallow.
The game's graphics are decent enough - a significant improvement over the low-budget original's, at any rate. The art (used for loading screens, event announcements, and so on) is top-rate, and the design overall is down-to-earth and realistic. Weapons and armor are actual historical types of weapons and armor, rather than arbitrarily designed fantasy stuff. The sound is acceptable, but the music and sound effects get repetitive pretty quickly. Still, it's never really bad enough to detract from the gameplay.
Overall, "Warband" is a good game to sink time into. The main issues with it are how long everything takes - from traveling on the world map to completing battles, "Warband" is a major investment of time to get even the simplest things done. However, it's an immersive, free-form game that allows players to do almost anything they can think of doing in its setting, and that might be enough to overcome its smaller problems.
We bought this game with our own money from Steam.