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Return to Calradia
The war torn land of Calradia has changed in the last couple of years. It may be bigger than before but your struggle to rise to the top and carve out an empire of your own remains much the same. Develop your skills, build an army and dive into fantastic melee battles in this fantasy realm with a medieval feel and a satisfying lack of magic.
Mount & Blade: Warband builds on the original indie game and it works as a standalone title rather than an expansion. Fans of the first release will have no trouble climbing onboard here but there are a few tasty new features to get stuck into. Most notable of all is the inclusion of a multiplayer mode. It may be rough around the edges but Mount & Blade: Warband is a unique experience and it offers up a level of depth and immersion that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.
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Well there are quite a few new features and some of them may come as a surprise. We’ll discuss the big one – multiplayer - later in the review. First let’s take a look at some of the single player improvements.
- The introduction to the game is now much more immersive and stylish as you pick up a mission straight away to assist a local merchant having bandit troubles.
- As a bloodthirsty knight bent on conquest you may think that you wouldn’t have time for love. You’re wrong. You can in fact now romance various damsels, with or without the permission of their family, and woo them with poetry learned from passing musicians. The eventual aim of such relations is to claim a hand in marriage.
- There is an all new faction in the game called the Sarranid Sultanate. Calradia is bigger than you'll remember.
- You can now become ruler of your own faction and convince lords to join you or promote your party members by granting them lands.Yes that's right you can finally become a King.
- There are new weapons, armour and unit types available to add to the already gigantic list of kit. Finally being able to afford the top tier armour and weaponry is great.
- Morale on the battlefield can drop so low that men will rout. If you can catch them in time then skelping fleeing cowards in the back is loads of fun.
- The AI makes more sensible decisions tactically when attacking other factions.
- The various routes to power are varied with diplomacy playing a far larger part that ever before. To strike out on your own you'll need to build up support from discontented lords.
There are also a host of smaller tweaks and additions too numerous to mention but the game is very much recognisable for veterans.
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The gameplay in Mount & Blade: Warband has not changed much. It feels much the same as the original Mount & Blade with a heavy focus on melee combat. No other game makes smashing a bearded enemy in the face with a big axe so much fun. There are all kinds of swords, axes, spears, lances and also bows and crossbows to choose from. Different weapon classes depend on different skills and getting good is a mixture of levelling up your character and just practicing.
The RPG side of the game is much more immersive and has been filled out a little. You still weave your own path and create your own story as you go but the new possibilities make that story much richer. Looting, trading and taking on various missions can all be diverting but the real fun is to be found on the battlefield.
Riding into a crowd of enemies and slashing away is thrilling and you can command your men in battle to ensure you win against far greater numbers. The AI is still pretty basic which is why the multiplayer addition is so welcome.
There are problems with the gameplay at times. Mount & Blade: Warband still features sieges which can be won or lost thanks to poor pathfinding. The couched lance has also been altered and you have to press X to activate it for a short window after which it has a kind of cooldown period. Tournaments where everyone is using lances are a serious chore. To give an example, in a battle where we were all dehorsed, I spent a good half hour fighting two lance wielding idiots who decided to stand so close that I couldn’t actually strike them.
Despite the failures, the feeling of immersion and the ability to carve your own path, make friends, alliances and ultimately build an empire is excellent. You end up investing quite a lot in your character and so it really hurts if you ever taste defeat. The personality of other characters has also been improved and since there are more ways to interact, the feeling of being part of a society is heightened.
To give another example I was wooing Lady Afrid and she told me she was seeing another lord on the side. I demanded his name – Jarl Aeric. Hot headed and jealous I tracked him down and demanded a duel in which it took approximately five seconds to knock him onto his backside. Humbled he agreed to never see Lady Afrid again and called me a heartless bastard. On my next visit Lady Afrid said I had done her no favour running off Jarl Aeric because she really liked him. I felt guilty, now how many games would have you wondering about the potential love affair you may have ruined? In the end I married a different girl but I almost stuck with Afrid simply because I felt evil for having run off her true love.
The complete package offered by Mount & Blade: Warband is so refreshingly different from the majority of games that you simply have to try it.
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The game looks a lot better than the original release and there are some great new animations and models. There is no denying that environments look dated and even with the addition of some lovely special effects this game cannot hope to compete with the latest releases in terms of visuals. Strangely it does manage to hit you with an occasional beautiful scene but for the most part this is not going to impress in the visual department. Don’t let that put you off though. Gameplay is king when it comes to enjoying a game and Mount & Blade: Warband is a lot of fun to play.
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The sound is sparse with some perfectly fitting martial music and good sound effects. Conversations are still conducted in text. The music is really good and it gets stuck in your head after a few hours but never becomes too intrusive. Decent voiceover actors would undoubtedly improve things in this department but text definitely beats poor voiceover actors so it could be worse.
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The big addition for Mount and Blade is the multiplayer. Warband supports up to 64 players on a server all knocking the stuffing out of each other. There are 12 maps to choose from and they’re well suited to multiplayer gameplay. There are also seven multiplayer modes:
- Capture the Flag
- Fight and Destroy
- Team Deathmatch
There’s no option for a multiplayer campaign or co-op play on a campaign map which is understandable but it would have been very nice. What is there is a collection of fairly typical multiplayer modes. The gameplay experience is a bit messy. It is great to fight human opponents and instantly makes for a more interesting battle but people get annoyed easily. In Deathmatch, for example, there was a lot of sneaking up behind people in battle and stabbing them in the back which provoked a debate about enforcing some kind of duel rules.
The fact your single player character can’t be carried over is a bit of a shame. You’ll choose a new character and you get 1000 gold to spend on a loadout. In the Counter Strike tradition you can earn more money to spend on better gear by scoring well in the round. The team based modes work better, as you might expect, but you will need a decent connection to the server or the lag will destroy your gameplay experience. This kind of melee combat needs accurate hit detection and is ruined by lag.
My favourite mode is Battle which is just a fight between two sides where you have only one life. Once you die you can spectate for the rest of the round. This leads to some tactical play and genuine cooperation at times so it is more engaging than the madness of Deathmatch and people are a little more careful because they only have one life.
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This standalone expansion includes tons of new content and it enhances the original release. There is no doubt it represents terrific value for money and you only find this level of creativity and originality from independent game developers. There has already been a patch and there’s no doubt the developer, TaleWorlds, will iron out the few remaining issues pretty quickly.
You should definitely buy Mount & Blade: Warband. Whether you were a fan of the original or it is entirely new to you it has something to offer.
A collection of reviews for Mount and Blade and some of its expansion packs.