PC Game Review: Mount & Blade: Warband

When I reviewed Mount & Blade at the end of 2008, I said “the target audience for Mount & Blade is rather small, but for that group of gamers it scratches an itch that has been around for years, and does so in a very satisfying way. The game provides hours of fun, and an experience that doesn’t get stale.” Fast forward 18 months to the stand-alone expansion Warband, and we find that everything has been improved yet the overall experience is diminished. How does THAT work? Read on and find out!

The Hype:
Mount & Blade: Warband is the eagerly anticipated standalone expansion to the original PC role-playing game (RPG), Mount & Blade. Revolving around true-to-life medieval combat, action in Warband utilizes realistic mounted combat and era specific weapons and armor, not magic. It also features a detailed fighting system, user generated content and mods, the ability to command units in single player and multiplayer, up to 64-player support online and multiple online multiplayer modes.

* A mod friendly gameplay environment where players can introduce all manner of original content that allows for the altering of character appearance, advanced customization, differing rule/game types and more.
* A standalone expansion game set in the medieval centric Mount & Blade universe that does not require the original game in the series.
* Engrossing RPG play in single player mode that enables players to fight their way, by themselves or with AI companions, through medieval battle fields and environments to become king by their own hand.
* Large-scale multiplayer battles with up to 64 players. Multiplayer modes include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Conquest, Battle, and Siege.
* State-of-the-art rendering technologies combine with a more informative interface, allowing new and advanced players alike to enjoy an unprecedented level of immersion.

The Reality:
Because Warband is more of a ‘reconfiguring’ of the original than a real sequel, I will do more of a ‘delta’ review, looking at what has changed and how it has impacted the overall experience. For more specific details, check out my original review.

Mount & Blade Warband is a funny sort of a game. It is an expansion to a game that really wasn’t a stand-alone story-based title, so in that way it is more like an add-on similar to what they do with MMO’s. At the same time it is a fully-formed stand-alone game, so I guess I’d call it more of an adjunct release or perhaps even a reboot. Yeah, reboot – because once you play Warband you will never play the original Mount & Blade again.

Why does it matter? Well, it is STILL Mount & Blade, meaning it still has the best mounted combat gameplay ever. The combat systems have been tweaked and new animations added, but nothing has been done to hurt the overall excellent feel of combat, particularly mounted. It is better in all ways – from the beginning with single combat to the large scale ounted battles. It remains the best combat simulator for fantasy action combat games, and makes every other game – including the recent ArcaniA: Gothic 4 demo – feel clunky.

The rest of the combat system has also been tweaked and is a definite improvement over the original, but the changes are relatively minor and do not include any real changes to the skill tree or other abilities to augment the game. And the majority of the new content aside from the new story focuses on higher level players, so if you had played the original but never dug that deep this will feel like a very shallow update indeed.

It is also STILL Mount & Blade, meaning that the graphics are still distinctly chunky and the overall feel remains an ‘indie’ product. The interface is still laborious and unoptimized, actions require too much thought to execute, and everything aside from combat simply feels generic. It is all functional, sure, but it is readily apparent that the focus is entirely on delivering solid combat. And while that is a success, there is a feeling that by now we should be getting a bit more.

I complained before about the lack of multiplayer – that is where the majority of effort has gone: you can now take your characters into battle with or against others, which is a great way to open up the experience. Sadly the shortcomings in the interface carry into multiplayer as well, making it clunky and frustrating until you are actually playing. Also, multiplayer more than anything else reminded me that while the game touts ‘skill-based combat’, too often it is my twitch skill rather than the time spent developing my character that will determine success.

Since Mount & Blade Warband launched, the price has dropped and there have been multiple sales. I have played it time and again – and the great thing is that Taleworlds is relentless in their improvements and tweaks, so the game they delivered six months ago has become much more refined. But it still feels like a big compromise – you get multiplayer, some tweaks and improvements to the gameplay … but largely it feels like a half-hearted effort, like a real stand-alone follow-up should have delivered more. Especially for those who bought but never spent too much time with the original – they have been largely left behind, needing to pay again and not seeing the benefit of the new content for quite a while. It is a really good game for what it does … but you really have to ask yourself “is this what I want in a game”? If so, buy without question. Otherwise … skip it without regret.

Review: Mount & Blade: Warband

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

MSRP: $29.99

What I Like: Excellent mounted combat; Solid combat system in general; Immersive environments; Budget Price

What Needs Improvement: Story still not very compelling; Graphics lack variety; Indistinct soundtrack

Source: Originally reviewed for VGBlogger

Categories: Gaming, Reviews

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