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Mount & Blade (PC) artwork

Mount & Blade (PC) review

"Really, it's just a matter of what you want. Anyone with the right mindset and a pinch of imagination can get swept away in the world of Mount and Blade, and create something that is unique and epic to them. That one aspect, in spite of any of its faults, kept me playing for hours. If you like having your hand held, and being given direction and taken through a story, then the game's not for you. "

Maybe I'm just a big softy, but I usually play the good guy in any game where I'm given the choice. I always played the light side first in Knights of the Old Republic, and I saved everyone I could in Mass Effect, generally going out of my way to help people out. Mount and Blade gave off that big sandbox vibe from the start, and I already knew pretty much what I was going to be.

So after carefully tweaking all the character customization sliders to make sure the bridge of my avatar's nose was just the right size, I ambled out into the world for the first time, ready to do good for the world. I also put on a helmet almost immediately that covered my entire head and made all that fiddling pointless.

My first taste of combat came swiftly and was an ugly affair. The tutorial demonstrated combat as really straight forward, so I didn't expect much difficulty. There's a button to swing your weapon, a button to guard, and you can modify the direction of your swing or your block by tapping a direction and clicking at the same time. That's basically it.

The difference is that while a smart player is worth more than any other single unit on the field, it's not by near the amount that you might expect. This isn't a one-man-army game, and that was the source of my dilemma. If you fight alone, you will eventually be overcome by larger forces. Even a group of five or six men can prove to be somewhat of a challenge if you get stranded. It makes battles actually somewhat unique that you can't just wade into the middle of the other army and win. Picking your fights and making use of gaps you your opponent's defenses are the key to victory.

So after nearly being killed in my first outing, it became obvious that I needed help. My first recruits were a few peasant farmers, disenchanted with their quiet life, and carrying their pitchforks into battle with them. They weren't an intimidating force, to be sure, but they had my back, so I couldn't complain. And thus it began. As I traveled, I recruited allies, made friends, and soon was basking in the normal upward spiral for games like this. I rode around the plains like a wrecking ball of justice, displacing hoodlums, deserters, and bandits wherever we met. I reaped the rewards of battle, bought new equipment, gained some levels, and became ever more powerful.

Good things are fickle, though. On one of my patrols, I ran into the king of a nearby country on one of his patrols. The fact that he was outside his borders should have been a clue that something was amiss, but I approached him amicably. That was a mistake. He sneered at me from under his crown like a snake from an old Disney movie. The conversation went poorly, and I'll never forget what he said when I told him I'd rather not fight him.

"Ha, but I want to fight with you!"

And he did, for no better reason than because it seemed fun. At the time I had maybe forty men under my command. He had three hundred. Left with no choice, we fought, but it was fairly hopeless. He not only outnumbered me almost eight to one, but his men were all armed and armored members of his royal military. Even though we took many down with us, we were ultimately crushed by a superior force. My men were killed, my supplies and money were stolen, and I learned a valuable lesson about the kind of world it was.

After being paraded around as a battle trophy for a few days, I managed to escape, dragging my battered, peasant self to a nearby town to lick my wounds. The white knight in me died right then. The only thing logical thing to do was to avenge the fallen. I would pull an entire kingdom down brick by brick until I found a certain unjust king, and return in spades what he had given me.

To that end, I became involved in the more shady things. I fought in gladiatorial tournaments for money. There were plenty of Swadian caravans that I could hunt and ambush. Before long I could practically roll around in my ill-gotten money, food and weaponry. As my forces grew, I would become bolder, laying siege to the kingdom's castles, stealing territory for myself bit by bit. The whole thing would crescendo with a cliché final encounter with King Harlaus within the walls of his own castle, the final blow was struck and my revenge would be completed in the most obvious way possible.

But that's okay, because all of that was not the story of Mount and Blade. Rather, it was a possible story, but more than that, it's my story. All of those events happened, but they happened without a writer, more or less entirely at random. There wasn't even a whole lot of dialogue. I just made my choices, and then went along with what happened. What seems like just another cliche quest for revenge after an injustice carried a lot of weight for me because it was a quest for my revenge, not someone else's tale that I was just going along with.

It's not necessarily perfect, though. The world is big in that it takes up a lot of area, but it's also pretty small. If you've been to one town, you've been to them all. And if you've talked to one person, you've talked to them all. There wasn't a lot of dialogue in my quest because there simply isn't a lot of dialogue in the game. Most peasants just have the same simple list of responses to questions about the lay of the land, the things produced in their region, and such. If you're looking for quests to do, sometimes people will have them, but usually they won't. When they do, the variety is pathetic.

Really, it's just a matter of what you want. Anyone with the right mindset and a pinch of imagination can get swept away in the world of Mount and Blade, and create something that is unique and epic to them. That one aspect, in spite of any of its faults, kept me playing for hours. If you rely on having your hand held, and being given direction and taken through a story, then the game's not for you.


dragoon_of_infinity's avatar
Freelance review by Josh Higley (March 06, 2009)

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zippdementia posted March 06, 2009:

Great job on creating a good story-review. Too bad the effect is ruined by what I know has to be a fairly boring game. I'm not into the whole free-roam epic fantasy genre, I've discovered. I love the concept, but they tend to be big immesion-ejection devices, I find. It's simply too hard to properly populate such large worlds. You get tons of dialouge repetition, face and body repetition, uninteresting quests, and combat systems that are too simple.
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EmP posted March 06, 2009:

This was not the review I was expecting! Guffaw, and such!

This one came out really well, though. The angle you went in on was great and you pulled it off fantasticaly. It was a smooth, easy read and told me all I need to know about the game without actually telling me point blank. Good job.

Now, get back to work!
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dragoon_of_infinity posted March 06, 2009:

Thanks guys. I swear I had to rewrite or restructure this review about five times to get it where I wanted it. But I'm glad it came out well.

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