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Mount & Blade (PC) artwork

Mount & Blade (PC) review

"The term Fantasy RPG has a very entrenched definition. One assumes a linear plot-heavy game with an overworld map and random turn-based combat where small parties with members numbering in the single-digits fight each other with magic and the occasional steampunk. Elves, Dwarves, and the occasional magic-powered mecha might make an appearance. "

The term Fantasy RPG has a very entrenched definition. One assumes a linear plot-heavy game with an overworld map and random turn-based combat where small parties with members numbering in the single-digits fight each other with magic and the occasional steampunk. Elves, Dwarves, and the occasional magic-powered mecha might make an appearance.

From the beginning, Taleworlds shoves these cliches in a trunk and drives them off a cliff. There is no magic. There are no Elves or Dwarves, and there are no mecha whatsoever. What the game does have is an immersive real-time combat system that is unlike any other.

Combat is the core of Mount and Blade, and while it is possible in theory to be a merchant or politician, in practice might makes right and one must become a master of maiming and killing stuff and thankfully the game truly shines in this regard. You can attack, parry (if your weapon permits), or block (if you have a shield equipped). Different melee weapons have different abilities, so while an axe might do additional damage against shields, it cannot make thrust attacks, and while a knife is really fast, it cannot parry meaning if your shield breaks (and it WILL break, at least until you get a high-quality one) you're in trouble. Assorted ranged weapons round off the mix as well. What makes the combat so endearing is that is no feeling of artificial randomization. Weapons do the same damage by default, modified by relative velocity and hit location and this makes combat an involved process rather than a button-mashing frenzy.

One-on-one, this might seem a bit bland, yet Mount and Blade outdoes other games by the scale of battles. While not packing the same numbers as a game like Dragonforce, one can expect to see battles of 50 per side (or more with the BattlesizeChanger modification, making battles reach in the hundreds), where the player can use a tactical map to order his troops around; while the commands are simple, with practice one can pull off faked retreats or encirclements or other tactical maneuvers. There's nothing like leading a cavalry charge into the rear of a pinned-enemy, smashing them against the your shieldwall infantry.

Cavalry combat is truly the centerpiece of the combat engine. While it is possible to be an infantryman, the advantages of a mount generally outweigh the disadvantages. With increased speed comes increased damage modifiers (just remember it works both ways!), and your horse has the handy ability to trample footmen underneath like the peasant scum they are! Just don't charge into a pikeman block. Finally, being mounted allows one to couch polearms for damage best described as overkill. There really isn't anything like the mounted combat in this game.

The rest of the game is decent although nowhere as revolutionary. There is no plot except that which you make, as this is a complete sandbox. The fictional land of Caladria is torn by war with five kingdoms at each other's throats. You have no obligation to any one of them, and you can either pledge yourself as vassal to one of the kingdoms, work for as a mercenary-for-hire, even start a civil war and prop up a puppet ruler, leaving you to act as the real power behind the throne. Maybe the life of the tournament is your calling, as you gain rockstar reception for your ability to beat up your contenders silly. Or you could be a bandit, preying on caravans and enslaving villagers before retreating to that castle you took from its rightful lord. Or you could spend your time being a do-gooder hero, taking on odd-jobs, fighting bandits and rescuing that Merchant's Daughter who has an annoying tendency to get kidnapped by bandits...

As immense as the game is, it has its flaws. The battle AI is less than ideal in native, as eventually enemy troops break off from their core formation to engage individual targets, making it easier for you as the mounted killing machine you are to hack them down where they stand. Castle sieges tend to be slow, drawn-out affairs which lack cool toys (such as big siege engines) to compensate for the fact you only have one fixed ladder you use to scale a castle wall. And there are assorted scripting errors that occasionally pop up, despite the best efforts of the people at Taleworlds.

These are minor flaws though. The ground-breaking nature of the combat system, the open-endedness of the game world, and the potentially infinite replay value (combined with one of the most fervent modding communities ever), make Mount and Blade the sleeper hit that you wish you didn't overlook. Fantasy RPGs better start looking for a new definition.

magicjuggler's avatar
Community review by magicjuggler (September 21, 2008)

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drella posted September 21, 2008:

Good review. Watch out for a few sentences here and there that start to trail off a bit (like the second one in the first paragraph, or the first one in the third paragraph).
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magicjuggler posted September 21, 2008:

I admit there was a certain stream-of-conciousness crudeness to the review which I'll attempt to clean up in future reviews.

Did it make a convincing argument as to whether the game is worth looking into, though?
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drella posted September 21, 2008:

I thought it sounded like a fairly interesting title at points, yeah.
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darketernal posted September 22, 2008:

Just one question. Does this game have an actual story one can finish or is it never ending? Meaning, if I do try this out, is there a point except for the obvious fun factor? Will I see, after all my effort and troubles and after I destroy/conquer/rule said continent a happy "The end" sign?
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magicjuggler posted September 22, 2008:

I'm going to have to update this review heavily it looks like.

No there isn't a core story to the game, the same way there really isn't a core story in Sid Meier's Pirates save the really short "find your missing family" series of quests. Instead, you have the option to retire whenever you wish, where based on the difficulty level you played, the number of fiefs you've acquired, etc. you have an end-game score and post-retirement.
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meeptroid posted September 22, 2008:

I agree, good review, especially since it's only your second. The intro bit about redefining the fantasy RPG piqued my interest, but the rest of the review was a bit vanilla. The review wasn't overly long though, so it held my attention from start to finish, and informed me about an interesting PC RPG I otherwise never would have heard of. Good job.
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EmP posted September 29, 2008:

Good news: you've snagged a link from what might be the game's home page:

It look official enough, so I'll assume it is.

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