Sometimes games that are incredibly good have no advertising whatsoever. These games are usually made popular by word-of-mouth, if anything (Katamari Damacy for example). Developed by a husband-and-wife team, Mount & Blade is one such game.
I first heard about Mount & Blade half a year ago on a forum. I didn’t try it out at the time, mostly because the authors of the posts were comparing it to Morrowind (which I found incredibly boring). A few months ago, though, I saw it again at a gaming site, this time with a formal, in-depth review that made it sound more interesting. I decided to give it a try and downloaded it.
Mount & Blade isn’t freeware, but it is open-ended shareware. Until you register, you can only get characters to level 6. This boundary was never a problem for me; after six hours of play, I knew I had to pay the $18 and register.
This game stole much of my summer. During a season when otherwise I was starting up Stepmania and playing La Pucelle Tactics or Harvest Moon, there was not a single day I didn’t play Mount & Blade.
Why? The game has a good deal of depth, and the core mechanics are fun. Point-based character development (with Stats and Skills separated) gives the game variety – if you want, you could play a mounted crossbowman (with small crossbows only, naturally).
The engine – and indeed much of the entire game – is incredibly intuitive and well-polished. Although it’s still in development (which means the game will only get better!) it runs better than most commercial games I have played, and has good graphics despite my rapidly aging laptop. It is unfortunately single-player only, and I can’t imagine how they would be able to change that at this point.
Combat is naturally the meat of the game. In melee combat, there are up to four directions you can attack in – depending on your weapon – which are controlled based on mouse movement and left clicking. Blocking is controlled in a similar fashion (shield blocking being simpler), using the right mouse button. This makes it easy and intuitive to try to block when you’re being attacked from multiple sides, although it’s still tricky to maintain such a defense for long.
Ranged combat is similarly intuitive. You click the mouse button to ready the weapon and release to shoot or throw it, using an aiming indicator to determine accuracy. Your accuracy depends on your type of weapon and skill, and the increase in accuracy from one level to another is almost imperceptible.
As the name suggests, Mount & Blade includes horses in combat. Although they can be quite strong and will deal “charging” damage in addition to increasing its rider’s speed, horses can be wounded easily, leaving its rider slower and likely surrounded.
One of the nicest features of the combat system is that it is easy to learn, but tough to master. As my first few characters increased in skill, I found a few tricks or techniques I could use to increase my damage and accuracy — such as predicting where a target of a bowshot would be, or learning how to “fake” my opponent in melee combat. It is a tribute to the well-designed combat that this is possible, and even after several dozen hours of game-play there are still new ideas to try out.
You’ll almost always have a team on your side while in combat. During the main part of the game, you will be the leader of your own party. Soldiers are hirable at most towns, and level up based on a simpler experience system. If you take good care of them, and learn how to command them in battle, you can take advantage of the terrain and keep your troops alive – adding a strategic element to the game.
In addition to troops, you can recruit heroes, who have more complex development (in essence, other “characters”) and will stick with you through thick and thin (they’re the only ones who stay with you if your party is completely wiped out). You choose how their stats develop on leveling, so you can determine how you want your party to grow.
The original, or “vanilla,” version of the game is interesting enough in itself, and kept me occupied for more than a month despite its lack of an actual goal or storyline. Although the war between the Vaegirs and Swadians is going on, choosing a side and fighting in the war does not add much to the game.
There is a large and growing modding community, though, which has held my interest in the game. StoryMod, for example, adds more difficulty and a back-story to the game, including a few very exciting castle siege battles. Another great mod is The Last Days, based on Lord of the Rings, which adds not only an overarching goal – prevent your faction from being wiped out – but also an incredible range of new weaponry and characters, and expands on the war aspect of the game considerably.
Between the role-playing aspects and the bracing combat of Mount & Blade, I found a game that has eaten up more of my time than any other in the past year. I recommend you download it and give it a try, particularly if you enjoy RPGs with a touch of strategy.