Mount and Blade is by far the best medieval role playing game I have ever played. Not only do you get to wield huge battle axes, you also get to own your very own castle and army. There is nothing like returning to your own castle after a hard day’s work of slaughter in an epic battle. To the victor go the spoils. You can follow up your slaughter by imprisoning your captives in your dark dungeon and selling your loot from the battle.
Although Paradox Interactive published Mount and Blade, the game is actually the brainchild of TaleWorlds Entertainment, a Turkish company who developed it. TaleWorlds knows a good thing when they see one. Following up on their success, TaleWorlds is releasing the expansion Mount and Blade: Warband on 30 March 2010. The good part about Mount and Blade is the very active forum which provides much support and modification of the game.
It is true that there are many medieval themed role playing games out there. But 2 things make mount and Blade stand out. Firstly, there is no fixed story line to follow. So what you choose to do is entirely up to you. Secondly, the game perfectly simulates the carnage and chaos of battles in the medieval age.
Surviving the Middle Ages through opportunism
After you have created your character, you find yourself thrust into the harsh world of Calradia. Although there is no fixed storyline for you to follow, your first task is survival. To survive, you will need money to buy better equipment to deal with the numerous brigands that roam the land. Initially you only have the power to attack small brigand groups to loot their dead bodies for equipment and money. If you manage to knock some brigands unconscious, you can take them prisoner to sell as slaves. This gives you another source of income. As the quality of your equipment increases, you can defeat more powerful brigands to get better equipment and more cash.
Other less satisfying ways of earning money, in my opinion, include trading and carrying out repetitive quests. You may also attack villagers and loot villages if you wish. But this will cause the lords of these holdings to hunt you down in retaliation.
Winning medieval tournaments
You can also earn money through betting and participating in tournaments which take place in a gladiator arena. So if you win, you will win a large sum of money as well. But to win, you will have to go through 6 challenging rounds. The lower rounds begin with many participants who are grouped together to form teams. As the tournament proceeds, fewer contestants remain until the final round pits the 2 remaining contenders. Due to the huge number of participants initially and your lack of choice over weapons, surviving tournaments can be tricky. Sometimes you may begin with a weapon you are not good at. You may then find yourself scavenging the bodies of fallen friends or foes for better weapons to survive. This adds a certain desperation and realism which takes away the perceived glamour of gladiator combat.
The benefits of vassalage
As your fame increases from your various exploits, you will find yourself receiving offers of vassalage from various kingdoms. Vassals are lords who raise troops for their king in return for land grants. A vassal has many benefits. First and foremost, a king may grant his vassal the rights to a village, town or castle. This means that you will have a base to operate out of while receiving a steady stream of income. Secondly, vassals can become commander-in-chief of the kingdom’s armies. The added manpower will make you almost unstoppable when it comes to capturing more territories from enemy kingdoms. This will increase your renown and your own territorial possessions in the process.
An incomparable medieval experience
Mount and Blade simulates the medieval world perfectly. The taverns allow you to mingle with the characters to recruit troops or companions for your army. You can also walk around the villages, castles and towns to speak with the citizens you meet. While the dialogue may be repetitive, chatting with the people is a good way to get an idea of the hardships they face. There are even ways to improve the lives of the peasants, if you wish.
You may also inspect the guards of your domains. Checking in with the guards of your castle from time to time makes you feel as if you are a real lord. Then there is the dungeon where you can keep your prisoners. It is extremely satisfying to mock the arrogant lords you capture in battle, leaving them to languish in your prison for their audacity. Keeping these lords in captivity serves 2 purposes. Firstly, they will be unable to participate in battles, thus diminishing the power of their respective kingdoms. Secondly, they fetch a nice ransom, especially the kings. The only drawback about these lords is that they, like you, cannot die in the standard game.
Building your army
While you can journey about Calradia alone, you can accomplish more with an army at your command. Your army consists of three troop types; cavalry, infantry and archers. You can recruit them from villages, from taverns as mercenaries or freed prisoners in battle.
Additionally, you can also recruit companions. Companions, unlike ordinary soldiers, have distinct personalities and backgrounds. You can interact with them, give them the best equipment and train them. Companions bring special skills to your party. For example, a companion who is good at tracking will add to your group tracking skills, allowing you to pick up enemy tracks more easily. However, not all companions get along with each other. So as a leader, you have to decide which companions to keep as part of your inner circle and which to separate from. It is such attention to detail that makes the game fun.
For the love of battle
Battles are the heart and soul of Mount and Blade. They are bloody and chaotic, especially when there are huge numbers of combatants involved. If you are not careful, a few well placed blows will knock you out. This adds a chilling realism because even a stray arrow you don’t see can take you out.
The chaos of fighting on foot is very realistic. Due to the confusion in the heat of battle, there is little room for finesse. Usually, you will find yourself striking at any part of the enemy to kill him. Then before you have a chance to rest, you will find yourself facing your next opponent. If you find yourself surrounded, the panic increases because it is only a matter of time before you are overwhelmed.
Horseback fighting in Mount and Blade is also fantastic. You can almost feel the horse you are riding respond to your commands in battle. Bringing your horse close to the enemy at full speed to cut him down is an amazing experience. But if your horse should come to a halt, you will find yourself at the mercy of your enemies. Historically, this is how many knights perished in battle. Large open plains are critical for horseback fighting because you need lots of room to manoeuvre.
But not all fighting has to be done up close. If you have a ranged weapon like a crossbow, you can take out enemies from a distance on foot or on horseback. Shooting on foot is easier than shooting on horseback. Before you can hit your target, you have to consider the effects of gravity, the angle of the shot and the movement of the target. The movement of the horse is also a consideration if you are shooting from horseback.
Finally, as a commander, you also have to issue orders to your troops. Without orders, the enemy may overwhelmed your disorganized troops and slaughter them. Terrain is an important consideration in battle. Whether you position your troops favourably or not will affect the outcome of the battle. At the end of the day, it is impossible for you to win a large fight by yourself, so strategy and teamwork is critical. Mount and Blade does an excellent job of paying attention to detail in combat. Medieval combat doesn’t get any more realistic than this.
Sieges are more difficult than battles. This is because the tactical advantage lies with the defenders. Storming the walls of a castle itself is a risky and costly affair as you and your troops are wide open to arrow fire. Compounding the problem, the enemy can mass at choke points, like the top of the siege ladder, to hold off superior numbers at very little costs to themselves. Also the defenders have a higher chance of surrounding and overwhelming you in the narrow spaces of a castle. Still it is possible to take the castle if you are careful and use your surroundings to your advantage. The only drawback of sieges in Mount and Blade is its simplicity. There is a lack of siege engines and boiling oil.
Endless possibilities with mods
Mount and Blade allows its users to create their own worlds through the modification of the game itself. These mods are available online for download at the forums for free. Thus if you were to get tired of the plain vanilla game, you can easily pick another mod to your liking. From space to fantasy to various historical periods, the possibilities are endless. This makes Mount and Blade a game that is worth every penny.
Reflections of the Vizier
Mount and Blade has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment. Wading into the thick of a battle to hack and slash your enemies until their blood covers you from head to toe is a great way to relieve stress. With Mount and Blade, history comes to life in the best way imaginable. You learn about medieval life after participating in the battles from a safe environment. Admittedly, the dialogue and graphics are not great. But if you ignore that, you will have endless fun in battles and the experience of owning your very own castle or town.
Disclaimer: All the images in this article are screenshots taken from Mount and Blade. They are copyrighted by TaleWorlds Entertainment and are not of my making.