Friday, January 11, 2013

Mount & Blade: Warband

This is not a review, more like a love letter.  "Hey Telecanter, where you been? It's the New Year and you haven't posted in like a week!"  I, dear friend, have been absorbed in this game:
You should see me when I lose.

So, here's the deal.  Mount & Blade is a game that has a strategic overland map and when there are conflicts, it zooms into real time tactical battles.  The same set up I love about Rome: Total War.  It is a military skirmish game, though that is underselling it.  It starts off feeling more like a roleplaying game something like the first Diablo.  You start out with little armor, no troops and are dropped into the world to do whatever you want.  But you quickly learn that to make any headway you need troops and that they need to be paid so the early game requires a lot of scrimping and nail biting battles to try and get loot from bandits.

The Game Changes
And by mentioning the early game, I bring up one of the things I love about this game.  More than any other game I've played it feels like D&D in that the game becomes different games as you become more powerful.  Once you have decent armor and weapons and find some companions that have skills that can help you and your troops out, there is a mid game where you are no longer fighting bands of bandits but other military forces.  And eventually if you make your own kingdom, battles won't be the biggest problem but your lazy, greedy vassals.
My steppe archer all grown up.
The first game I played I made a steppe archer and favored agile horses and archery.  But as the stakes got higher and higher I found I was a liability with my light armor.  I would get knocked out of combats which affected my troop morale and would end up losing me battles I should have won.  So I slowly shifted strategy to have heavy armor, heavy war horse, and a lance.

Why Warband?
Before I go any further I should say Warband is just a revision of the preceding Mount and Blade, but a revision worth getting.  It's okay to skip the first one, you'll get to meet all the same companions and have the same quests and Warband gives at least three big reasons to favor it:
  • You can found your own kingdom.  (I didn't really want to be a vassal.)
  • They added a whole new desert faction.
  • They improved the world map immensely.
So Many Possibilities
There are so many things I like about the game it's hard to point them all out.  But the bottom line is it is simple in mechanics but allows for lots of choices and strategies.  Shields take damage and get broken.  You can block with weapons.  There are tons of weapon options from crossbows to polearms.  I mean, Gary would have loved this: there are Bardiche, and pole axes, and pikes.  There are lots or horse options, depending on if you want speed maneuverability, or an armored charging force.

And that's just talking about you and your companions.  Recruiting troops from different faction regions will change your battles too.  The viking-like Nords have no cavalry, the the steppe faction has no troops that aren't mounted.

It Feels Medieval
I'm no historian, but I like that this game feels feudal.  So, you've got yourself a kingdom.  You feel awesome with your veteran troops.  Your castles are well-defended.  And then the neighboring kingdom declares war and razes all you poor villages.  This cuts off your cash flow and all of a sudden you can't afford your army.  You can try and patrol your villages to keep them safe but as your kingdom gets bigger this becomes impossible.  Thus vassals.  Vassals are a weird trade off because you have to give them your villages as fiefs to keep them happy, thus losing the income from the village anyway, but they will help keep down bandits and protect caravans which help the overall economy of your kingdom.  They can also be called to campaign when the next war starts in order to inflict damage on the foe and win new fiefs that will earn you some gold.

Also, there is no death for you, your companions, or lords, only your troops and poor villagers.  This feels very appropriate to me.  I found myself, after having made a foolish mistake utterly crushed in battle, all my veteran troops killed, stripped of almost everything and all the nearby towns and villages hostile.  So I ran away to a foreign land far away and built up an army there.  I still had tons of income from my various economic interests.  Once I had a new army I marched them all the way back home and won back what was "rightfully" mine.

The Little Things
Again it's hard to point out just why the game feels so right to me.  But there are little things that give me the impression the developers paid attention.  When you finally start your own kingdom you get to choose a banner.  But what was so cool was, that banner then appears on the shields of all your troops.  Your targeting reticule, normally white, changes color to be visible in sand or snow.  Lame horses will eventually be healed if you have the appropriate wound healing skill.  If you rescue Peasant Women from bandits, you can actually keep them as troops and they, super weak at first, will work their way up to Joan of Arc-like cavalry troops.

You can learn different poems to try and woo ladies of different temperament, or not.  You can take part in tournaments, sure.  But what was cool was when I discovered the events in the tournaments varied by the region they take place in.  I own in the lance tournaments, but the viking mass sword battles always get me knocked out. 

You can pick up weapons and shields in battles.  I was so impressed, in my first desperate siege defense, when out of arrows, I picked a new quiverfull off an archer casualty nearby.  I've won tournaments by switching the two-handed sword given to me to the sword and shield combo of my first victim.

You can loot villages, steal cattle, raid caravans, or just be a friendly trader carrying salt and spices from one city to the next.

Picking Nits
Okay, enough gushing.  The only major thing I can think of to complain about is the Fantasy Alphabet names.  A company goes to all the trouble of modelling historically plausible weapons and armor and then the town and village name look like they just rolled some boggle dice and wrote the results down.  Come on!  Names should have a feel for the faction they belong to or the region they exist in.  The names in this game have none of that.  Shameful.

Beware of the difficulty settings, what they call "normal" is what anyone else would call difficult; your fresh recruits will beat you at sparring even though you have better stats, more hit points, and higher weapon skills.  Not recommended unless the default settings become too easy.

Also, a couple caveats.  This is all based on single player play, I don't know what the multiplayer game is like and couldn't care a whit.  I have a pretty good computer and have all the graphics options maxed.  It might look a little dated if you can't do that or are used to fancier new games.

The company is apparently working on a sequel  which I'm quite interested in seeing.


  1. If I remember, while the town names are completely fictional, they sound quite a lot like Turkish names - which is where the developers come from.
    The same applies to many of the character names.

    A lot of the major town names are a holdover from the early stages of development too, when there were only two factions; the Vaegir and the Swadians, and their respective themes were't quite as well defined.

  2. (aka The Rusty Battle Axe) This seems dangerously addictive.

    BTW, I mentioned using Boggle dice for creating names in my blog post this morning. Funny coincidence.

  3. (aka The Rusty Battle Axe) This seems dangerously addictive.

    BTW, I mentioned using Boggle dice for creating names in my blog post this morning. Funny coincidence.

  4. This game looks awesome, and seems like it would be a great inspiration for a campaign. I don't have Windows though, so I guess it's Youtube playthroughs for me.

  5. Your summary pretty much nailed everything I love about this game. Although, I suck at the lance tournaments and rule in the Nord melees.

  6. @Ursca: That makes sense. I should have been clearer that a lot of the names could work as real names in some cultures but that they are distributed willy nilly in the game with no connection to the land or the cultures that live there. And they revised the graphics in Warband, they could have revised these. Heck I'll do it for them if they want.

    @Ken: It is :) and aww, I don't want to get down on anyone DIYing, just names are something so interesting and people treat them so carelessly.

    @Alonzo: That's a bummer and exactly why I sold out, so I could play games like this. Of course my computer for serious blog work is still Ubuntu.

    @Lee: It's so fun. Those lance events are like dog fights and I've learned to slow up and turn just at the time that lets me get behind the other guy. I was surprised to find out you can issue orders in those team tournament events just like battles. I should probably try that in the next grand melee.

    Also, some other cool stuff I remembered: If you get a village to like you 100% you can sometimes recruit troops with 2 tiers of experience. If you buy a business, even a cheap brewery, you can use its warehouse to store weapons. and goods.

  7. Computer too slow = saved from what looks like a glorious addiction.

  8. Folks on the Adventurer Conqueror King forums recommended some user-created plugins for this game to help with management and the like. It sounds awesome and I look forward to the RPG Retirement Home where I will have all the time I want to play!