Mount & Blade: Warband PS4 Review
Publisher: Paradox Interactive, Koch Media Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG, Strategy, Sim Players: 1-64 Age Rating: 16+
Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One
I was ready to give this game a very low score upon first playing; the tutorial wasn’t very good, the animations were stiff, the overall graphics looked ugly, I felt the game lacked any personality or charm and there was no clear direction as to what exactly I was supposed to be doing. Though after doing a bit of research and playing for a number of hours, my opinion of the game would shift quite a bit, and Mount & Blade: Warband is definitely a game with a steep learning curve, one where you can’t really switch off your brain and enjoy mindless gameplay, instead having to use strategy and clever decision making in order to progress.
Mount & Blade: Warband is an RPG set in Medieval times, minus any fantasy elements. There is no story; instead you create your character, assign their traits, attributes and personality, and, if you choose not to play the tutorial, you are pretty much thrown into the fray in which you have to use your own mind to work out what is going on and what you must do – the game doesn’t hold your hand at all, giving you all the basic information in the tutorial and not much else.
The aim of the game is to become the King or Queen of Calradia, a land made up of six warring factions and where you can decide to do whatever you want; you can decide to side with a faction, play them against each other, choose to be neutral, climb the social ladder, or become notorious for pillaging villages and setting them on fire; Mount & Blade: Warband offers a very extensive experience, with over 100 hours of gameplay, maybe even more.
Everything you would expect from this type of game is here, and even manages to throw in some open-world elements. Each faction is made up of towns, villages and castles. In the towns you can visit shops to upgrade your weapons and armour, buy better breeds of horses and buy goods that can then be sold in other towns for a profit. You can enter the marketplace and other areas quickly by using quick menus or you can roam about freely within the confines of the towns walls. You can also do this with the smaller villages, either opting to navigate through menus or freely roaming around the village itself. In each town you can visit the local tavern, where you can find important characters, or you can enter an arena and fight off hordes of enemies to earn money, money – or denar, as it is called here – being the bread and butter of the game where you can’t really do much without it.
There are a variety of ways you can make money, the easiest and quickest of which would be to enter the arena or a tournament and earn yourself a few denar by fighting off enemies and killing a certain amount to gain denar – the more you kill, the more you earn. You can also buy goods from one shop and sell it at another, buying low and selling high. You can raid villages, fight off bandits whose items you can then take and sell, own a village or castle, or even siege one. You can also make money by completing tasks that people set you, in turn also affecting the amount of renown you gain or, to put it more basically, increasing how much people like you.
To progress you’ll need to build yourself an army, managing money to pay your followers wages and upgrading their armour and weaponry as well as their ranking. You’ll be commanding your army in battles against hundreds of enemies at times, and it’s a game in which it is rather overwhelming seeing so many characters on-screen at once – and that aren’t zombies – doing battle; it’s a spectacular sight and you soon realise why graphical sacrifices had to be made. The battles are easily the best parts of the game, your comrades cheering when you have defeated the enemy.
If there’s one word that can describe Mount & Blade: Warband though, it is ‘stiff’. The animation doesn’t feel flexible at all, making combat, horse riding and even just regular running and walking feeling rather restrictive, and it is most noticeable during combat, where the swing of a weapon feels more like you are trying to swat a fly, or are jabbing at a carcass as your characters body stays stolid. During horse riding, when you are trying to aim your weapon, the upper torso of the character twists around in the same way as a Barbie doll, and the horse moves less gracefully and more like it has weights tied to its legs. I have also experienced moments where I will be ambushing an enemy hideout, only for my army of men to walk into walls and get stuck in corners, sometimes in groups. This also happens in tournaments, especially the ones that use horses. In combat, the decision to also map the attack and movements to the analogue buttons, which also control the camera, can be a cause for frustration; you’ll find yourself in a battle and accidentally pushing one of the analogue sticks many times, the camera then changing into first person view or zooming in on the action and making it difficult to see what is happening, putting you at a disadvantage as you try to bat away enemies whilst frantically trying to correct the camera.
The graphics of the game are also very ugly and look as though it was made for last generation consoles, maybe even the generation before that. The way in which the environments are set out are rather repetitive; when visiting different towns and villages, everything looks the same, just slightly altered so you can tell you are somewhere different. There are townspeople milling about who you can chat with, though most of them only have the same thing to say. You can ask them questions about their trade or rumours they may have heard, but mostly they aren’t worth bothering with; you would think there were nothing but directionless robots wandering about. The game lacks any sort of personality or charm, with no characters that particularly stand out.
If you are not at a town, village or castle, for the most part you will be roaming around a 3D map, in which you can see your party travelling. Here all sorts can happen; you can see villages aflame that have been looted, you can hear other armies in battle, you can see villagers travelling to and fro, and here is where you will be confronted by the many bandits, looters and deserters roaming around. You can also see how many people are in a group and it’s from here where you choose your next destination. Travelling to your destination takes up time, and your army will become jaded if you don’t have anything to eat; you can choose to set up camp if you would like, though I took the easy option and sped up the travelling by pressing the R2 button.
However, whilst there is much to see and do on the map, it is also very large and for new players it can be difficult navigating your way around; at times I found myself trying to find certain places for quite a while. You can look up in the menu where certain places are, but that still doesn’t give you much of an idea where they are located on the map. There should have been an option where you can click on the name of a place and be taken straight to it; it can become frustrating trying to find somewhere. The game does pause when your party is stationary, so there aren’t any consequences for looking around for too long, though it does only add to the frustration when you just want to play. It is also difficult tracking a person down; if you have completed a task or need to find someone in order to complete a task, you’ll find yourself going here, there and everywhere searching for them on the map. You can again access the menu, click on the task and it will tell you their last known location, though they are rarely there. You can also ask a Lord of the whereabouts of the person you are looking for, but mostly they only tell you the person is ‘out in the field, near such-and-such’, but once you get there, the person will be gone. I found the best method was to wait by the Castle they reside in until they returned, though this uses up valuable time for completing other quests.
Mount & Blade: Warband is a very ambitious game, though one that is definitely probably best at home on the PC. It’s a game in which your luck can change in an instant, your huge army that you have spent hours building being taken down a peg or two in seconds by bad decision making or being forced into conflicts that you would rather avoid, but can’t, such as times when you encounter bandits and offer them bribe after bribe, only to be confronted by them again seconds later – admittedly this became quite the annoyance, especially when they still come after you despite you carrying nothing of interest and then either being forced into a rather one-sided battle, which makes you feel as though your previous decisions were pointless, or having to choose an option to surrender, in which they then take you prisoner, and you lose some of your items or denar. It is a game that made me feel that I was simultaneously making progress and not making any progress at all. At one point I had to literally sell the clothing off my characters back to try and change my fortunes around again. I even had an army of 50 men that ended up being an army of two within one gaming session – the learning curve here is steep and in-depth, and you really do have to use your brain, learning the in’s and out’s of the game and making smart decisions in order to make any real progress.
There’s also a multiplayer mode for up to 64 players, and this was one of the major new features added when the game was released on the PC as an expansion back in 2010. The Siege mode has you attacking or defending a castle, and you can purchase better weapons and armour with coins. Each time you kill an enemy, you’ll also receive extra coins for your troubles. If you don’t keep the killing up, however, your money will start going down, and it’s possible to end up with more basic equipment once again. There’s always the opportunity to nab better weapons and shields from fallen enemies though. You also get modes such as Team deathmatch and deathmatch to round up the options available to you. With everything said, if you get on with the rest of the game, multiplayer should offer you some enjoyment.
If you are the type who enjoy simple instructions and straightforward goals, this is certainly not the game for you, a game that requires hours and hours of your time to learn and discover everything there is. In the end I felt I never made much progress at all, despite growing an army, making money, building relationships with important people; for me I would always take one step forward and 5 steps back, this pattern wearing me down as I slogged on. I can see the potential in this game; it certainly offers a lot of gameplay, rivaling other AAA RPG’s and open-world titles. There’s much to discover here and for that the game can be commended, but this will definitely only appeal to players who are persistent and enjoy learning everything there is to know. It is these players that will reap the benefits that Mount & Blade: Warband has to offer, though for anyone else, it is best avoided.