Mount & Blade: Warband Review

Warband

This generation we have seen a number of remasters, and a lot of these seem like only yesterday when you finished your play through of the original. It’s often difficult to justify purchasing these again just for a bump in visual presentation – especially if the developers don’t add anything ‘new’. Mount & Blade: Warband by TaleWorlds Entertainment, though, is different. It’s still a remaster but this is the first time the game has been available on console. Released in 2010 on PC as a standalone expansion to Mount & Blade, Warband has been remastered for Xbox One.

Mount & Blade: Warband is an Action RPG that brought medieval battlefields to life with its mounted combat and detailed fighting system. You are free to go anywhere in a world with more than a hundred unique locations including villages, castles and towns. Features highly advanced and intuitive sword-fighting systems, including horseback and foot using a vast variety of medieval weapons, each with unique characteristics. You can become anything from a lonesome adventurer to a ruler of a faction.

~ Tale Worlds

You start the game creating your own character – a number of preset variations are available but you can then make finer adjustments. You also answer a few questions with multiple choices to set your character’s back story. These will affect how others in the world will react to you – given the medieval setting, choosing to play as a woman with a peasant background will give you a much tougher journey than, say, selecting a man of status.

Warband offers a ‘tutorial’ (recommended), offering the you the basics of combat – a combination of melee or ranged, both on foot and horseback. After these brief lessons, you are left to fend for yourself.

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This is a remaster of a 2010 game and the visual presentation is poor – even by 2010 standards. Warband’s resolution has been pushed up but it really highlights how poor the visuals actually are. The game also suffers from pop-up too. The menu feels designed for mouse interaction – there’s been little regard for the controller-wielding gamer here.

The in-game control scheme itself doesn’t really feel great on a controller, either – something we noticed almost immediately in the tutorial, where things seemed a lot harder than they should. We found ourselves getting caught and unable to move on ‘targets’ I was supposed to be lancing on horseback, or even stuck to fences and other obstacles which we would have expected to rub against or glance off.

Difficult combat can be very satisfying, but when that combat is made even more difficult because of the controls it can be very frustrating. Ordering your band of fighters, for example, requires you to open up a menu with the D-pad and then access a sub-menu all whilst the enemies continue with their attack. Combat can be problematic too, with multiple functions mapped to a single input – for example, the right thumbstick is used to both look (as normal) and choose the attack direction – on more than one occasion we ended up looking away from an attacker instead of performing the attack we wanted. There is no ‘run’ movement either, and clicking the left thumbstick – easily done in the heat of battle – disorientingly lurches the view between third and first person.

The medieval soundtrack is fitting but there is no dialogue; conversations are played out in text with a cursor – PC style – used to select your response

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In the early stages of the game, things are tough. Not just because of the controls, but the game ‘drops’ you straight into the middle of medieval life with no narrative direction, no friends, no allies. Warband doesn’t hold your hand or tell you what you should be doing, where you should be going or what the main objective (if there is a specific one) is.

You are, though, free to travel anywhere across the open-sandbox land of Calradia from the very start. There are six kingdoms, each with different factions all vying for power. You can interact with the different Lords and Counts that rule the various territories, taking on errands to help build your reputation and funds, as well as trade with a number of merchants. It’s these funds that will help you pay for your weapons, shields, armour and food, and help you recruit your Warband – as nobody works for free. Managing your recruits’ pay and morale, whilst trying to equip yourself with better gear, is a tough struggle in the early hours of this game. Morale is key to your Warband’s success.

Venturing out beyond the starting area will often lead to attack from bandits and, in the early stages, you will certainly suffer defeat. If your Warband isn’t sizeable, success is unlikely and each defeat is a major setback as the attackers will take a chunk of your finances, and maybe some gear – including your horse.

Its likely that a lot of people are going to give up on this after several setbacks and the lack of direction. However, once you get beyond that stage and have a decent sized Warband, these bandits become an easy source of income for you, and the loot can be sold to merchants. When you start earning victories in battle, travelling the world becomes far easier.

It’s after this that you also start to appreciate the depth and freedom this game offers. The dynamic world carries on around you; factions fight factions in their quest for power, the political landscape and alliances change but now you feel a part of it instead of an insignificant character trying to survive the harsh realities of medieval life. You have the freedom to loot villages if you want or amass property and land.  It will be a long time before you are ready to try to take the power for yourself, as your band of warriors are no match for a well-trained army. But over time it can grow to be a fighting force, laying siege to castles – either by a full force attack or by a more subtle and tactical approach.

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The game also offers a multiplayer for up to 32 players. There are a number of modes, including familiar ones like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. Siege has you either defending or attacking a castle where the objective is to either prevent or hoist a flag in the courtyard. All in all, there are quite a lot of options for online competitive gaming

Getting past the first few hours is perhaps the biggest hurdle in this game. The control scheme, the visuals and the difficulty in the early stages are off-putting. Once you get past that though, the game offers a very deep RPG with combat, politics, management and conquest expected of the medieval setting.

It’s a pity that the game hasn’t been reworked for consoles with better controls, a more appropriate menu system and actually more effort put into the visuals too. It’s these things that take away from the game and many won’t get beyond the first hour or two as a result. It’s a shame, as the game has the potential to offer countless hours of gaming in both single and multiplayer. A lot of AAA games don’t offer this much depth. Mount & Blade: Warband is certainly a game that could easily score higher with a bit more polish and work – specifically for console.

Mount & Blade: Warband is now available in the Store priced £15.99.

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