Dozens of gamers were in pursuit of a forlorn cause this weekend when they attempted to dethrone GN staff members from the top slots in Mount & Blade: Warband. Dillon, Bob, and yours truly set out on an onslaught of the Warband servers, brandishing our weapons and shouting fear-inflicting memes at the other team. Never has there been a more entertaining multiplayer medieval game. I’d call it an FPS, but you don’t necessarily have to shoot. Mounted combat, archery, and sword-flailing antics are all easy to learn and brilliantly addictive. In concept, Warband is similar to Age of Chivalry, though it executes far smoother and has a larger fandom, a requirement to fill all of the 64-slot servers with enough fodder to slice apart.
As the title suggests, the original Mount & Blade focused heavily on mounted combat. The expansion re-invigorates infantry combat for the multiplayer audience, and I promise you, there is nothing more satisfying than the dreadfully wicked “squish” followed by a grievous cry as your claymore cuts through the flesh of an enemy. Well, other than the griefing that ensues. Team GN took to the Highlander way of playing: get the biggest, heaviest weapon and hack the legs out from underneath warhorses and warriors alike. We played on many recognizable multiplayer modes, to include CTF, Deathmatch, and TDM. It’s been a long time since I have seen a balanced Siege mode (woe is Jedi Academy), but Warband successfully pits players against each other in a struggle to take control of castles. The first night we received our unlock codes, I informed other staffers that I would probably log off within the hour… about four hours later, sleep had befallen me before boredom.
Warband is sort of a mix of Counter-Strike and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Kill for gold, spend the gold on better equipment, and repeat. Veterans of Jedi Academy will feel at home with the attack system. Different swings have different strengths, chambering and parrying is also possible with practice. It becomes one of those “easy to learn, hard to master” combat systems that fuels games for years on end. Each faction possesses unique weapons, and while it occasionally produces balance issues, the built-in voting system helps fix those problems as players notice them. We had fun with the War Cleavers (an Uruk-hai type of crude blade), 2-handed maces (which made an excellent crunch with each hit), and mounted archery. Different assortments of armor make each multiplayer match a reason to fight harder as you strive for the best equipment, but be warned, your speed considerably decreases as your weight increases, making for a prime target. Full plate, chainmail, leather, and my favorite, loin-cloth, are all viable options. Combine them cleverly with the right weapons and you will be a killing machine. You could go for a Teutonic Knight approach and cover yourself in fancy armor, grab a tower shield, and wield a swift-striking handaxe to fell enemies as if they were trees; alternatively, the other end of the spectrum is equally entertaining, where equipping no armor and a massive 2-hander makes you fast on your feet and deadly.
The combat system is intuitive, allowing players to opt for automatically targeted blocks and attacks, or designate them by using mouse movement and keyboard movement. An enemy charges at you, vicious axe held overhead, and swings downward with brutal force – no matter for you though, because you adapt to this maneuver and block upward, stopping his attack and stunning him briefly. It’s fast-paced, versatile, and morbidly thrilling to hear the sound of your opponent being ripped apart. At least until someone runs a spear through your back and sends it out of your chest.
Like any game, Warband has its downsides. Some of the current maps are sorely out of balance when placed in a CTF or other objective-based mode. As soon as a team procures a tower or fort, it can be over for the other team. They shower arrows onto your teams’ spawn, taking out horses and infantry before they get a chance to move. Each faction has different weapons, and the balance issues typically come out with certain faction combinations. Get rich on the right team, and you’ll be swimming in gold the rest of the game. Gold truly is the gift that keeps on giving in Warband.
GN staff graces the field (with blood).
Graphics and sound are nothing spectacular, move past that and you will realize that the real fun lies in the gameplay mechanics. The visuals are greatly improved from the first game, introducing HDR and some cool lighting effects, but still nothing worth gawking at. The music is so-so. Unfortunately there are only a few different tracks available, and the same fanfare loop gets old fast. It is no doubt that individual servers will be modded with custom sounds and other fun add-ins, which greatly improves the shelf life of Warband. If Taleworlds added a clan support system to the multiplayer experience, they would have the elixir for success.
The singleplayer campaign is just as great as the original, but the focus is definitely on multiplayer for this expansion. The campaign map has changed a little bit; there are now six factions, players have an expanded ability to lead their own kingdom, marry for political gain, and even force other kings into vassalage; influence from the Total War series can be seen all over the campaign. You can build up an army of thousands, rule a kingdom, a rebel army, or command a band of brigands that thrives on pillaging small villages and caravans. Quests are somewhat unimaginative and dull, but they get the point across. The roleplay element has been revitalized with the inclusion of Warband, adding more options for companions and personality conflict than expected for a war game. It’s addictive and tough to quit, just like the Multiplayer.
The original Mount & Blade has proven to be one of the most moddable PC games on the market, and Warband will follow. Endless possibilities for additional maps, reskinned equipment, new models (such as the helmet I made here), and even new factions are waiting to be discovered. Taleworlds wastes no time in releasing multiplayer patches, almost ensuring their dedication throughout the process as bugs and balance issues are discovered. This is the kind of developer you want to support. We’ll be getting a server. Will you join us?