Last month Dither at Rumors of War wrote about a quest idea he was impressed with in Mount & Blade.
A year or two ago, a friend gifted me an extra Steam key that he had picked up of M&B: Warband, saying that he thought it would be up my alley. I gave the game a very cursory investigation, and it did indeed sound like something I’d like. There have just been so many other forms of entertainment crowding my queue that I never got around to it.
Reading Dither’s blog post gave me the nudge I needed to finally get around to it, and so far I’m pleased.
There seem to be a lot of mechanics and aspects to the game that aren’t really explained; the only tutorial I came across was for basic combat. The character creation is pretty standard fare – choose a name, customize your appearance, distribute some points into various attributes, skills, and weapon stats. I did like the part where you craft your character’s background from a series of choices. It’s enough to give you a sense of who you want your character to be without nailing you down.
As far as I can tell, there’s no real story beyond a short series of quests that you pick up after beginning the game. It’s an open-world sandbox, where it’s hinted that your ultimate goal is to build up power and become a king.
I created my character to come from humble beginnings, so I’m working my way up as a stationless mercenary captain at the moment. I’m not sure what the differences are, but you can choose to be from a noble family, or to be a woman (which may influence some aspects of the game?). NPCs have told me that one can gain favor with lords and kings to be granted titles and fiefdoms, and that some vassals grow in power and go rogue, declaring themselves to be kings. I suppose this will be my path.
Thus far, the dynamics are pretty fun and the different mechanics of the game mesh in a comfortable way. When traveling over land, you see a world map of sorts, and when they’re within your vision you can see other units moving around the map in real time. Your party moves as one.
When you come to a town or castle, you are presented with a context menu that gives you several options; usually to explore the area or else use a shortcut to visit a merchant or recruit soldiers without having to physically go into town and walk there yourself (I do like this time-saving mechanic).
Battles are quite interesting. A number of your stats determine how many people you can have in your party. Right now I believe my max is around 55. As you gather money, you may travel about recruiting volunteers for your band. These soldiers are attached to your party, receive a salary, and require you to carry food to sustain them. As you bring them into battles, they receive experience. When they reach certain thresholds, you can pay to promote them to stronger varieties of soldiers, with improved stats (?) and gear.
There are also named characters you can recruit, who have special stats and can perform special tasks for you.
Anyway, when you enter a battle, your party comes with you. Basically you’ve got a mob of NPC’s grunting and yelling and waving axes, hammers, swords, and other implements. They charge the enemy and do what damage they can. They can be wounded or killed, like the enemy.
It’s actually quite amusing to watch. Dither compared it to the Total War games – mobs and blobs of somewhat blocky little guys just having at one another. It’s kind of like zooming all the way in on one of those miniature battles. Of course you don’t just watch – you can get in on the action, as well.
This is just scratching the surface, but one more tidbit to share. As Dither observed, some of the quests are pretty interesting. One of the first I picked up was entertaining to say the least. I was charged with training the peasants of a village that was being harassed by bandits, so that they would be able to fight back (a ‘la the Seven Samurai). This “training” consisted of several recurring sessions in which a half-naked peasant would charge me with a quarterstaff and I would beat him to unconsciousness (two whacks with my own staff usually did it).
M&B has certainly gotten one thing right: it’s hard to be a peasant.