Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: "Mount and Blade"

First off, I'm going to thank John for introducing me this game. Sandbox games are actually one of my favorite genres in the games industry. We don't really get to see many of those nowadays. Others I've enjoyed include Sid Meyer's Pirates and Vikings: The Strategy of Ultimate Conquest.

The most important thing about sandbox games is the setting, so for Mount and Blade (I'm just going to call it MnB for short), the setting is Medieval. No magic, no mysteries, just straight up sword, shields, arrows, and of course, horses. It currently looks a little incomplete here and these, but despite that, it has enough working features to keep me going.

When you start the new game, a series of questions will be thrown at you. These, as most gamers would expect, determine your starting stats. Afterwards you will be thrown to your stats page which you probably will not understand what all those words mean. Look up a guide in GameFAQs, or explore them yourself, it's up to you but you will definitely not understand them the first time you play like most age old RPGs.

Finally, they'll ask you which faction's city to start from. This only gives you your starting location, not your faction, so don't worry if you start in a faction you don't like. We'll go more into that later.

After creating your character, the game throws you into combat instantly against a random guy. Win or lose, you will be rescued by a merchant and he will ask if you'd like to do some stuff. This is basically just the introduction of the game and the quest is very optional. Nothing bad will happen if you refuse him.

Okay so now you get to travel around. As a sandbox game, most people will feel at a loss on what to do. Even after the introduction quest, some will not know what's their objective in the game. There isn't one really, but essentially, you'd either want to be a mercenary or a vassal for a lord. Being a vassal is generally more fun because you will easily be involved in politics, huge wars, and all the other minor variables that run the game.

Or you can just be a hired blade, running around signing random contracts with random lords, changing your faction at a whim and simply just...wander around the world and try to make a living. I didn't really find that interesting so I became a vassal with all my characters.

But the common mechanics used to making your living is: Gather an army, level them up, customize your army, and go do what you want with them. This process is repeated many times especially at the lower levels.

Oh yes, I haven't actually tried to work for a claimant (people who have rights to the throne in a faction, and some mishap happened that caused them to get exiled or whatever). Most of this guide is going to be mostly about being a vassal, since that's where all the fun and combat lies.

So now we can finally look at factions. There are a total of 6 factions you can join and when you do, your relation with other nations will be adjusted accordingly whenever your faction goes to war.

When you are in a faction though, it doesn't mean you are limited to that faction's soldiers. You can still go around recruiting different recruits from different factions, but chances are, you are going to stay inside the faction's boarders and thus your army will most probably contain mostly soldiers from that faction.

Joining a faction will immediately grant you a fief, which generates free income for you. Winning sieges to castles and towns will also give you a chance (depending how much your king loves) to own it.

As far as factions go, all factions have more or less different army composition. Swadians have the best equipments and knights, and Vaegirs have very good knights and the best archers, Nords have the best infantry but no calvary, Khergits have all their soldiers on light horses, Rhodoks supposedly beat calvary armies with their heavy spear reliance, Sarranid have the best knights.

So know your faction's army composition and your enemy's before heading to better. Nords heavy reliance on infantry may seem like a joke on open field thanks to calvary, but they are hell to beat when you are sieging them when you are denied your horses.

Likewise, Khergits can be incredibly annoying on open field, but when you siege their castles, they are almost a joke.

Now we come to possibly the most addictive part of the game. Combat.

Combat mechanics is easily explained in their tutorial. Right click + move up blocks high, hold left click + move up prepares your overhead swing, right click + move left blocks left hits, left click + move left prepares your rightwards swing, etc...

It does not seem like much, but it can get messy, especially when it's possible to have up to 50 soldiers per side per battle. A tip from me is to learn to combat on a horse. It may seem hard at first, but you'll get the hang of it eventually. On open battles (i.e. not in castles), being mounted gives you many advantages, that's why the game is called MOUNT and Blade.

Firstly, being mounted increases the chances of footmen or archers hitting your horse instead of you. Secondly, you can perform very cheap and painful hit and runs. Thirdly, if you get targeted, it's easier to just turn your horse around and just gallop away out of their range. All these add up to give a huge boost to your survivability.

So I recommend you build your character to at least be able to combat well on a mount. There's a good reason why I say fighting Nords on an open field a joke and why Khergits are incredibly annoying to fight.

Like I mentioned, Mount and Blade is a sandbox game. Some will love it. Some will hate it. It's definitely not a game for everybody. There are a lot of small but important mechanics I haven't covered like quests, taverns, marketplaces, tournaments, marrying, etc.

I hope the review is good enough to at least get everyone interested in the game. For those who eventually like it, beware because this game can become one of the biggest time-sink in your life.

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