Do you like quests? Do you like fighting with medieval weaponry? And do you like beards? If there answer to any of these questions is 'Yes. Yes I do' then Mount & Blade may very well be the game for you.
You may be thinking 'How do you know what I like' To which my response is I don't – but as a reviewer I can make wild general assumptions about you. You may also be thinking 'Why do I want to play another RPG?' This one I can answer by saying Mount & Blade has tried to bring a different angle to the genre.
The company behind the game, Taleworlds, have tried to make their world more realistic than others in the market. While in World of Warcraft the player will encounter elves, dwarfs and all sorts of other mystical beings, M&B's world of Calradia is home to just humans – mostly with interesting facial hair.
The game begins with the player creating their own in game character. You give yourself a background by filling in some blanks. For example your parents were BLANKs and at the age of 18 you left home to BLANK. This back story doesn't really affect the game aside from tweaking your characters starting stats a little. You then move onto the fun of deciding what you're character looks like. There are a lot of tabs to change how he or she looks but it doesn't really make much difference. Especially if like me, you cover your characters face with a stylish hair and beard combo. You then name your plucky young hero and tweak some abilities before they're dumped into Calradia – a Medieval world with a number of warring nations.
Interestingly there is no story. Your characters destiny is entirely in your hands. You start off on the world map and you choose where you go. The in game world is massive and there are plenty of castles, towns and villages where you find quests. Most of these are simple to begin with – for example you will get told to deliver a letter to another castle or be asked to provide a village with specific items. Other tasks include collecting taxes from villagers or trying to get Lords to repay debt. Unfortunately with the latter you can't just use violence to get your way – it's a case of trying to persuade them to pay the money. If you want you can join one of the various kingdoms and earn your glory in war. Or if you're more of a economist than a warrior you can make your fortune through trade. Essentially there are quests here to cater for all sorts of different tastes.
Whatever quests you choose to accept you can't just transport yourself to where you need to be to do it. You need to travel across the world map on horseback and if you're not careful this can be dangerous. Various bands of thugs and criminals roam the lands and will come after you given half a chance. Here it's useful to have your own band of merry men – usually recruited in taverns - to try and even the odds.
The on foot combat mechanics are excellent and largely come down to timing. Block by right clicking, attack by left clicking and use the keys to move around. It's simple, and very satisfying. Of course if there are more enemies it gets more difficult. However you can train at a number of training areas on the map and even test your skills in battle arenas – while earning yourself a bit of coinage at the same time.
The horseback combat however is a bit more difficult – in fact it's a lot more difficult. I found I was just running towards the enemy sword arm flailing wilding in an attempt to chop them up. It's extremely difficult which is unfortunate because a lot of the time you are on a horse – unless it gets killed. Obviously. Never fear you can use your hard earned money to buy a new one – along with various types of equipment that will make it harder for your enemies to down you. Which is something you definitely want isn't it? Unless you LIKE the idea of being captured by bandits.
One drawback about Mount & Blade is that the graphics engine looks very dated – think Half Life – but of course this doesn't make it a bad game. The open nature of the game world makes it very addictive. I found myself continually wanting to travel to the next town just to see what was there. The townspeople don't exactly offer riveting conversation but what else can you really expect from NPC's in an RPG! They also don't have voices – the dialogue is entirely text based but the excellent musical score makes up for this.
At the end of the day, it's not the other characters that make this game – its you. And if you're looking for an open ended traditional role playing game, with some unique traits, then Mount & Blade should definitely be in your collection.
(Originally written and published for Game-Debate on 04/05/09)