Posted: February 21
Mount & Blade: Warband (along with its predecessor, Mount & Blade) is a game so unique it is difficult to fit it snugly into one category. It's an action RPG, it's grand strategy, it's a simulation, it's open world. This game is a whole bunch of things that melt so perfectly together, and it is unlike any other game I've ever played. For anyone who is even the slightest bit interested in medieval warfare, this is the game you never knew you wanted.
You start out by answering some simple questions about the life your character has lived thus far, and critiquing the way your heroine (or hero) looks. You are thrown into the large continent of Calradia which is split into six unique factions that are constantly at war with each other. The world map is familiar to those of us who enjoy grand strategy games; you can view the land and the castles/towns/villages/hideouts etc. that exist on it at any one time, while your character and her horse moves along it like a pawn on a gameboard. The colors of the names tell you which faction currently owns and controls each piece of land. What you begin to do from here is ultimately up to you. You can try doing favors for lords and kings to win their favor and ultimately work for them, whilst building up a small army of ragtag soldiers that you recruit and hire from various places, or you can be bold and try almost immediately to begin taking over land yourself (which I wouldn't recommend for the first dozen or so hours into the game).
Battles in this game are nothing short of amazing. Both warring sides start out on opposite ends of the map (I've never seen the same battlefield twice, by the way, so I believe they are randomized based on the terrain type you are currently traversing). You can issue commands to your army, and this is fun to mess around with. For example, you can tell your archers to stand their ground and your cavalry to charge the enemy, while giving a different order to infantry. It's all up to you. By default, all units will charge, and for the most part, this is sufficient. You will then meet your enemy in the battlefield, where cavalry can run over infantry, archers can shoot riders off of horses, and you can kill horses while their riders are still living, making them fall face first into the ground before swarming them. Basically, if you've ever seen two opposing sides charge in a movie and have felt that intensity and awe, you can actually play as one of those people involved in Mount & Blade, and each and every time it's amazing. This game is fantastic for nerds like me who love anything medieval; not only are there full out battles like this, but you eventually (and your army) get strong enough to take over castles, towns, etc., and you get to be one of the units that is a part of this, each and every single time.
The goal regardless seems to be to take over the entire map of land, whether through an existing faction or through your own, which you may create once you have a strong enough army to begin taking over land by force. Lords will double cross you, downright insult you, and even beg their respective kings for the rights to a castle you may have taken over yourself, and depending on the circumstance, you may or may not be jipped out of a piece of land you worked hard for. You can then, however, decide to accept that or give a one fingered salute to your king before renouncing your allegiance and going your own way. It is entirely up to you.
I would highly, highly recommend you play as a woman character, even if you are not a woman in real life. The game is fantastic at reflecting the negative attitudes toward women at the time, and those mentalities can highly influence you during the game. For example, I created a woman character and named her after myself, much like I did for the first Mount and Blade. I set about levelling up my character and recruiting soldiers, and picked up a mercenary contract for a faction. After taking over three castles single-handedly for the faction's king, I spoke to the king, introduced myself, and asked to be promoted to being his vassal. He told me outright that he didn't care what I had accomplished. Because I was a woman, I could not be his vassal, and I couldn't own land. I asked him what would happen if I took an enemy castle by force, and he replied that he would "think about" letting me keep it. This sexist attitude (although very realistic for the time) got me so fired up that I promptly cancelled my contract with the king and began taking over his land by force. After about 40 hours of in-game time, he was exiled from the land, his faction was extinct, and all of his land belonged to a new faction appropriately named "Rosie's Kingdom of Awesome." About 40 hours after that, I was Queen of Calradia. But it all started because of my motivation to overthrow an arrogant and sexist king as the woman he insulted, and no other game has done such a great job of inspiring me to create my own grudges and follow through on them until I conquered all.
This game is one of the most perfectly put together pieces of work I've ever played. I've seen people question the graphics, but I think the game is simplisticly beautiful (also, I grew up in the 90s--graphics don't matter to me). The game runs perfectly on my older non-gaming laptop, so that's also a plus for those of you looking for a large scale warfare game that can play on a toaster. There are some glitches, although nothing game-breaking (people spawned on the outside of a castle wall in 2/500 or so sieges I played, and I once had to sit out one siege because I fell through a crack in a floor of a castle tower and floated perpetually until my soldiers won the battle without me and I could exit). The character animations are a bit stiff, but I actually like them that way; it brings humor to the game for me, and if any future Mount & Blade doesn't have the stiff animations, I'll miss them.
Mount & Blade: Warband took 90 hours of my life away in the past week, and very few games can pull me in so relentlessly. This game is one of my personal favorites, along with Mount & Blade (I haven't tried With Fire & Sword yet, but it's only a matter of time). A solid 10/10 from me. Buy this game. Buy it now, and let it consume you. :)