Mount & Blade: Warband sets off on the wrong foot. A direct port of the 2010 PC release, it boasts appalling visuals and an initial lack of direction that will likely have you ready to throw in the towel before you’ve even gotten started. Fighting past that urge, however, allows the game’s deep and tactical systems to blossom into something quite compelling.
Unfortunately, some weapons shatter balancing to the point a single unconsidered blow will lay out almost any competition. When combined with poor artificial intelligence, combat becomes exploitatively easy. Given the right setting - say, a narrow pathway that forces enemies to approach in single file - you can just about take on entire armies single handedly. Similarly, most units become superfluous when you realise cavalry possess a huge advantage; the horses essentially double each unit’s health, meaning they can simply charge in headfirst and win most any fight. The difficulty can be bumped up to somewhat remedy the problems, though it won’t eradicate them.
By now you’ll have earned the renown not just to converse with nobles, but to be sworn into the service of royalty. Choosing to do so grants a weekly wage, as well as a village to rule and the associated income from its rents. It should be a pivotal moment to breathe a sigh of relief with more coming into your purse than going out, but thanks to the aforementioned exploits they were dealing in small change. When you’re powerful enough to ransack enemy villages without needing to fear the repercussions, money is an almost endless commodity.
It’s recommended you remain in a king’s service until you’re recognised as having a sufficient right to rule, only then making strides of your own, lest everybody unite to come down on your little uprising like a ton of horse cakes. Accruing that right by finding a fitting spouse and schmoozing with bigwigs just felt like obligatory busywork that hampered the pacing when, militarily, we could have realistically conquered their castles and taken them prisoner.
The gravitational pull of Warband dragged us through the dark hours regardless, defying we put it down like the best strategy games do, before finally rewarding us with the juicy bits we signed up for.
Now a law unto ourselves, we set about inditing large-scale siege warfare to claim swathes of land. It certainly makes you feel like a badass, storming strongholds tapping into a love nurtured by some of the most iconic scenes in cinema, despite in this instance looking like two bags of potatoes being poured into a toy castle.
If you manage to claim and hold everything as your own, which will take some considerable time and dedication, you’ll have done what many thought impossible in uniting the fragmented land in an era of peace. See, you can justify all the bloodshed in the name of prosperity.
Should your cup begin to runneth dry, there are additional wars to be waged in the custom battle and multiplayer modes. Naturally there’s no politicking here, just a range of deathmatch and objective-based game modes that run smoothly on dedicated servers.
Through offering an unprecedented - even intimidating - level of freedom to the player and populating the world of Calradia with abundant emergent gameplay events, TaleWorlds Entertainment bottled an addictive formula that will enthrall for countless long play sessions should you give it the chance. At a budget price, Mount & Blade: Warband provides immense value for money that goes a long way to excusing the archaic AI and presentation, as well as the balance and pacing issues.