Better Than a Day at Medieval Times
By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on September 16th, 2016 on Xbox One and PS4, also available on PC
Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment Publisher: TaleWorlds Entertainment
So let’s say that you’re a big fan of the middle ages. You go to Medieval Times so often that the servers know you by name. You are enrolled in an online class to brush up on Ye Olde English. Your idea of a perfect Saturday is LARPing in the park with your friends, showing off the swords and armor you made all by yourself. One day, you’re quaffing some chicken at your usual table in Medieval Times when some drunken lout bumps into your table and spills your mead. Tensions run high and the situation escalates, and next thing you know you’re slapping the hell out of the guy with a glove and challenging him to a duel whilst members of the staff are trying to pull you off of him. Cops are called, criminal charges are laid, and that means no more carrying weapons in public places. There go your Saturdays in the park. And to top it off, the management at Medieval Times have issued you a lifetime ban. Am I the only person this has happened to? Maybe. But if this sounds like you, then Mount and Blade: Warband is the perfect way to scratch that medieval itch.
The best way to describe the single player mode of Mount and Blade: Warband would be as a medieval era sandbox/simulation. The setting for your feudal adventure is the war-torn land of Calradia, which is made up of multiple kingdoms with unique factions inhabiting them. First, you must create and customize your character. The game asks your gender, then a few multiple choice questions to craft a backstory for your new character, and then come the usual bland appearance customization options which are nothing special. The hero page is where the customization process truly shines. Feeling a little bit like a character sheet straight out of Dungeons and Dragons, the hero page offers you the chance to create a character tailored towards how you would like to play. You are allotted a limited amount of points to put into your attributes, skills, and weapon proficiencies. So for example, if you wanted to be a cunning merchant you are better off putting your points towards attributes like intelligence and charisma, and skills like trade and inventory management. After creating your own character, you choose which kingdom you would like to start off in and then you’re dropped into the thick of it with very little instruction. Aside from a short, hand-crafted tutorial, you will pretty much be left to your own devices. There is no story or narration of any kind, however, there are still plenty of things to do in the world of Calradia. Personally, my favorite thing to do is gather up men and slowly build an army to take over the entire realm and earn the throne, but there are quite a few other options, which add a huge amount of replayability to Warband. For example, you could seek your fortune by traveling from town to town, taking part in tournaments to earn gold and win renown. Or you could act as a merchant, or pledge your sword to a king and prove your loyalty by protecting his kingdom and destroying his enemies, eventually earning a fief of your own. Maybe banditry is your thing, raiding and burning villages to become feared and reviled by all. The key to enjoying Mount and Blade’s single player is to do whatever you want while exploring and learning about the world of Calradia.
If you can’t be bothered with all that and just want to get into the meat and potatoes of the game, the medieval warfare, head over to multiplayer. Now before you can jump in and start swinging around pointy objects, you must create an entirely new character, separate from your single player one. Choosing your gender, appearance, and banner is all you get to do here, no tinkering around with stats and skills. There are 11 dedicated servers for each region, US East, US West, and Europe, in which up to 64 people can play on at any time. And a word of warning; friendly fire is always activated so be careful where you’re swinging lest ye smite an ally by accident. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag are all self-explanatory. In Duel, players can roam the chosen map freely, unable to hurt one another unless you issue a challenge to duel and the other player accepts. Upon death, players will respawn instantly. There is no way to actually win the game, the only way to end it is to exit back out to the menu. I guess this mode is meant for people looking to enjoy one-on-one fights with each other. Battle is just like Team Deathmatch, only with no respawns. I never got the chance to play Conquest or Fight and Destroy, as there were never any people playing those modes. One gripe I had about the multiplayer is that there are not many people playing online, even on a Saturday. This is very concerning for a game that just came out so recently on console. And finally, I saved the best mode for last, Siege. Siege is by far the most popular mode with online players, it is usually found running at full capacity. This is where I spend the bulk of my time playing whenever I want to unwind and add maces to faces. To explain it simply, one team defends the castle while the other team must get inside and occupy the area around the flag pole found in the center for a set amount of time to win the match. The defenders win if the attackers can’t capture it in the set amount of time. It sounds like an easy Capture the Flag match, but they called it Siege for good reason. In the beginning, there is no easy way to get into the castle, it IS a real castle, after all. The attackers have a few options. First, they can wait for the big, lumbering siege tower to slowly make its way to the wall and lower its ramp so players can start pouring over the walls. Or, there are certain points where ladders can be placed so the attackers can slowly climb up and over the walls, and maybe be able to make it to the inner gate and open it for their allies to come rushing in before the enemy catches them. You can also break the gate from the outside, but that takes time and can set you up for an ambush. All the while defenders are raining arrows and other thrown weapons down upon your heads. The first time I played Siege mode I was a defender on the wall. I’ll never forget the rush I felt the first time when that siege tower ramp lowered and the enemy came flooding in. All of a sudden a group of defenders and I were battling frantically for our lives on the ramparts, desperately trying to push back the charge while both sides rained arrows all around us. There aren’t many multiplayer experiences that I can compare to that, and that is a big part of why I love Siege mode so much. But as fun as Mount and Blade: Warband is, it’s not without its problems.
The first thing I’m sure you’ll notice are the graphics. They can seem quite outdated at times, especially when it comes to the characters face models and the flat looking trees and vegetation. I suppose the main reason for that is the fact that Warband came out on PC back in 2010, and the console versions are more or less a straight port. I also found the user interface to be a little clunky, looking through items and menus just doesn’t feel right, you can feel that it was meant for pointing and clicking with a mouse and keyboard. There is also a learning curve associated with the combat, I take it as a plus, but some players may not like it. Each weapon has its own feel and effective range, and they can sometimes be awkward to wield if you aren’t used to them. Plus you can aim your strikes in four different directions depending on the direction you’re holding the right stick in when you attack. Blocking also works the same way, but if you find it too difficult you can toggle the autoblock option on in the menu so you just need to hold the left trigger to block, no extra input needed. None of these issues hold back the game from truly shining where it counts; the substantial gameplay. As of this review, Mount and Blade Warband on Steam has an overwhelmingly positive rating with 96% of the 42 thousand-plus reviews being positive, and it is currently the most played game in my Steam library. Don’t let the graphics fool you, this is a game well worth however many hours you will gladly sink into it. I have to go now, I think I hear some soldiers trying to bash down my gate!
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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