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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Paradox Interactive
Developed By: Taleworlds
Genre: RPG
Rated: T (Teen)
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Amazon: Buy Now!
Screenshots: Link
Written by: Christian H.

I can honestly say that Mount and Blade is something altogether new. Open-world ac-tion RPG/RTS medieval warfare sim isnít exactly a genre that has been beaten into the ground. Clearly it isnít easy to sum up Mount and Blade as being a game in a particular genre. The most immediate comparison I can make is to Sid Meierís Pirates! A little bit roleplaying game, as you and your party and soldiers level and acquire new equipment. A little strategy as you build and lead your armies, and a lot of action in the manic joy of combat. To top it off, it all happens in a completely open world; from the moment you step in, you can go where you want, when you want, and do what you want.

Mount and Bladeís origins are about as indie as they can get. It was initially started as the personal project of a Turkish couple. Eventually, that couple founded development studio TaleWorlds, releasing multiple betas of the game on their website. In time, Mount and Blade was picked up by publisher Paradox Interactive and given a retail re-lease in North American and Europe, to fairly positive reception and a strong cult fan-base.

Mount and Blade has no linear narrative. Itís more the type of game where the player is free to create their own narrative. Obviously, Mount and Blade strives to portray a realistic vision of European medieval life and warfare. It does this, however, without portraying a vision of medieval Europe itself. Instead, it chooses to portray its setting in the fictional fantasy land of Calradia. Calradia is made up of various kingdoms inspired by real-world counterparts. Thereís the viking kingdom, the crusader kingdom, the Mongol kingdom, etc. Itís all fairly generic, in actuality, but itís convincing enough in such a way that itís familiar and accessible. In the beginning, youíre dropped into the world with very little explanation or guidance, so being able to recognize aspects of the world easily works to its favor. The politics and even cultures of the respective factions are never much of a factor in the game, and their differences come mostly from the types of units they specialize in. The in-game equivalent to the Mongols, for example, specialize in mounted archery. The world evolves and changes around the player as the various factions mostly do their own thing with or without your interference. They go to war, create alliances, conquer territories, and raid villages, all of which affect the in-game economy.

Theoretically, there is no lack of things to do in Mount and Blade. The player can choose to work as a freelancing mercenary or bandit, or side with any kingdom, or even insurgents. There are tournaments to take part in, there are goods to trade, villages to aid or harass, cattle to drive, fiefs to manage, and war campaigns to lead. In the end, though, it really all boils down to combat. The non-combat components are weak and repetitive, and feel tacked-on simply for the sake of content; they are easily the gameís biggest weakness. Cattle driving is--to put it bluntly--about as boring as it sounds, as you chase a cow from one village to another. Helping out villages and trading just boil down to games of menu navigation, grinding, collecting, or simple traveling from point A to point B.

However, if combat is a strong point, itís one hell of a strong point. Mounted combat is rarely done well in a game. It usually devolves to swinging a sword like a maniac while on horseback or recklessly charging and trampling/ramming your foes. The combat in Mount and Blade, however, is all about striking that perfect balance between finesse and raw strength. The strength of a weapon, its properties (slashing, piercing, or bludgeoning), and even its weight and speed--and your own speed--are all a factor in how effective it is. With a little practice, you learn to visualize and plan your attacks ahead of time. Even a weak, rusty weapon can be devastating if used correctly. If youíre successful, the payoff and sense of accomplishment are always rewarding.

If only your enemies were as considerate, as deliberate, as, well, smart. The AI, sadly, is another significant weak point in this innovative title. Theyíre prone to either turtling behind their shields, rarely taking chances for offense, swinging their weapons wildly, or riding around on their horses rather aimlessly. More often than not, they can attack much faster than you can, making the difficulty seem cheap in one-on-one combat. That is not to say that they are difficult, however. Numbers will almost always deter-mine the outcome of a battle: experience levels and army size, specifically. Strategically, enemy armies are all the same and all fall for the same tactic. Keep your archers on the high ground, your infantry below them, and lead your cavalry to your opponentís rear or flank, and victory is almost always assured, even against armies twice or three times (or more) the size of your own.

Still, even with the faults of the AI, I donít want to understate what an excellent job Mount and Blade does of portraying combat of this era. Clearly Iím no expert of what real war was like during this time, but the sense of chaos, and finding/creating some kind of order, gaining some modicum of control in that chaos, is intoxicating. That emotional response to the gameplay--the thrill of battle, as cliche as that is to say--is what keeps me coming back to it, in spite of its comparatively minor faults.

Mount and blade is one of those games thatís just destined to be polarizing. The graphics are certainly nothing to write home about and there is no voice acting at all. Its indie-budget shortcomings, interface issues, repetitive quests and lack of variety in its gameplay will be more forgivable to some than to others. For those who can see past those flaws and lose themselves in the primary component of the game (the combat) and the development of their character, however, thereís a lot of fun to be had here. At the end of day, even the biggest detractors cannot deny the overwhelming uniqueness of Mount and Blade.


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