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Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Minimum requirements: Pentium 766 MHz or compatible processor; Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista; Direct3D accelerator
Release date: September 16, 2008
Review by: Jason Pitruzzello
It is an image that has become symbolic of both gaming and literature: an armed warrior atop a horse, battling against enemies. Fantasy novels and RPGs make use of such images in their artwork, from covers to books to interior pictures, as do more historical and less fantastic medieval games and literature. Yet, when it comes to CRPGs that are set in either a fantasy or a medieval setting, we often find horses relegated to a means of fast travel, and mounted combat occurs rarely, if at all. The vast groups of armed warriors, wizards and wandering bards to be found in blockbuster games such as Oblivion and Neverwinter Nights fight and die on foot, no matter how realistic, well done or complicated the combat systems for these games are. Now, for those looking for a more comprehensive model of combat, one that puts cavalry in its rightful place, there is Mount and Blade, a new CRPG in development by Taleworlds that I have had the privilege of previewing during the past two weeks.
Mount and Blade aims to be a sandbox-style CRPG in a fictional medieval setting. It’s not a fantasy world, so there are no spells, powers or magic swords. It takes place in the realm of Calradia, where five major kingdoms jockey with one another for geopolitical dominance while protecting their own thrones from usurpers, roving bands of unaffiliated bandits, and ambitious vassals. The land is practically one step away from anarchy, and that’s where you, the player, come into the picture. With the world in such disarray, those with a good sword arm and a smart head on their shoulders should be able to make their fortune any way they choose, or die trying. Looking to save the oppressed and be a hero of the people? There are plenty of commoners who need your help, what with bands of ruffians roaming the countryside looting and killing. Perhaps you want to build a mercenary band of warriors, making money by hiring yourselves out in the almost continuous wars that seem to rage? Mount and Blade has that covered, with both combat and economic systems in place to support that style of play. Feel like you want to be a mover and shaker in the politics of the world? There’s at least one major political figure scheming to take the throne of each of the five kingdoms, allowing for political intrigue. You can even take up the life of a roving bandit yourself, raiding villages for their movable wealth, plundering caravans and stealing their loot. Or you can become a trader, fighting off bandits so you can profitably move goods from one place to another. You can even forsake the life of a wanderer and fight as a gladiator, going from town to town competing in tournaments. The world, chaotic as it is, is your oyster.
Given the deteriorated condition of the game’s world, no matter which path you choose, combat is always one step away. It is to this that many gamers will be initially drawn. The designers have tried to develop a combat system that is both complex and well integrated into the CRPG elements of the game. Fighting with melee weapons involves combining certain mouse movements with clicking, dictating the type of attack (thrust, slash, and so on). Blocking with either a weapon or a shield is accomplished via a similar set of movements and mouse clicks. The damage done by attacks and the effectiveness of blocking are dictated by a whole host of factors that include the style of attack, the weapon’s effectiveness with that style, your character’s skill with that weapon, the armor in use, your blocking skill and what is being used to block, the condition of your shield, the relative velocity of the attacker and defender in relation to one another, and probably a dozen other things not readily apparent without sophisticated analysis.
Tactics are further complicated by the inclusion of cavalry combat. It is immediately obvious after playing for about five minutes that the designers have done more than simply transplant traditional combat strategies atop a horse. The moment your character mounts up and enters combat, things change significantly. The interface modifies itself to horseback controls and the performance of weapons, armor and shields changes. Now you have to be concerned not only with your own health, but also that of your mount, while also remembering how your current weapon functions on horseback. Also, as you are right-handed in the game, you find that your access to targets on your right is much better than to those on your left. The amount of damage added to melee attacks while you are moving at full speed is staggering, (if you can hit your target) and since you are higher off the ground than the infantry, you have a better chance of hitting your enemy in the head. Of course, cavalry combat has its disadvantages, too. There’s nothing like being immobilized while on horseback on the battlefield; you’re just a bigger target that surrounding enemies can hit with no effort. Archery combat, both on foot and on horseback, is also included.
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