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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
A short time ago, I stumbled across Mount and Blade quite by accident. My editor let me know that I would be previewing the game and sent me the associated materials before I even knew anything about it. Considering that it’s been in development for years, I was surprised that I had never heard of developer Taleworlds and their flagship title. I was unprepared for what awaited me, but I was impressed with what I saw, even under the limited conditions of the preview version. Now I sit at my computer desk with the full version of Mount and Blade installed on my PC. I’ve spent the past two weeks being both a benefactor and a scourge to the land; my weapons have feasted upon many enemies. My mouse is probably as tired as my character’s horse, as they have both had quite a workout.
Mount and Blade is a CRPG set in the fictional land of Calradia. It is a realm torn by constant warfare between the five main kingdoms, various bandits, desperadoes and invaders from across the sea. Calradia is an amalgam of various medieval cultures that really existed, all set up in one impossible world. Into this land of violence and chaos your character is thrust. You can be the savior of the common people, helping them wherever you roam. Or you can build an army and swear loyalty to one of the kings, advancing their political ambitions and uniting the land. You can play kingmaker and place usurpers on the thrones, or you can strike out on your own, offering loyalty to no one. Since the five kingdoms are derived from actual historical societies, clever players will quickly see shades of Mongolian steppe warfare in the Khergit Khanate’s military, even as the Nords show the clear markings of Scandinavian forces and their famous Viking warriors. So, while the realm is complete fiction, it will not be unfamiliar. But it is also not a fantasy setting. There are no spells, potions, incantations or magic items of any sort. Fighting is settled in a number ways, all involving weapons, armor and horses, without a single ball of fire to be seen. This deliberate choice on the part of the developers is a welcome change of pace. TaleWorlds has created Mount and Blade with a focus on the varied details of medieval warfare present in all of the different cultures represented in the game.
In Mount and Blade there are no auto attacks, turns or critical hits based on results from a random-number generator. Combat is a very intense hand-eye coordination activity. Where you aim a weapon, if it is not blocked, is generally where it will hit, and the style of attack is based on how you move the mouse. An overhead strike is accomplished by a different mouse-button combination than those used for swinging from the right side or thrusting. Adding to the complexity is how different weapons perform. Axes cannot thrust, and lances are only effective while you are mounted on horseback and moving at high speed. Also, your character’s skills influence how fast you recover from an attack and are able to strike again, and dictate how close to your point of aim an attack actually lands. You have to aim properly and count on your character’s skills to execute an attack. Blocking is not automatic; instead, you have to aim your block while your attacker aims his attack. Shields are not 100% weapon proof, making combat even more complicated. As they absorb attacks, shields take damage and can eventually break, so cowering behind a shield is a losing proposition in the long run, especially when facing opponents who wield weapons with bonus effects against shields, such as heavy two-handed axes.
As complicated as the combat system is on foot, the gloves come off when it takes place on horseback. My hat is off to Taleworlds for not taking the easy way out and making cavalry combat just a medieval version of vehicular warfare. Instead, mounted combat includes all of the elements that make it interesting, difficult and radically different from fighting on foot. The obvious advantage to being on horseback is unparalleled maneuverability on the battlefield; it’s easier to move around in heavy armor if the horse is doing the moving. Also, since horses are much faster than humans, you can put that extra speed behind your attacks, causing massive extra damage when traveling at full speed. A properly aimed lance used while at full gallop on a fast horse does enough damage to kill any opponent, no matter how tough they are or how much armor they have. Of course, riding atop a horse in the middle of a raging battle has its problems. First, the horse does nothing to protect you from attacks. Archers and crossbowmen have no problem picking off a target that is sitting head and shoulders above the infantry. Second, horses are not invincible, and a charging horse can be crippled by a well placed spear or axe; you just don’t spring up instantly after falling from a crippled horse that was traveling at full speed. Also, riding a horse changes the way you use weapons. Since everyone in the game is right-handed, you can only fire bows straight ahead or to your left, and you can reach further to the right of your horse with a melee weapon than you can to the left.
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