“The town of Dhirim has been awarded to Count Falfesor. This is the eleventh time that King Graveth has decided to not award me with a piece of property despite me and my loyal men having been the ones who fought the Nords back.” – The Foreigner Ra’is. Day 204.
Mount and Blade Warband is a very unassuming game; it was initially released in 2010 and didn’t have a large marketing budget, at least not one that would make the average gamer think I totally want to play this game. Mount & Blade takes place in the fictional, medieval land of Calradia where there are six kingdoms (each vaguely resembling an actual historical culture) vying to rule over all the others. That’s about it as far as plot goes; everything from the moment you boot up the game is a story that’s unique to you. The player’s own story is chosen at character creation, where the player can be, for example, a child of an impoverished noble or a street urchin. Choices that you make during the game stack on one another which have an impact on dialogue. If you spend a good portion of your time looting villages and raiding caravans, lords may begin to regard you as a criminal. On the flip side, if you choose to help out specific kingdoms you may be awarded lucrative mercenary contracts (these have their drawbacks as well). There are of course various things that remain constant throughout anyone’s playthrough – things like towns, kings, types of food, weapons, etc. That said, there is no overarching storyline – you are entirely left up to your own devices. Does any lack of moral responsibility sound like something appealing to you? Good – keep on reading.
“I shouted at my men to hold the line. The Rhodok spearman planted their shields into the dirt and braced for the cavalry charge. I took the cavalry and rode around the mountain to catch the Sarranid horsemen by surprise from behind. They weren’t used to fighting in the hilly regions. Today I make them pay in blood for that mistake.” The Foreigner Ra’is. Day 311.
After picking the appropriate backstory for my character (read: blacksmith with a penchant for hunting and exploration) I found myself in a non-descript town on a horse. Before I have the chance to establish my bearings a man tumbles into the cobblestone street and bumps into me. “Stop that thief!” I hear in the background. As soon as I realize what’s going on the thief draws his sword – instinctively I cut him down. Blood drips from my pixelated, low-poly blade. This was the first time I killed someone. After being thanked for my efforts by the store owner I am tasked with gathering five warriors and saving the owner’s brother from a bandit camp. He gives me a money advance and not more than a few hours later I am swindled out of my money by a traveling mercenary. As soon as we leave the town’s guarded walls we are attacked by bandits and said mercenary gets himself killed. I, however, am captured and dragged around the continent for a few days before making a harrowing escape. This false start to Mount and Blade only endeared me to it. How many games are out there where you are an overpowered hero where the world revolves around you? This game kicks you into the dirt and reminds you that you are a nobody and your safety is not the game’s concern.
“I met the world’s self-proclaimed greatest horseman today. His name is Nizar, a foreigner like myself. As to whether or not he’s the greatest is beyond me, but he has decided to accompany me on my journey throughout the land of Calradia.” – The Foreigner Ra’is. Day 32.
Being broke has a way of humbling you in Mount and Blade. Wealth accumulation is an important factor – without money you can’t buy armor. Without money you can’t buy food to keep your troops happy. Without money you can’t run a kingdom. With very few options open to me having totally botched the start of a game I wandered into the local fighting arenas. I heard from a local that a man could earn his weight in gold if he won enough fights. The more people you defeat in the arena the more money you get. Last man standing in the mud? Enjoy your 250 Denars. I spent weeks in the pit until I had enough money to hire a bunch of tribesman to join my fight against the bandits.
This is how it started. At present, I am a Count with my own castle. I have a band of misfits that for whatever reason have chosen to follow me. A doctor with questionable surgery practices, a daughter who did not wish to have her father choose a husband for her, even another blacksmith with a penchant for violence.
Mount and Blade has a way of pulling you into its world by making you work for what you desire. Want a castle? Earn it. Want to be King? Better be ready to play political pundit. Other games (that shall not be named) give players the illusion of choice and importance; their dialogue choices and actions have minimal effects on the plot at large and character development is already pre-determined. Your story has been written, you are simply chasing plot point after plot point to find meaning in a character that was not made in your image. Mount and Blade is all about you, and it is not about you. Be a King. Be a soldier. Be raider. Be a thief. Be nothing. Be something. Who cares? This game doesn’t. Whatever you wish to be, go forth and be it. Mount and Blade inspires a player’s imagination, it forces you to unconsciously become immersed in it’s world.
The game’s graphics are dated, but the Nexus modding community has a large number of upgrades for those interested and the community of Calradia is friendly and helpful if you choose to join in the multiplayer. I would recommend this game to people who want a break from fast-twitch based shooters, RTS’s where you can’t play an actual character, and anyone who just wants to try something different.
Four dead bandits out of five. Not bad!