Hands-On Preview: Mount & Blade (PC)

Mount & Blade, at first glance, seems to take a lot of its inspiration from Oblivion or Two Worlds. It’s a third person game with a decidedly medieval bent. It features town navigation, melee and ranged combat, third person action and overworld exploration. This only really scratches the surface, of course. Upon digging further into the game with a bit of hands-on play time, it seems a bit more of an homage to the sort of gaming experience that is presented in games like Pirates and Defender of the Crown; taking yourself from being a virtual unknown in the world to being top dog, whether lawfully or otherwise, seems to more readily be the name of the game here.

A brief tutorial explains the basic combat mechanics. Using the standard keyboard movement and mouse-look combo that FPS titles have been using for decades, Mount & Blade makes combat fairly easy to understand. The left mouse button is used to strike or shoot at foes with your equipped weapon, while the right button is used to block attacks. When armed with a shield, blocking is fairly simple, but when using a weapon only blocking becomes more advanced. By pressing the button as the attack is prepared, your character will block in the direction the strike is coming from, meaning that wielding a two-handed weapon to attack and block becomes a much more involved (and interesting) experience than using a weapon and shield in combination. Since shields have their own life meter of sorts and can degrade as they take damage, it’s often practical to learn to manage both styles of blocking early in the game, as both work pretty well but handle differently. Switching weapons is a simple matter of rolling the mouse wheel as well, which also works sufficiently and is easy to use. You’ll be doing your combat both on foot and on horseback, though on foot combat works a bit better at this point. Horseback combat is less than precise due to your character’s making decisions on what direction to swing in… attempting a forward thrust on an enemy places you in the position of hitting your target with the horse as often as with the sword, though this could be repaired prior to release.

After the tutorial, it was off to make a character of my very own, and Mount & Blade makes this surprisingly easy as well. You’ll be offered a choice of gender, followed by a series of questions (who are your parents, what is your motivation, what is best in life… wait, nevermind) which help to dictate your character’s starting stats, followed by the ability to customize your stats slightly on your own by spending some additional skill points (and possibly by allowing you to carry a banner into battle, depending on your choices). Your abilities are divided up as you’d expect, between Attributes (Strength, Charisma, the usual), Skills (talents such as riding horses, taking additional damage, persuading others, and so on) and Proficiencies (weapon knowledge, in bows, swords and such). All of your Skills use a base attribute, and if said base attribute is too low to learn the level, well, go level up the attribute. Gaining levels is a simple matter of earning experience, as normal, which can be done in the usual ways (killing things, diplomacy, and such), and each level offers you the chance to spend more points as dictated. From there you can use the sliding scales of facial modification to change your character’s facial appearance, hair, beard (for men), age and such, and after finalizing all of that you’re dumped out into the world of Calradia.

It’s here that the game becomes a good bit more than it seems.

The overworld is basically one giant map which you can travel around at will by clicking on locations. The game world pauses when you’re not in motion, but while you’re moving about, time passes and people go on about their lives. You can engage regular people or enter towns and castles as you maneuver around the world, and the various options presented to you are many. You can “take a hostile action” like driving off cattle you can attempt to capture (which can be sold or given to other towns), visit bars and arenas, visit kingdoms, rob merchants, recruit soldiers into your army, forge alliances and make enemies, and so on down the line as you feel necessary. Battles and negotiations seem to go on in the world around you without your involvement (war was declared between two nations seconds after I started my game, though at the time I was more interested in arena combat than political dissention), which is interesting to see, and it’s very likely that as you make allies and enemies, your personal armies will be called upon to aid in wars and such. It’s also very interesting to note that, insofar as the mechanics are concerned, the game is designed to be very realistic; there are no elves or dwarves, no healing potions or spells or anything magical at all, so you’ll be winning most of your battles by your skills and army strength, not by any outside influence.

Visually, Mount & Blade looks a little dated, which seems to work in its favor, as there’s no noticeable draw-in at long distances and no significant loading when you enter towns and such. Aurally, there’s no voice acting to speak of, the music is fairly appropriate for the tone of the experience, and the sound effects seem appropriate. Hopefully a review copy of the product will feature slightly sharper presentation overall, but at this point what’s here certainly isn’t bad.

All in all, Mount & Blade is shaping up to be a fairly interesting, realistic take on medieval war and peace concepts, and it seems to be a significantly open-ended experience that should, ideally, appeal to those looking for something like Defender of the Crown with a more updated dynamic. The presentation could use some cleaning up, some combat elements work better than others and a little direction in the product might be helpful, but all told, Mount & Blade is shaping up nicely and should be worth a look when it releases. We’ll keep you posted.

Check out more about Mount & Blade here: Mount & Blade Website.

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