Preview: Mount & Blade: Warband

When Jim Sterling of Destructoid wrote an article about the shit reviewers catch for doing their jobs, I was brought back to a time in 2008, when I wrote a review for Mount & Blade. In my review, I hurt the game because of its bugs, shoddy graphics, hit-or-miss gameplay, and inability to run well (pre-patch) on my Radeon 4870 card. I did mention the game’s excellent fan community, which I think I underrated, because they came out in force. The comments section only went over part of the vitriol I received, as my inbox has seen hate mail since I wrote the review. My last email calling me names and telling me that I was incompetent came in last month, or sixteen months after I put up the initial review. Let’s just call their fan base dedicated.

What was lost in translation, however, was the fact that I actually liked the game, enough to name my only end-of-year award – the Mount & Blade Good Bad Game Award – to the best game that also had crushing flaws (2009’s winner: Muramasa: The Demon Blade). I had fun with it – issues and all – and played it long after the review went up. I didn’t participate in the fan community – that’d be like Jesus paying Caesar a social visit – but I did – and still do – enjoy the game enough to have a wish list of things to be able to do in a sequel.

On Tuesday the 30th, there will be a standalone expansion released, called Mount & Blade: Warband. It’s going to add a few niceties to the Mount & Blade package, along with improved graphics and – most noticeable of all – multiplayer, one of the things the original game needed desperately. I’ve gotten to sample a beta build, and came away with a few impressions.

Creating characters is just like it was in the original game, with you selecting your gender and background to determine your stats. Unlike in the original, one of the things it mentions after your character is created is that it pays to be both male and of high birth to succeed in medieval society; therefore, picking a lower class – or God forbid, a female – is equivalent to Hard Mode because no one will take you seriously. There are no new options, and the game begins the same as it would otherwise, but it’s not until you get farther into the game that you will start to see the new touches to the game.

The first major change for the single player campaign is the ability to become a king. Before, you could only become a vassal of a king and do his biding, but here, through means I haven’t been able to determine yet, you can not only become a king, but enable lords to serve under you as vassals. This is a HUGE change, and adds even more depth to what was already an extremely deep game.

In addition to this, there’s a new map, which is impressive because the original map was huge, almost to the point of being too big. There’s also a new faction, which I haven’t been able to find in my brief gameplay experience. There was so much to do in the last game that it was intimidating, but that was a huge boon to the replayability of the game as well as the depth. Adding another faction is only going to make things more interesting. Also, I notice buried away on TaleWorlds’s website that you can marry now, either for romance or political purposes. Combine this with the fact that most players, unless they pick a noble, are going to have a tough time being considered an equal among other lords, and you have some very interesting gameplay choices at work. Ooooh, THIS is what I wanted the original Mount & Blade to be! I’m practically oozing at the thought of the full version!

The last big change is the multiplayer/online mode. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try this; I need version .860 to play online, and that version makes my computer resemble Rosie the Robot after she’s been spritzed with some water. I literally had to uninstall it. But I did get a glimpse of how gameplay works. There’s standard online modes such as deathmatch and capture the flag, and the gameplay – from my view – looks like what would happen if someone took the Half Life 2 mod Age of Chivalry and added some balance to the gameplay. In short, it – like the rest of the additions – has me excited.

Not everything seems to be fixed; the pace is still bog-slow, it’s still hard to get around bigger towns, it’s still unbalanced due to high difficulty in the beginning of the game, and still looks awful. But a LOT of the issues I had with the first game seem to be getting attention. If the full version is as good as advertised, I’ll be a happy motor vehicle.

Right now, Warband is $26.99 on Gamers Gate, and again, the full version releases on Tuesday the 30th. If we get our hands on a full review copy, expect the review soon.

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