Game time: 15 hours
Mount & Blade is a very unique RPG. Had this game come out 5-10 years ago, it would have been labelled as a straightforward strategy game. Although the definition of "RPG" has become extremely lenient for everything coming out of Japan, Mount & Blade is the first western game I know of to get a lenient "RPG" label.
Not that I'm complaining. Mount & Blade reminds me of the sandbox PC strategy games of yore, and I mean that as a deep compliment. Any game that reminds me of Pirates! is going to be an enjoyable game. It starts with a short combat tutorial, character creation, another short combat tutorial, and then dumps you in a large game world with absolutely no guidance. By experimenting and goofing around, you are expected to pick up on how to play the game.
Mount & Blade is a wide open sandbox game set in a medieval, feudal world. There are a few factions. Each faction has a king. Each king has several lords. Each lord has a castle. Each castle has a nearby village or two that it controls. It's Feudalism 101. The game world sidesteps the temptation to go fantasy on you -- there are no elves or magic or mythril armor. For all intents and purposes, the game world could be Earth.
You start out as a run-of-the-mill nobody adventurer. From running around and asking questions, you can quickly find out that it's possible to align with a king and even get your own castle, but that the path is a long one.
The game progresses like so:
1) Be a nobody with no army. Naked looters can defeat you in battle.
2) Raise a bit of cash. Get a decent party size. Carry out simple tasks for renown. Naked looters fear you.
3) Align with a faction. Become more kick-butt. All bandits fear you, but the armies of rival factions will hunt and destroy you.
5) Get a castle!!!
I'm still at 3) right now, and I don't know how long it takes to get to 5). I aligned with the -- uh, Orange faction? Swaidian maybe? I'm really bad with strange location names in games, and this game has dozens and dozens of them. It is the most central faction on the map and I liked its back story. After doing some tasks for its lords, I jumped at the chance to become a vassal. I've already helped the king own a few opposing lords in battle, and then helped him take down an enemy castle in a siege. The newly owned castle doesn't have an owner yet. Maybe I'll get it?
Game time: 35 hours
There's no clock in Mount & Blade, so I'm roughly estimating there.
The king I fought for ended up liking me enough to allow me to swear my eternal allegiance to him. This netted me a puny village on the outskirts of his territory. Sadly, the village is surrounded by enemy castles, so its been looted twice since it became mine. I'm not nearly strong enough to defend it, or rich enough to build it up, so the poor peasants there are left to fend for themselves.
The game has maintained its addicting nature, although the pace has slowed down a bit. I'm still not famous enough to get more than an often-sacked village, so I'm trying to quickly gain more renown. The best way to do this is to win a battle against a tough army, but doing so often depletes my army. Gameplay lately has been basically been me getting a bunch of green recruits, letting a few days pass so they are trained up to footmen or militiamen (I have a few heroes with skill points in Training, so this happens automatically every night), fighting some weak bandits to get them a bit more experience, upgrading them to knights or men of war, then dashing into enemy territory and attacking the first lord I think I can take down. Then the process repeats. I swear, it's more fun than I'm making it sound. During all of this I am completing tasks for lords, cities, and villages so they like me more, trading goods between cities for a profit, and hunting down caravans headed toward enemy cities to slaughter the guards and steal all their goods.
A nice touch in the game is that the other lords react to your conquests in battle. I was riding by an ally lord who was in a losing battle once, and sent my troops in to aid him. After we won, I got some reown and loot as usual and didn't think much of it. Ever since, whenever I see another ally lord, he either thanks for helping out the other guy, or snidely comments that I should have let him get what he had coming to him. The same goes for many of the other war-related actions I can take in the game; other lords remember what I have done, and often comment on it when I greet them.
Mount & Blade is full of nice touches like that, which honestly is a little surprising considering that this is an idy title made by a small group. The gameplay is well balanced, very polished, and has many small surprises, especially considering that the gameplay is so similar to extremely simple games like The Sims and Pirates!.
I suspect that the gameplay is going to evolve some as I progress further. At first, I was mostly running from bandits while helping out people. Now I am raising a small army and attacking lords my king is at war with. I think that once I get a castle, I will have to station men there to defend it while also maintaining an army at my side. This will take way more money than I've ever had in the game, but at the same time, I assume I will have more fiefs to give me money. Plus, I will be stronger and better able to sack opposing villages, crush opponets, and steal their wonderful denars.
This progression is something sorely lacking from most simulations (I suppose SimCity is a glaring exception), and sets it apart from the genre in a good way. It also adds to the replay value.
That's where I am now -- having fun and all, but hoping to get to the point where my army can survive more than one or two tough battles without rebuilding it, and looking forward to getting another village or castle.
Game time: 50 hours
I played Mount & Blade a ton over the last couple of days, and just finished writing a first draft of the review. This will be the last update here.
I did some pretty cool stuff in the game. The faction I joined has been at war with 2 different factions all game. One of them is the scout faction whose units all ride horses and are ungodly fast. This makes the battles against them take too long, since my party and I have to chase down all of the speedy jerks and cut them down. The other faction is an infantry faction -- none of their soldiers used horses. Battles against them are a breeze, and I can easily take down a large army of them with something like 50 of my units versus 200 of theirs. I got a quest in the game to end the war with the scout warrior faction, completed it, and then ran right into the infantry faction's territory and single handedly took out 10 opposing lords' armies, and the opposing king's army twice. I was vastly outnumbered in every battle, earned a ton of renown, and when the coast was clear, went to a nearby enemy castle, sieged it (alone, again), and took it over. My king granted me the castle and a nearby village, so I earned some more fiefs. It felt pretty awesome, and I thought I was smart about it. The castle I took was not the closest one to the enemy's remaining territory, and hoped it would be left alone as a result.
Pretty soon though, I realized that every enemy lord was making a beeline to my castle. I took a few out, but had to leave on a quest. In the meantime 8 enemy lords sieged my castle at once. Ironically, I could have defeated them all on the field, but you can't use horses in siege battles, so my castle was lost. I felt slightly cheated that all those enemy lords targeted me -- I don't know if the AI is programmed to hate on me, or if they use some standard and I was the best target. Either way, none of my ally lords came to assist me during any of this.
Losing the castle wasn't a huge deal. I feel like I should have gained more renown first so that I can be elected the marshal of my faction and boss the other lords around. Then I can command them to help me. Really, I'm not as fond of the endgame as I was of the beginning and middle parts. It could be that the repetitive nature of a sandbox gameplay is getting to me. I think it's that the siege battles aren't very interesting and the battles are taking longer. I enjoy fighting on open battlefields where I can run around, kicking enemy butt. Siege battles are all about a big, messy mob of fighters duking it out all ugly. Also, in fighting against so many infantry-only units, I have discovered once and for all that the auto-battle calculator is flawed.
You see, when a battle starts, you can either join in the carnage, or let your troops fight without you. If you join in, the battle plays out in realtime with you there, in the midst of things. If you let your troops fight without you, the game simply calculates an outcome without playing it out. The problem is that the calculator vastly rewards troop quantity over quality. In a 50 on 50 skirmish between my cavalry and and an all infantry opponent, I can kill all 50 infantry while losing only 3 or 4 cavalry. This way, my party of 80 can, and has, easily destroyed an opponent with 300 units. The auto-battle calculator, though, might have me winning a skirmish while losing 15 cavalry to the opponent's 20 infantry. I go from killing 15 enemies for every loss to a nearly 50/50 split. So, even when I know I have an easy battle, I have to join it and watch it play out any time I am outnumbered. I like battling in Mount & Blade, so it's not a huge deal, but these battles can be long and I sometimes want to skip them, but can't because it is the difference between crushing and getting crushed.
Overall, the game was a delight to play. I'm seriously considering restarting, this time joining a different faction and building my character more knowledgeably. I enjoyed the beginning and middle parts of the game a lot.
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.