Rating : 9/10
Mount & Blade: Warband is an enigma, it’s a game I look at and think “Wow, I really shouldn’t like this as much as I do”. Developed by Taleworlds , it’s a game that tries to emulate a hostile land with warring factions. It’s a game that chucks you in at the deep end and kind of just tells you to get on with it. It’s a game that I completely suck at, and I have no problem with this whatsoever.
Mount & Blade has been around for a few years now; having garnered itself a bit of a cult following on PC the remake of the original title, suitably named Warband, the release expands on what the original Mount & Blade had to offer. Warband offers updated graphics, the ability to start your own faction along with with an entirely new one to play with, and most importantly, multiplayer.
Mount & Blade is about combat: that’s the majority of what’s on offer here. Combat in Warband is pretty unlike anything else I’ve ever played, it’s an incredibly simple yet somehow deep system that takes full advantage of directional swings. Using the right analog stick, you move the camera in the direction you want to swing your sword. It is initially a little bit awkward but once you get the hang of it, it’s a system that starts to feel incredibly intuitive. Unfortunately the actual movement of characters ends up letting the fantastic combat system down. I never really found myself missing the use of a sprint button until I had played Warband, as movement across battlefield can be sluggish unless you’re on a horse. Fortunately, this is easily forgotten during the midst of battle; especially when you’re surrounded by 7-8 raiders trying (and usually succeeding) to stab you in the kidney.
I say they usually succeed, but truth is, they pretty much always succeed. Mount & Blade: Warband is an incredibly difficult game. I’ve played the game for around 15-20 hours, I’ve not made a whole lot of progress, but I’m honestly fine with that. There isn’t a whole lot of progress to be made though, much like any other RPG sandbox, the world is what you make of it. The obvious route for many people is the ability to build an army or faction, and see just how well you can dominate the world. I found myself diving right into the arena fights, winning tournaments and making a name for myself. I think this is where the true magic of Warband’s fairly shallow narrative comes into play, because those that manage to actually role play this game are going to get a lot more out of it. There’s so many potential options for roleplay on offer here, you can be a trader, a fighter, a mercenary, a lover and my personal favourite, an archer.
Bows are just one of the many weapons available in the game, but there are also crossbows, two handed swords, lances, maces and pretty much every medieval weapon you can think of. The beauty of Warband’s combat system means that every single weapon feels different, meaning it’s incredibly easy to find yourself specialising in just one or two. I found myself switching between a bow and a two handed sword, making me nimble at a distance but a force to be reckoned with up close. Horseback combat is even pretty good as well, the horse obviously gives players a speed advantage, but it also makes them a much bigger target.
Presentation is probably Warband’s biggest problem, the game does look like a slightly prettier version of Elder Scrolls Oblivion. I can see a lot of people instantly dismissing the game for not looking on par with something like The Witcher or Dragon Age; I don’t personally find it an issue, in this day and age of glitzy triple A titles, it’s nice to see developers spend more time on balancing the experience, than buffing the edges to make them shiny.
While the single player may lack a solid narrative or sense of direction, the multiplayer is an absolute blast. Once you’ve gained the confidence needed from playing single player, multiplayer is where you’re going to spend the chunk of your time. Warband offers players the standard selection of modes, from death match to capture the flag; what makes them interesting is just how frenetic the experience is. There’s a class select system at the start of each round that gives you the option to change your loadout, although it is possible to switch between deaths as well. Players that perform well are given gold which can be spent on more powerful weapons mid game. From start to finish, each round genuinely feels like a war has taken place. You might be dominating one minute, taking down foes as they come at you, but get complacent and you end up taking a pike to the back of your neck. As frustrating as death is, it never becomes annoying, in multiplayer it often comes down to a mistake you made as a player. This in turn etches you into returning to the battlefield, claiming revenge on your adversary.
Excellent multiplayer aside, the single player does fall very flat. There’s nothing ever really happening, it doesn’t ever feel like there’s a big picture. As awesome as role-playing is, it can only last for so long. AI characters in the world are mostly pretty dull, serving no purpose other than an information point. Missions usually just involve moving from point A to point B, and usually a person dies. The real chunk of the single player will come from how much you want to put into it, and how much you enjoy the concept of building your own army. Having said that, the AI companions are usually pretty terrible, they often go down pretty quickly, although they can be levelled up! You’ll often find yourself asking them to hang back using the command functions, while you go in swinging – thinning the enemy’s numbers.
There’s no doubt that Mount & Blade: Warband is one of the most unique experiences available, and I can honestly say it’s one of a kind. It’s like a really terrible looking car, that in fact has a V8 engine beneath the bonnet; it might look rubbish, but it’ll kick your arse all over the shop. Solid combat and addictive multiplayer make it incredibly easy to overlook some of the titles other shortcomings making for one of best medieval combat experiences on PS4….. It’ll might even be better than For Honour….
Mount & Blade: Warband is one of the most unique experiences available on PS4. It’s a game that people will overlook due to the slightly out dated graphics, but for those that do take the plunge, a polished and addictive gem awaits them.
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