Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mount and Blade

To me Mount and Blade is on a completely different level then most games. It is one of those very unique, and yet still fun games, in league with the more famous Minecraft or (at least to me) the less famous Hammerfight. A truly great game but also one with a lot of room for improvements.

What makes this particular game unique and worth looking into is its combination of personal combat vs. groups of enemies, most notably featuring combat on horses, and the basic tactical control of the troops under your command. The personal combat, while slightly simplistic, is very fun and full of content; You can learn to use a bow, crossbow, spears/pikes/lances, one/two handed swords, maces, and shields, all in many different shapes and sizes. When fighting you have five weapon slots (which must also fit your arrows and bolts), so you have enough room for at least a few weapons. One thing to note is that, at least for pve, the speed of the weapon is far more important then the strength of the weapon because at high levels your internal stats will boost the power to instant kill for most troops anyways. And in combat the movement of your character significantly effects the damage dealt by your strikes, because weapon momentum is a factor in the calculation.

So lets talk a little about the weapons, their strengths and weaknesses and why you might want to use one or the other. The bow far outclasses the crossbow in speed of shooting and mobility while reloading, but is outdone in shear power and distance; And their is also thrown weapons, like knives and javelins, which do not seem to have very much range so I have never bothered with them, but the bonus of saving a equipment slot is nice; When I play I like to devote quite a lot of time and skill points to the bow simply because long range is useful in many situations like avoiding damage in drawn out battles and picking off fast horse opponents. The spears and pikes are particularly interesting weapons in that they are very reliant on momentum, so while they are completely uselessness if you are backing up or right next to enemies, while on a horse they are devastating, but still slow; Their main advantage is their incredible length and power when you are moving fast, and because of this they are the best weapon to use in some situations (meanly verses heavily armoured opponents while on a horse), but because of their slow speed I normally do not bother with them. The one handed weapons, particularly swords, are in my opinion the best general weapon that can be used well in any situation and are still the best possible weapon in many situations; The one handed weapon is fast, allowing you to slaughter quickly, and because it can be paired with a shield offers you a very good defence. Not that the two handed weapons do not have their own uses, I find they can be very useful for defensive situations, because of their long reach.

But even more important then the weapons you will be using is your horse. Your horse allows far improved mobility, speed (to add damage to your weapon strikes), and will even allow you to plough through enemies knocking them over. The horse, like any equipment, comes in many different variants and levels that offer a wide range of abilities. The only complaint I have concerning the horse is its use; Particularly, that it is never used in siege situations and always used in all other battles. I would love to see horses in sieges, sallying forth when the enemy least suspects it, or charging up a siege tower into the enemy defences. And the addition of battle terrain that hampers cavalry (dense forest) or makes them completely unusable (rocky terrain) would be an amazing strategic point and also a fun change.

Battles, as mentioned earlier, are basically you and your army verses another force. While they are hugely fun the one issue I have is the importance of yourself and the lack of strategy. Because of your overwhelming power your character will have only a few hours into the game, the lack of an effective troop moral system in battles, and the small amount of control you have over your troops their is really only one strategy, charge at, and kill as fast as possible, the enemies (mostly ignoring your own troops). This sometimes reaches ridiculous levels like singularly defending a castle against hundreds of enemies by standing on the one entrance ladder into the castle and killing them all personally. What I would love to see is whole groups of enemies running away after particularly successful strategies, instead of the few individuals that were seconds away from death anyways; The ability to set up devastating formations like creating a tight cavalry wedge to smash through a enemy line; And improved AI with the choice to change the strategy of individual troops, so it is not just run towards enemies and hope it does not end up alone and surrounded by them. (Now I don't want it to seem that I am just mindlessly saying that the developers should implement some complex AI system, I have studied AI and have thought about it with respect to Mount and Blade quite a lot and am certain that even a programmer of as little experience as me could easily throw together everything I have mentioned here [and much more] in a short time period).

When not in battles you travel around on a real time Risk-like map, where you travel around looking for battles, trading, or simply travelling to cities or villages to restock, pillage, collect taxes, do some sort of quest, capture it, or recruit people for your army. All of this is done quite well and only really gets annoying late in the game when large armies will get demoralized so easily you will lose troops at an amazing rate and your companions squabbling will reach levels that also have them streaming from your party. Additionally, I have encounters a lot of annoying problems when running a big kingdom. For example even though you will need lots of money to keep a presence in all of your cities tons or money is lost simply because you own a lot of land and if you awarding land to a lord then all other lords get pissed at you that they were not picked, so if you have many lords then overall awarding land to one of them can leave you in the deficit. So basically the game has no end-game, it simply become unplayable.

My mini-reviews of Mount and Blade and Mount and Blade: Warband.
The Mount and Blade website.

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