Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mount & Blade Impressions

Im not a huge RPG guy, yet all I can say about Mount & Blade, the 2008 open world sandbox RPG from TaleWorlds, is wow. This game is mind blowing, game changing, and it can be yours right now for an astoundingly preposterous $5 on Direct2Drive.com. How I missed it up until this point is a testament to what a great time it is to be a gamer. Even gems like this can go undiscovered for years.

This is a true diamond in the rough, the kind of game that if bigger developers really looked at it and played it through, they would probably want to steal a solid 50% of the ideas present. In fact, I would even go so far as to say its one of the most ambitious and impressive games I have played since GTA III. However, this diamond, as big and beautiful as it is, is clearly flawed. It has dings and scratches and its actually covered in a thin layer of mud. Its a diamond, nonetheless, but its not quite perfect.

What makes the game so amazing and so different than other RPGs? The combat. You will hear me moan on and on from time to time about how weak the combat systems are in most RPGs, especially MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. This is the antidote to the typical RPG point and click poison. This is true real time combat, and even though it isnt quite as advanced or fluid as something like God of War, it still represents a giant leap for mankind in the pursuit of realistic ancient battle simulations. From the level of 1 on 1 sword fighting duels, to small 5 on 5 skirmishes, to medium sized 15-20 person caravan ambushes all the way up to epic 100 vs 100 mega-castle-siege-battles, this game delivers on medieval combat in ways you dreamed about but have never seen before in a videogame. Mount & Blade completely removes fantasy elements (magic), and just focuses on good old fashioned swords, lances, crossbows, battle axes and horses. The sword fighting is everything Age of Conan wanted to be, should have been, and utterly wasnt. Mount & Blade makes the mounted combat in something like Oblivion look like what it was - a joke. Is it perfect? No, but its light years beyond most RPGs, in fact it the best real time combat of any classical-themed RPG on the market right now.

So how about the rest of the game? Its actually pretty good too, if you can get over some presentational quirks and some unfortunate inventory management design decisions. Travel in the game takes place on a 2D plane, with a massive open world which is yours to explore. You can travel from town to town, recruiting allies, trading supplies, gaining quests and the favor of various Lords and Ladies. There are two types of people you can recruit, regular hired grunts and recruits, who make up most of your army, and NPC characters who are persistent in the world even if they leave your party or are captured. These characters will squabble with each other, advise you on your choices, and leave if they dont like how you are running your ship. These NPCs can be fully outfitted with any gear you pick up, and you choose how they level up their skills, so you can custom tailor your party's skill tree for maximum effectiveness.

When your NPC companions die in combat, they are gone forever and you truly feel their loss. There is no autosave in the game, and I feel that its better because of it. Lose a huge battle with 75% of your troops killed and your second in command NPC captured? Carry on soldier, carry on, because your last save was hours ago. Luckily, that NPC may reappear in a tavern across the map after he manages to escape, but there are no guarantees you will find him without asking around. The role playing aspects of the game have depth, you just have to look a bit for them. This is a sandbox game after all, the adventure is what you make of it.

I could go on, but I havent even finished the game, whatever that means. Ive played about 25 hours so far and I feel as though Im only about 20-30% done with the content. I just staged my first castle siege, which was an epic failure. You can build up a large 50+ troop army and get knocked down to a handful of allies if you lose a major encounter. You need to be careful who you attack, when you attack, where you camp, where you travel, and which factions you are allied with at all times or you can get swarmed by enemies from all directions. Its also very easy to get bogged down in the hundreds of side quests and mini-quests, which have a solid degree of variance and only recently have started to be a bit repetitive. GTA III was finished in 25 hours, I feel like at 25 hours into this game, Im only just starting to achieve true power, where I can loot and pillage towns mercilessly and without fear of reprisal. I just won my first duel, and it was by a sliver of health. I had to protect the honor of a Lady whose cause I had taken up, so I accosted the accused and demanded satisfaction. These types of scenarios naturally play out all the time in Mount & Blade, its all very seamless and the various elements come together beautifully.

Very, very few games actually achieve what they set out to do. Mount & Blade achieves the goal of making you feel like a Medieval Knight in Shining Armor better than any game I have ever played, and thats saying something. Couple this with a planned expansion pack that will improve the graphics, add new weapons and combat abilities, and 32 person multiplayer support, and you have something that has potential to be played for years to come. Also, there is already a huge modding community that has taken this game and run with it, and although I havent even tried the mods or felt the need to, Im sure they will add even more depth and replayability to whats already one of the most ambitious and engrossing RPGs of all time.

1 comment:

Chronic said...

As much as Im loving the game, I can certainly see how a lot of people wont be able to get past the presentational issues and lack of direction or instruction on how to play and advance in the game. Its very much an old school PC RPG game with next gen mounted combat thrown in for kicks; its not tailored to a general audience.

Other notes: the game install size is small (under 400MB) and it scales very well for lower end machines. There is no major texture work here. Im running it on a Core 2 ATI 3870 rig which is a couple of years old, and I can run everything on max with no slowdown even on the largest battles. This is no Crysis or GTA IV.

Also of note, I see that its now the #1 most popular game on Direct2Drive.com. The average user rating is over 9.0, which is truly amazing. Actually, thats the thing that caught my attention about it when I was browsing the site - it was right on the D2D home page and the user reviews were through the roof. How bad could it be for $5?

And its now one of my favorite RPGs of all time.