Mount & Blade
Combining Horses With sharp objects doesn't usually end up in fun - as anyone who's seen Equus will agree. However, Mount & Blade is a half-decent stab at the open-ended medieval RPG, especially considering the game began as an indie project by a Turkish husband-and-wife development team. Imagine those arguments.
The setting is in the harsh, peasant-swamped land of Calradia where many different factions are vying for control - God knows why, as it's actually a very dull place, with little much else for the population to do except look miserable or indulge in malnutrition. You begin the game by creating a character - male or female - and by choosing a series a multiple choice questions about your family and your upbringing, you define a character with a modicum of stats. These range from strength and agility, to weapon proficiency and those essential prisoner management skills.
Mount&Blade's structure is rather like the Total War games, with a map screen you can use to move your character and any recruits between the settlements, and if you encounter any random attacks, you can choose to surrender or join the battle in full 3D. It's here (and in the fight-for-cash battle arenas in the larger towns) that you have to employ your riding and cpmbat skills to survive, using the standard WASD keys to move and the left-hand mouse button to strike enemies or fire arrows.
While the horse handles rather well, the heralded mounted combat is patchy. The archery is OK but largely ineffective with large numbers of enemies, and the sword/knife/axe hits are annoyingly random in their effectiveness (which applies to on-foot fighting too).
Hiring recruits for battles with more than 50 units, visiting taverns for the local gossip, trading items for more cash, upgrading your weapons and be-hooved companion, racking up quests and claiming the throne in a bloody coup will provide much entertainment, but they won't dispel the feeling that despite the horse-based combat, Mount & Blade is really an anorexic Oblivion set in a budget version of Tolkien's Rohan.
Download Mount & Blade
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Ah, the wonderful spectrum of opinion 'tis a marvellous thing. We all scan along its merry axis, arguing why and where such-and-such should sit, endlessly re-arranging anew when something else arrives to take a seat on the continuum of life.
There are many such spectra: one for shooty-up games, one for the playing of roles, and according to last month's reviewer, Jamie Sefton, Mount&Blade exists somewhere in the crowded middle of the latter, neither bad nor unbad. Not like other games in the RPG genre, like Oblivion and World of Warcraft, which are officially very unbad indeed.
This verdict sits ill with me, dear reader. I've been tinkering with Mount&Blade for months now and I think it's a game of considerable beauty and boundless depth. A world without ores is, to me, as refreshing as a summer breeze. And the combat, OMG (I believe the phrase is)... rests within a control mechanic forged by tireless hands eager to perfect. A mouse hasn't sat so comfortably under my palm since Quake III Arena.
Mount & Blade isn't an empty shell of a world. It's a world to be explored. It's a trading game, a game of dense tactical combat and raw action. And is probably the best game of its type since Oblivion. For me it's the best since Morrowind and I might even go one better and start comparing it to Lord of Midnight, but perhaps I need to play it some more... yes, I should do that.