Mount & Blade: Warband (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 16.09.2016 1

Review for Mount & Blade: Warband on PlayStation 4

The current trend of recycling and re-issuing slightly updated versions of last generation titles has been something of a blight for those seeking new thrills on their chosen console. Turkish developer TaleWorlds Entertainment has at least bucked this irritating trend somewhat with the console release of Mount & Blade: Warband, by opting to bring the aging but popular PC game to an entirely new platform altogether. Mount & Blade is an action RPG that first galloped onto the PC scene way back in 2007, with the sizable Warband expansion coming a few years later in 2010. Bundling both game and expansion together seems like the perfect way of tapping into an entirely new demographic and generating interest for any future iterations, but is it enough to attract fresh blood in a marketplace flooded with newer, better looking titles?

Historically speaking, the warband was a phenomenon mostly prevalent during feudal times. It consisted of an agreement between a ruler and his vassal (think socially inferior subordinate) that rewarded military service and protection with land, compensation, and certain privileges. In some respects, this pretty much sums up the underlying ethos behind Mount & Blade, a game set during Medieval times in the vast, sprawling land of Calradia, a territory split between six factions teetering on the brink of all-out war. While it all sounds very Game of Thrones, the main character starts the campaign unaffiliated and judged merely on the attributes bestowed upon them during the creation process. These can be anything ranging from an impoverished noble saddened by the loss of a loved one to a steppe nomad fuelled by revenge. The lack of a campaign narrative in the traditional sense provides an open sandbox for wannabe warriors to carve an individual, bloody path through Calradia, and as such, townsfolk, villagers and royalty will react to benevolent/hostile actions taken or alliances made during the journey.

While the ultimate goal is to become the overall ruler of Calradia, the route to getting there is unwritten, as are the instructions on how to go about doing it. Granted, there is the opportunity to do some basic weapon training before heading in, but after that it's very much a case of learning the various mechanisms as they are encountered. Given the open-ended progression, there are options available catering to most styles of play: though slaying enemies does seem to be a constantly recurring theme. Aligning with a particular faction ensures regular work and eventually vassal status, bringing control over a number of fiefs, along with the title. This comes in handy as it provides a regular stream much needed tax income. At the same time, it comes at the cost of instantly becoming the enemy of a rival faction, which could prove dangerous later on should paths cross with one of their armed patrols.

Those that choose to go it alone and remain unaligned can roam the countryside battling bandits, performing good deeds for villagers, or even go the other way and take hostile actions on towns or castles with a bid of capturing them; one of the first steps to starting a new faction. Taking a noble lady wife is a more sedate way of sidling into power, but it usually entails winning a tournament, having a social standing high enough to get invited to a feast, and then wooing her with poetry, much like in real life. There are many opportunities to kill the hours in Calradia, though it does feel like an inordinate amount of time is spent wandering up and down the countryside looking for jobs, which soon becomes repetitive when nobody is hiring.

Screenshot for Mount & Blade: Warband on PlayStation 4

Calradia itself is a sizable area, however it isn't quite the Skyrim-esque open world it first appears it be, as all travel between destinations is dealt with via the map screen. Selecting a destination sees a little avatar trotting through the countryside towards the chosen target, as well as any other parties (friendly and hostile alike) that might be wandering in the vicinity. Crossing paths with bandits or a rival faction's raiding patrols often leads to conflict, so it makes sense to recruit a party to travel with at the earliest opportunity. The easiest place to do this is at any of the small villages scattering the land which, besides being handy for buying food supplies normally, have a few unskilled locals willing to lend a hand at the right price. Higher skilled warriors can also be recruited in towns, or even liberated from bandits. Towns provide the means to enter or train for tournaments, hit the taverns to find potential leads to jobs, buying or selling supplies, or to interrogate prisoners in the local jail. Castles can also be visited as a way of meeting lords and kings, and gaining their trust by completing tasks for them.

Mount & Blade's action RPG tag stems from the combat aspect that requires a confrontational approach to succeed, and occurs at a consistent frequency during travel around Calradia. While the control scheme has been universally praised for the PC version, it doesn't hold up particularly well for a console game, especially when compared to the likes of Dark Souls III, Bloodborne, or even the effortlessly fluid Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which is fair enough given its low budget origins. Despite possessing a buttery smooth frame rate, the fighting can occasionally come off as unnecessarily clunky when hampered by a simplistic control scheme that's better suited to a mouse and keyboard setup, though it does improve over time. The inability to single out and lock on to a foe doesn't really matter when surrounded by enemies, as randomly swinging the weapon at hand will likely connect to any attackers in the immediate vicinity without issue.

Screenshot for Mount & Blade: Warband on PlayStation 4

Fighting on horseback can be a bit more hit and miss (literally), and is especially noticeable when two mounted characters try to square off. The turning arc of horse can make it tricky for either party to get a bead on the other, which often leads to a tedious galloping session, circling one another while slashing the air and hoping for the best. Combat mainly takes place in a third person perspective, though there is an option to fight in the first person view, which is unwisely mapped to a down press on the left joystick. This frequently sees it getting accidently activated frequently during the more frenetic battles which, in itself, wouldn't be a massive issue if it didn't glitch and occasionally switch to a camera view that only showed the top of the main character's head. Unsurprisingly when this happens it can be nigh on impossible to block or parry any incoming jabs, as they just can't be seen.

Strength in numbers is a key strategy early on, and there is something to be said for the battle sections when two sizable squads clash head to head. Tactics and commands can be issued on the fly, and the main character can either direct the fighting from afar, or get right into the thick of things themselves. Aadditionally, a 'renown' value is placed on each battlefield encounter, based on the size and ferocity of the opposing force. Victory increases reputation, which in turn can be used to influence NPCs further on in the campaign. Leveling up brings with it experience points that can be spent on improving different aspects of the player's build and skillset. Focus can even be placed more on ranged weaponry skills, such as bows and spears, for those that don't like to get too close to the action. Individual weapon skills also level up automatically with usage, so the combat clunkiness does dissipate with continued play. Recruited soldiers that manage to survive a battle can be upgraded every 10 - 20 days, but hiring more expensive and skilled mercenaries further on down the line is well worth doing. There is a micro-management aspect to running a warband, as morale needs to kept up, food is a vital necessity, and of course, they'll want paying.

The day/night cycle persists and brings with it a constant series of territorial incursions across Calradia in the form of attacks, sieges, raids, alliances and even the occasional truce. News of these events constantly trickle through and tend to be attributed to characters that, for the most part, are little more than a series of unfamiliar names that flash up at the bottom of the screen. However, the impact of these actions soon begin to noticeably manifest on the map. While this does indeed give the impression of being part of a living, breathing world that's constantly evolving, it also happens to be the source of one of the games most irritating facets. Like most RPGs, a mission is only deemed complete once a return visit has been made to the person that handed out the task, which can prove problematic given that there's a 75% chance they've since wandered off to get involved in a crusade or other stately duties. While a polite request to the lady of the manor can yield a vague reference to the locale that the vassel, lord, or king in question was last spotted, they've often moved on elsewhere by the time our hero arrives, which often leads to a wild goose chase across the map.

Screenshot for Mount & Blade: Warband on PlayStation 4

Despite the fact that most of the missions get handed out with a 30 day time limit for completion, failing to meet that deadline is still a frequent occurrence, usually down to the quest-giving character seemingly disappearing off the face of Calradia, or worse, wandering into bandit-infested lands. Getting captured by bandits often leads to being dragged around the map for a couple of days before managing a daring escape, usually in bandit territory, which almost certainly guarantees repeated encounters until all possessions, money, travelling companions are depleted. Mount & Blade: Warband is all about kicking a man when he's down, and this frequent cycle of losing everything and having to start over can get particularly tiresome after a while.

Exploration of any village or town location throws up invisible walls around the perimeter, curbing any attempts to rove too far. Arbitrarily speaking to any of the NPC's seen wandering about (occasionally over tables as if that was a normal occurrence) often throws up identical dialogue irrespective of location. There's no voice acting for any of the interactions, meaning that there's a lot of reading to get through which could the final nail in the coffin for those used to a more polished production. That said, a willingness to persevere will reward those that stick with Mount & Blade: Warband and its status as a cult classic is definitely justified, as despite its many faults, it still proves to be fairly addictive experience all told. The inclusion of a 32 player action-centric online component with a variety of game modes should definitely aid with its longevity, though unfortunately Cubed3 was unable to try this out as the servers proved to be empty during the review period.

It's fair to say that Mount & Blade: Warband doesn't make a great first impression. It very much looks like a PC game from ten years ago, which is probably because it is a PC game from nearly ten years ago. It's a shame that TalesWorld didn't take this opportunity to update the graphical assets and optimise the experience for consoles. The menus and inventory system haven't been touched at all and managing loot can really be a cumbersome procedure when there's a lot of battle spoils to trade in. Visually, it looks very much of its time with randomly generated character models that all look vaguely similar to one another and are more akin to those found during the PS2 era rather than on a modern day console.

Screenshot for Mount & Blade: Warband on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

It's been said that all's fair in love and War, but clearly not by somebody that had just been attacked by bandits four times in quick succession and reduced to wandering Calradia penniless, alone, sans horse, and left wearing nothing more than tattered undergarments. Mount & Blade: Warband does look and feel incredibly dated by modern standards, and while it can prove to be quite an absorbing experience at times, it's unfortunate that those are regularly countered by the frustrating mission structure, clunky combat, and regular progress setbacks. Ultimately this won't be a game for everybody, but those willing to overlook its many irritating quirks could potentially find themselves losing many hours on the lengthy road to victory.

Developer

Taleworlds

Publisher

Paradox Interactive

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Loved this game on PC. Might pass on the PS4 offering though Smilie

I play games... sometimes.

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