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From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 2005, Tale Worlds

One of the most innovative RPGs I have seen in some time, Mount&Blade is a superb “medieval life simulation” being developed by Tale Worlds. Bill Harris wrote a thorough review of this underdog that is already addictive in its beta status, and well worth financial support from every RPG and action fan:

“I’ve wanted to write about Mount&Blade for several days now, but its a difficult game to write about. For one, its not finished, so the main story arc isnt even in the game yet. Then there some cities in the game that are on the map but the associated buildings arent thereagain, because the game isnt finished.

So why am I playing a shareware game that isnt even finished? Because it is unbelievably fun. Ive spent over twenty hours playing and it’s an absolute blast.

As far as I can determine, Mount&Blade is being created by two Turkish developers (husband and wife, I believe). I think calling it low budget would be a misnomer, because Im not sure it has any budget at all. In spite of this, however, they have created a deeply immersive, interesting world.

Here are the basics. At its core, Mount & Blade is a medieval RPG, and its old-school all the way. There are no cut scenes, no spoken dialogue, and no high-budget gloss. The core mechanics are relatively simple: your character rides across a world map, visiting towns and facing random encounters with other groupsfriendly or hostile, depending on your alliances.

Here’s an example of one of the many elegant design touches: while youre on the world map, if youd like to zoom in, just move your mouse to the top border of the screen. To zoom out, move it to the bottom. Moving the mouse to the left/right borders rotates the view. Its a simple thing, but it feels so intuitively correct that its very satisfying. And thats a good description of the entire gameit feels intuitively correct.

Mount&Blade offers a few fundamental departures from traditional role-playing games. For one, theres no magic. No magic missiles, no healing potions. Theres no way to miraculously heal your wounds in combat, and that alone is a terrific design feature. Two, the skill tree is unusual. Skills like surgery, scouting, and tracking are available. Its a multi-tiered skill tree, with three different categories of skills, and some of the higher-level skills feed the lower ones; i.e., some lower-tier skills cant be increased beyond a certain percentage of a related skills level. Its thoughtful and well-laid out.

What is it specifically, though, that has kept me playing for such a long time? In a word: combat. Regular readers of this column know that Im not a combat guy. In Mount&Blade, though, combat is so brilliantly handled that I cant call it anything else but sensational. To begin with, the geography of the combat regions is so well-designed that it is both visually and tactically beautiful. Mountain passes, deep streams, and generally hilly terrain provide a wealth of tactical opportunities, and theyre beautiful graphically as well.

Second, and I cant stress this enough: horses. Horses have never been as thoughtfully and beautifully represented as in this game. Combat on horseback is absolutely unforgettable, and since the primary camera is slightly behind and above your character, you get to see it all. The animations for the horses are stellar and entirely convincing, and in rare moments you will see some spectacular thingsa fallen enemy being dragged by his horse looks amazing, and a horse collapsing and throwing its rider is one of the best animations Ive ever seen in a game, period.

Ive focused on archery as my combat skill, because its tremendously interesting in this game, and when I shoot an enemy, the arrow remains. Passing a fallen enemy on the battleground and seeing several arrows sticking out of his chest is a remarkable moment.

The combination of horses and archery make for thrilling combat, particularly when the enemy has horses as well. And there are frequently 25+ units on a battlefield, so it provides a tense, gripping illustration of the chaos of combat. Its so immersive that its almost impossible to stop playing.

Ive been playing mostly as a solo character, which is possible for a skilled archer on horseback, but its possible to build your own army, both through acquiring prisoners from defeated groups and recruiting in the local taverns. There are groups traveling on the map with over 45 armed members, so the scale of battle can be very, very large.

So all Ive done is wander around the map, engaging in random encounters, gathering loot, and building up my character. Even though the game is not finished, its entirely playable, which is an interesting development approach similar to what Sid Meier does, I believe. In the case of Mount&Blade, it absolutely works.

Incredibly, this is a shareware game. If you buy it now, it costs eleven freaking dollars. If I order something from EBGames, overnight shipping and tax alone cost more than that. Plus youll get all future updates, and it sounds like there will be plenty of them. Oh, and even though shareware sometimes implies mediocre graphics, that is not the case with Mount&Blade. Its a very striking game, visually, and the combat animations are tremendous, far better than many high-budget titles Ive played. This game is full of independence, for lack of a better word. There are unique touches all over the place, and the world is dynamic and interesting.”

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