By: Jeff Cater
Mount and Blade: Warband took to the battlefield on PC back in 2010, inviting gamers into the troubled kingdom of Calradia. In Warband on PS4 and XB1, you’ll create an adventurer and assemble a band of soldiers to fight under your flag. Whether or not you formally join one of the established kingdoms or venture alone is up to you; just know that there’s plenty here for any kind of wolf.
Warband makes a surprisingly graceful transition to consoles. On PC you’d have mouse and keyboard to explore menus, but here we are using a gamepad. It should be noted that the menu system hasn’t really been optimized for controllers, and while the touchpad of the DualShock 4 comes into play, it’s only in certain menus like the quest journal.
Navigating the map is done by moving the left stick to your desired destination and pressing “X” to engage the order. You may also speed up time while on the map by holding R2 down, though that’ll often get you ambushed because you have less time to react to an encroaching force.
During combat the unique control scheme earned the PC installment much praise. Rather than flailing madly at your opponents, Warband rewards players for changing up which direction your strike comes from.
To do this you must be press the right stick slightly (or not-so-slightly) in a direction and hit R2. If you’re nudging left then your strike will come from the right and vice versa. Outside combat movement is handled like any other action game.
The call to alter your tactics in battle is frequent, so be sure to pack a variety of extra weapons, which can be accessed by tapping the right bumper. Issuing orders to your soldiers is also critical to achieving victory, and any order can be given easily via the d-pad and then scrolling through options.
Mount and Blade definitely looks like a title from 2010 — not a good one, either. The overall campaign map lacks detail aside from some waves crashing on the shores or small patches of trees here and there. Dotted across the landscape are small villages, castles and larger cities, all of which suffer from a bad case of the “blahs” due to muddy textures and truly dated character models.
There’s good variety in terms of architectural design, however, and the differences in these kingdoms are immediately discernible due to the unique clothing and armor of their population; their small, stiffly animated population. Warband trucks along without a hitch in terms of frame rate, so it delivers a visually stable experience.
Music is well done and consists of easily hummable tunes, but they’re used far too sparsely so it ends up being awfully quiet most of the time. Same goes for spoken dialogue: there’s just too little. As such, you’ll find odd comfort in the occasional sea raider quotes when the rest of the game is so bloody silent.
Dated presentation aside, Mount and Blade: Warband absolutely loves to steal humongous chunks of your time. The game starts without any particular objective, and you can keep it that way:
Not your thing rescuing villages from bandits? Maybe try selling silk or opening a smithy to generate passive income. Not fond of the Swadian Empire? Sabotage their economy by taking out their trade caravans and nudging them into war.
There are definitely options to explore in Warband, and the lack of direction may turn off some people, but those who forgive the technical shortcomings will find a deep RPG experience that tells a unique story every single time you play it.
Maybe you decided to focus on trading, and you’ve inevitably noticed that you fall victim to bandit ambushes frequently so you hire some more lancers. Perhaps you’ve leveled your character to be a superb leader in battle and an inspiration to his men by keeping them fed and paid (people get mad when they’re broke and starving, especially soldiers). Whichever path you travel in Warband, you’ll find that real life hours disappear in what seems like an instant.
If you choose a more traditional route and side with a kingdom, be prepared for the appropriate backlash from other factions. Backlash isn’t exclusive to your enemies, though, as failing a quest for a Count or Boyar will cause them to lose faith in you and, in turn, make it considerably more difficult to receive quests from your faction.
Sometimes failure will be completely beyond your control, as the world of Calradia moves along with or without you. For example, I was once tasked with bringing five prisoners to a Boyar of the Vaegir Kingdom. The Kingdom of Vaegirs was actually at war with another faction that captured my quest giver during a skirmish and held him in prison for weeks past the quest’s timeframe.
That’s just a small example of how the game world itself can simply screw you over, but don’t worry there are several other ways, too. However, if you manage your troops well and appease your leaders, you will eventually be able to control your own settlement or even a castle.
There’s also a multiplayer mode, which is strictly PvP. You’ll select a character template with choices like basic footmen or skirmishers, and then it’s onto the battlefield with up to 31 other players in fights to the death or objective-based sieges complete with ladders and siege towers.
While Mount and Blade: Warband is a little rough around the edges, it brings a fun and brutal strategy game the likes of which have been pretty much unseen on consoles before. Anyone interested in a truly in-depth medieval simulation of sorts would do well to pick it up.