Under The Radar is a weekly look at games that have ended up hidden through lack of coverage, but shouldn’t have. If you have a game that you think should be featured here, leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out.
With this week’s announcement that Snowbird Game Studios is releasing a pirate game based on the Mount and Blade engine, I thought I’d take the chance to discuss my favorite game in the franchise thus far: Mount and Blade: Warband.
MB:WB is a wonderfully strange title. It’s a third-person action game with RPG elements that places players in the shoes of an adventurer who has arrived in the land of Calradia, a dark ages inspired place with multiple kingdoms brushing up against each other. As such, much of the game is focused on the combat system, which is based around swords, shields, crossbows, and bows. At the surface, all of this sounds route and uninspired, but from even just a glance at the game, it’s clear that MB:WB is a very different experience, for both good and bad.
Aesthetically, the game looks like it was made in the early aughts. Textures are blurry and a bit of an eyesore, as seen in this picture here:
I think this is mostly due to the fact that Tale Worlds is a Turkish developer and either hasn’t developed or possibly doesn’t have access to the slick asset-pipelines that western and Japanese developers do. This sort of clunky appearance stretches to the animations as well, which look unnatural and stiff. By appearances alone, it’s not hard to imagine the game puts off lots of players, but those who take a chance on the janky looking game and dig into the mechanics are rewarded.
The game’s narrative is sparse, but this allows for the focus to be around letting players choose what they want to be. Loyal servant to a crown, mercenary, king-maker, usurper and raider are all valid paths to follow. I remember once spending hours on a character whose only goal was profit. She rode from tournament to tournament and challenged sexist nobles to duels. The game never forces players into some storyline, letting them instead determine their own goals with the systems provided.
The game’s combat system also straddles the line between broken and fascinating. It’s best compared to something like Dark Souls, where animations are slow, but allow for interesting implementation of location blocking and striking determined by the motion of the mouse. Battles are built in a sandbox style, with armies lined up on opposite ends and then advancing forward during field confrontations, or assaulters slowly making their way into castles in siege conflicts. In multiplayer mode, this allows for extremely organized play that appeals to a military tactics geek like me. For instance, this video chronicles archer training on a multiplayer server:
This video highlights an impressive feat of teamwork where one team, met with the shield wall defense, pulls off a Cantabrian circle.
While its visual appearance may be unappealing and dated to a time before it was even released, Mount and Blade: Warband is a singular experience on the PC that doesn’t quite exist anywhere else. While Snowbird worked on the “With Fire and Sword” stand-alone expansion, their history with the series makes me hopeful that Caribbean! will take all that’s great about the game’s engine and improve it.