Mount & Blade is starting to deliver on its promise. The open-world role-playing game that was a little rough and ready for a mainstream audience when it arrived in 2008 has taken a leap forward with the stand-alone Warband expansion. New multiplayer modes supporting frenzied mob battles are the big draw here, along with a few refinements to the solo experience that include such goodies as a new faction and overhauled graphics. This still isn’t a welcoming game, with the solo campaign so open ended and mostly bereft of the background color typically used to lure you into the medieval realms of RPGs. But the multiplayer is exciting and addictive in its own right, giving you enough happy fuzzies that you can’t help but be more patient with the shortcomings of the campaign.
Multiplayer is a great direction to take the Mount & Blade franchise in, because it puts the outstanding, naturalistic combat of the game front and center. All eight modes are flat-out frenetic, with up to 64 players in warrior, crossbowman/archer, and mounted knight classes (formal names vary among the six available factions, but this is essentially what you get to play with) hacking and slashing at each other in lag-free battles. Each class can also be custom outfitted with weapons and armor purchased with an opening pool of dinars, and upgraded during matches with extra money earned for kills. Games take place on a limited number of maps depicting typical medieval settings, such as besieged castles, quaint Nordic towns, snowy hamlets, riverside settlements, and the like. Each multiplayer setting has been dressed up with a few attractive scenes that improve greatly on the dull, muddy brown that dominated the original game.
The different game modes are standard multiplayer staples, such as are standard multiplayer staples, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Conquest, and Capture the Flag, among others. As in the original game, battles are mostly melee, consisting of face-to-face skirmishes where you swing swords, axes, pikes, and their many medieval friends by clicking the mouse button while moving the mouse in the direction you want to launch your attack. So to swing overhand and down, you push forward as you click. To swing from the right, you push to the right, and so on. It’s an intuitive control scheme that also allows for a great deal of customization and experimentation due to accurate physics and detailed battlefields. No two battles ever play out the same. You can also step out of the trenches to mount a horse for galloping charge attacks or play a crossbowman or archer and sit back sniping enemies from afar (at least until the bad guys notice where the bolts are coming from and charge over your way).