At first acquaintance with Warband, you might think you’ve stumbled into something from the early 2000s rather than 2010 (the year the game was released, unbelievably). Trees can barely be passed of as trees, skylines are often horridly pixelated, and the font bears an ugly resemblance to the 1982 typeface papyrus. The graphics don’t do the ladies any favours either – the notion of attempting to court a nobleman’s daughter isn’t made any more attractive when you realise she looks like a potato.
Once you’re over the fact you’re not going to be blown off your chair (or otherwise) by any form of graphical fidelity, it’s time to start climbing the steep learning curve. Low-level bandits will give you the run-around if you’re without a quickly assembled army, leveling up is somewhat slow, and there is some trouble in discerning what exactly you’re supposed to be doing without seeking the help of forums or online guides.
When you get as far as the battlefield however, you’ll see where Warband really shines. Combat might be a simple parry-and-strike affair dependent on a good sense of timing, but leading an army into battle and watching your character get covered head to toe in his adversaries’ blood as if he’d bathed in it elicits the sort of feeling that doesn’t die quickly.
Though tactics are encouraged, you aren’t likely to experience anything much more advanced than charging headlong into a melee right off the bat. You might decide to order your archers to stick back and pick of opponents from afar, or lead your cavalry out wide and surprise from the flank, but ultimately who wins is something of a numbers game – even an army slightly larger than the other has a dramatically increased chance of crushing its foe.
When you aren’t littering the landscape with bandit gore, there’s a good deal of time spent on furthering your character, chasing quests and building up your army’s ranks. In practise this can come off a little dull, as the time required to travel the open fictional world of Calradia, not to mention endlessly backtracking through it, is almost as miserable as it probably would be in real life. Meanwhile, good loot is exceedingly rare, while traders’ prices are so steep they’re barely worth haggling.
Quests are simple as they can possibly get in a video game, and while tournaments provide a welcome distraction from the tedium of chasing cattle or repelling bandits from a nearby village, quests reap little financial or social reward, as you’ll need to scout out a lot of them if you want to get into a king’s favour while sustaining a large army.
The multiplayer element in Warband might just be the most ambitious introduction to the Mount & Blade series. If you can imagine Chivalry without the contemporary graphics and bloody dismemberment, then you’re on the right lines. Battlefields are often chaotic, and enemy spawns behind you are commonplace, but still the underlying theme of gratuitously hacking people to bits is there. Which is exactly what you came for, wasn’t it?
It probably goes without saying, but open world medieval RPGs aren’t exactly falling from the sky. Perhaps that’s why Mount & Blade: Warband can get away with being graphically and mechanically primitive game with a steep learning curve. Whatever the case, I’d be lying if I was saying there wasn’t any fun to be had with Warband. You’ve just got to be a bit patient to find it.
- Simple but enthralling gameplay
- Surprisingly addictive multiplayer
- Tactically bereft
- Unappealing graphics
- Battles can be hard to come by