Mount & Blade: Warband Review

Richard Walker

Mount & Blade: Warband doesn't exactly make the best first impression. A 2010 follow-up to the original Mount & Blade first released on PC back in 2008, this marks the series debut on console, and visually, it's abhorrent. Granted, the graphics have been given a boost in resolution, but that only serves to highlight how poorly the game has dated. Seriously, if you like your games to look pretty, then Mount & Blade isn't going to be for you. But then, that's not really what the series is about. It has so much more to offer.

However, to truly get into the real meat of Mount & Blade: Warband, you're going to have to persevere. Initially, it can seem incredibly dull. So dull, in fact, that you might be tempted to throw the controller on the floor and go and play something, anything, else. There are walls of text, none of the freakish characters are voiced, its game world is flat and lifeless, and the way in which the game's core systems and mechanics are presented is incredibly fussy and overcomplicated.

I shall smite thee with my big axe!

Menus are also crap, showing no effort to cater to the console player. Hell, they still utilise a mouse cursor, for crying out loud. It's ugly, fiddly and properly clunky then (playing in either first or third-person), but if you can get past looks that only a mother could love and the vomit-inducing presentation, Mount & Blade: Warband has incredible depth and detail, enabling you to choose your character, their gender, backstory, status, and other attributes. Only then can you embark upon your journey across Warband's expansive medieval landscape, sword and bow in hand, galloping atop your pristine white steed.

Or maybe you'll begin your adventure as a lowly peasant, penniless and scraping around for riches; or as a highborn lord or lady, privileged and flush with cash. We opted to be a female warrior, born to a poor family, who managed to climb to the status of lady in waiting and now wants to exact revenge for a lost loved one. Traveling from villages to castles, forts and towns, you can accept errands to earn denars (Warband's currency) that you can then spend on new weapons, shields, armour and food, or you can pay to hire soldiers, growing your army and strength before you decide to side with a faction or besiege castles and spread your own influence across the land of Calradia.

It's this army building aspect of Mount & Blade that makes Warband unique, as you'll only make it so far as a lone warrior. Attempting to charge into battle without adequate numbers is a foolhardy tactic that'll see you being swiftly cut down and taken prisoner by the enemy, penalising you by taking a chunk of your money, some of your items and in some cases, even your precious mount. Defeat is not the end then, but it can be a serious setback.

It might look like a dog's dinner, but Mount & Blade: Warband is an RPG that's about as deep as it gets. It's not just about gathering an army and conquering villages, towns and castle keeps. It's also about engaging in politics, perhaps playing off one faction against another, or maybe finding a way to marry into power. You can besiege castles, infiltrate their walls and take over territory by force, or adopt a more tactical, subtle approach. Once you're fully invested in Warband's world and have gotten to grips with the numerous systems, you'll be spoilt for choice as to what to do next.

Acquiring the help of hired blades and named companion characters, along with volunteer peasants will obviously help you to overcome roving bandits, looters and other nuisances, but to really get a foothold within the kingdom, you'll need huge bands of proficient mounted fighters, otherwise you won't really stand much of a chance going up against a well-armed, well-trained force. As you travel from pillar to post from the green grass of the Kingdom of Swadia to the snowy climes of the Kingdom of the Nords, and the desert lands of the Khergit Khanate and Sarranid Sultanate, you'll always have to think and plan ahead.

Your followers won't work for free, so you'll need ample denars with which to pay them, while travelling and a lack of food will have an impact on their morale. As you travel, the living world around you continues to operate, with caravans and village farmers going about their business, while factions do battle in the background, and the quest for power across the whole of Calradia plays out unabated. It'll be a long long time before you're ready to make a play for power then, but part of the fun is in the journey, scrabbling around completing menial tasks for lords, ladies, guild masters and anyone who requires aid, before having an army, the resources and indeed the renown to stake your claim.

Welcome to the most boring wedding party ever.

Or you could just wander around looting villages and scrapping with bandits. Or you could become an entrepreneur with fiefs, property and land. The choice is yours. There are a whole bunch of achievements attached to these various choices too, so you'll find that there are plenty of varying objectives to pursue across all of Mount & Blade's numerous facets. The trouble is, a handful of achievements force you into playing as a female character, which is great and all, but presumably not everyone wants to do that. It makes the game harder too, being a woman in a man's world and all. Still, there's an excellent spread that means you'll be playing for countless hours in pursuit of that elusive 1000G.

You'll have to delve into multiplayer too, which is actually immensely fun, if the rest of your team know what they're doing and don't turn on you. The best mode by far is Siege, in which the attacking faction storm the defenders' castle in a bid to capture it by hoisting the flag in the courtyard. Duel, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are self-explanatory, while Battle mode replicates the two factions charging into battle of the campaign where the last warrior standing wins. Then there's Conquest, Capture the Flag and Fight and Destroy rounding out a very generous, and mostly excellent multiplayer suite.

An insanely in-depth and involving game of medieval combat, strategy, politics, management, negotiation and conquest, Mount & Blade: Warband might not be much to look at, but once you get past the shoddy visuals and the fiddly controls, you'll find yourself hooked and inexorably drawn in. I laid a whole bunch of bigger, 'AAA' games aside to play Mount & Blade: Warband, which I never would have thought possible upon first playing it. I guess looks really are only skin deep after all.

Mount & Blade: Warband

While Mount & Blade: Warband hasn't really gained a whole lot in the jump from PC to console, it's great that such a deep and sprawling game has found a home on new platforms after so many years. It looks dreadful, but scratch beneath the surface, and Warband is an enormously rewarding RPG/strategy/medieval warfare sim-type thing that's becomes more and more compelling the more you play. Chaaaarge!

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The score perfectly suits the medieval setting and the grunts, clanks and swooshy sounds of swinging weapons is all present and correct. That said, it all seems a bit perfunctory and not particularly remarkable. A complete lack of voice work is also a bit of a letdown.


Mount & Blade really doesn't look too good at all. Its character models are ugly and expressionless, its landscapes grim and featureless, and its UI poorly designed. Really, it looks rubbish.


In spite of the unwieldy menus and such, Warband actually plays rather well once you've got used to the combat and other various nuances. Fighting with bows, polearms and throwing weapons is tough, especially on horseback, but rewarding once mastered.


Hugely addictive and packed to the gills with an array of tasks, Mount & Blade: Warband will have you playing for countless hours if its gets its hooks into you. Seriously, it's unfathomably massive and all-encompassing.


A really good spread across a number of Warband's facets, including its enjoyable multiplayer, means this is an achievement list that's a time sink, but one worth taking on. Some involve playing as a female, which is actually a lot harder since the so-called 'fairer sex' had far fewer privileges and advantages back in the middle ages. Clever stuff.

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