Mount & Blade: War­band

Mount & B lade: War­band has made peo­ple ex­cited about be­ing killed by a sword


Aloud and pas­sion­ate group of peo­ple care very much about this low-fi, but am­bi­tious, sim­u­la­tion of life as a free­lance me­dieval swordsper­son, which has grown steadily from a rough-but-full-of-dreams paid al­pha to a (rel­a­tively) pol­ished sand­box with a vast num­ber of mods and ex­pan­sions to com­ple­ment it. The re­lease of War­band was the point at which Mount& Blade started to feel like a full game.

That game in­volves chart­ing a self-di­rected path to power and wealth by as­sem­bling a cadre of sol­diers and trot­ting across an over­world ei­ther cur­ry­ing favour with lo­cal lords or tak­ing what you want at lance-point. Bat­tles are fought in first or third-per­son us­ing a rel­a­tively re­al­is­tic, al­beit clunky, com­bat sys­tem.

A spear de­liv­ered unto a howl­ing naked man at suf­fi­cient trot will slay him; an ar­row to the face hurts a great deal. Peo­ple yell and groan a lot as they fight, get blood­ier over time, look per­pet­u­ally lost and cross, and then die. It is this grounded feel­ing – which makes Mount&Blade a sort of me­dieval ArmA – that makes these games so en­dur­ing. It has only got more rel­e­vant over time, ar­guably, as the move­ment of Game of Thrones

to­wards the heart of cul­ture en­sures that thoughts of a good death at the end of a bardiche are never far from the minds of the na­tions’ youth.

This era’s games al­ways had very good cas­tles and vil­lages. War­band shares a par­tic­u­lar at­mos­phere with cer­tain mid-’00s MMOs, games of starkly polyg­o­nal tav­erns and slab-like gate­houses where gawky mer­chants, vil­lagers and sol­diers mill around un­der grey skies. Not re­al­is­tic or pretty, cer­tainly, but evoca­tive. I imag­ine that I could show this game to Chaucer, and he would nod and agree that ‘ it­tre­al­lig waesthysshitte’, or some­thing.

War­band can also be ex­cit­ing, I should stress. The num­ber of games that let you crash a big, fast horse into a shield wall is re­mark­ably few, and this is one of them. And de­spite its age it can still suc­cess­fully evoke some­thing of that ex­pe­ri­ence: if you would like to build your em­pire by lug­ging sacks of dyed wool from one vil­lage to an­other then no­body is go­ing to stop you, but boy – it would be a shame to come all this way and not try the mur­der.

Naked am­bi­tion

Loads of mods and an im­pend­ing se­quel has meant that Mount&Blade has never re­ally gone away, but it’s worth con­sid­er­ing how much its pop­u­lar­ity is owed to the scarcity of games with this at­ti­tude to me­dieval life and war. TheWitcher may place you in the boots of the coolest man in all the land and en­cour­age you to boink ev­ery­body, but Mount&Blade lets you fight howl­ing naked men on a bar­ren heath with your only friend, a guy in a hat called Marnid, who gets knocked un­con­scious in the open­ing sec­onds of ev­ery bat­tle you fight. Some­how this is bet­ter, and worse, at the same time.

Mount & Blade lets you fight howl­ing naked men on a bar­ren heath

‘Slap the top­less man’ was a pop­u­lar pre-videogames past­time.

The placid, un­chang­ing face of a killer.

This is sur­pris­ingly stir­ring in the mo­ment.

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