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.
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.