Mount & Blade II

Get­ting rich quick in the me­dieval sand­box

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - Tom Se­nior

In­stead of graph­i­cal fidelity, Mount&BladeII promi ses free­dom

How do you have so much money?” asks the Mount & Blade II booth man­ager at Gamescom as I end my ses­sion. Peo­ple traf­fick­ing, my good man. I made thou­sands fight­ing ban­dits and sell­ing pris­on­ers. A guy paid me for neu­tral­iz­ing the ban­dit threat as well, and I stole some ar­mor for my­self. I’m mak­ing money all the way down this chain. It’s re­fresh­ing to be dropped into Mount& BladeII’s me­dieval sand­box with no ob­jec­tives what­so­ever. There are no arch demons to thwart, or evil kings to over­throw. I’m free to quest for riches and bet­ter pants in­stead.

You can hire war­riors and fight along­side them in third-per­son bat­tles, and as a merce­nary you’re free to take jobs with any town ven­dors you fancy. You can en­ter towns and wan­der up to a quest-giver, or pick them from a menu to save time. As you com­plete jobs they will like you more and you can hire more ad­vanced war­riors. Sol­diers level up af­ter bat­tles and evolve into bet­ter troops over time.

The se­quel looks a lot bet­ter than the first game, but it’s still en­dear­ingly low-fi com­pared to mod­ern RPGs with a sim­i­lar tone like King­domCome:De­liv­er­ance. In­stead of graph­i­cal fidelity, Mount& BladeII prom­ises free­dom. You move be­tween towns on a map of Cal­ra­dia that feels like a JRPG world map. Roam­ing war­bands are rep­re­sented as lone sol­diers or horse rid­ers. Traders zip be­tween towns like lit­tle board game pieces. If you stand still, the sand­box busily swarms around you.

There isn’t time to dig into Mount& BladeII’s most am­bi­tious fea­tures. Even­tu­ally you can go to war with en­tire armies, and lay siege to cas­tles in mas­sive bat­tles. In the be­gin­ning you’re just an­other cit­i­zen. I could have en­tered some tour­na­ments to win money and fa­vor in du­els, or I could have al­lied with the crim­i­nal fac­tions in town. In­stead, I played as a roam­ing en­forcer help­ing the lo­cal mili­tia to fight off ban­dits.

Com­bat will be very fa­mil­iar to Mount &Blade:War­band play­ers. From horse­back I hold the mouse but­ton to wind up a strike and then re­lease at just the right point to cleave the en­emy. The horse’s mo­men­tum fac­tors into the power of the blow, which guar­an­tees a kill if I chop roughly in the head area.

Turn­ing Me­dieval

Fight­ing re­quires care­ful cur­sor con­trol be­cause blows don’t track or lock on to tar­gets. You can move your body an­gle and feet as you swing to make sure you con­nect. As the en­emy swings at you, you ad­just your body an­gle to make sure the blow misses or lands on your shield. The flail­ing and dis­con­nected leg move­ments make the fights look and feel des­per­ate, but there’s skill to it, and the wide ar­ray of weapons, shields, and ar­mor cre­ate mean­ing­ful vari­a­tion be­tween troops. Your units fight in gag­gles that you can di­rect, to an ex­tent, with com­mands. Fights are none­the­less quite hap­haz­ard, as you might ex­pect from a rab­ble of ban­dits and hastily as­sem­bled mili­tia fight­ers.

There are a lot of amus­ing lit­tle mo­ments. When you win a bat­tle by rout­ing or killing the en­emy, ev­ery­one in your rag­tag army stops and cheers as though they’ve just won a soc­cer match. I went into town to meet up with some crim­i­nal types in a back al­ley. I found both star­ing at a brick wall. When I ques­tioned them they gave me the ex­act same para­graph of di­a­logue about be­ing loyal to their gang leader. Mount&Blade has al­ways been a bit wonky, but that’s part of its ap­peal, and the se­quel shows a strong com­mit­ment to player-driven sto­ries in a bustling sand­box world.

You have to ad­mire this swords­man’s op­ti­mism.

Bat­tles can get a lot big­ger than this.

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