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Hands-on | Mount & Blade: Warband

Mount & Blade: Warband hands-on preview (PC) - Header
Format: PC | Genre: RPG | Publisher: Paradox Interactive | Developer: TaleWorlds | ETA: 02/04/10

It’s little surprise that 2008 indie RPG Mount & Blade found love among a dedicated audience. Ambitious and proud, it eschewed traditional roleplaying narrative structure, instead favouring a genuinely open approach in which players carved their own way through its world.

Equally, though, it’s unsurprising it failed to make an impact on a wider level. Its low-budget origins were plain for all to see, with a shaky graphics engine, complex but imprecise combat, and a fair few rough edges elsewhere.

Warband, then, finds itself in an interesting position. It’s a standalone expansion that aims to refine, rather than reinvent, the world of Calradia. In keeping with Mount & Blade tradition, there’s still no predefined storytelling to speak of, so Warband’s focus is on new features and a tightening up of what came before.

warband1An advanced political system allows progression right to the very top, and as a king you’ll be able to grant your companions land within the world. You can now get hitched to NPCs, with wives looking after affairs while you’re away at battle. There’s a larger map and more units, and a heavier focus on dialogue promises to make interaction a little less bland than it had a tendency to be in the original game.

SEEING THE LIGHT
The graphics engine’s also been tweaked and tampered with. It’s still some way behind the pack, but it’s considerably prettier than before. Its new lighting system, along with the addition of reflections, looks slightly odd against the chunky, blocky architecture, but it still impresses far beyond anything Mount & Blade managed. New textures don’t always seem to sit right, but the detail is greatly improved. The engine’s still shaky, but it’s an agreeable update.

Its shortcomings are, of course, forgivable. Mount & Blade is an independently crafted game from a small development team on a budget. Its backwards looks are still overshadowed in Warband by some tremendously ambitious approaches to combat, whether it’s on foot or on Mount & Blade: Warband hands-on preview (PC) - Screenshot 2horseback, with swords up-close or with bows and arrows from a distance.

And the main draw of all these tweaks, all these improvements and additions, is their incorporation into a collection of multiplayer modes – which we’ve been playing this week.

Several of the game types show potential. There’s something instinctively satisfying about this authentic medieval combat when played online. Castle sieges are chaotic but slow-burning affairs, where tactics are essential to success. In Battle mode, death is permanent, the winning side being the one with men left standing at the end. Fight And Destroy plays with the same ideas, but asks teams to defend or attack catapults and trebuchets. There’s the possibility of real strategic planning across these modes, and it’ll be interesting to see how the relatively small-scale games we played transfer across to larger matches (servers can hold up to 64 players) after release.

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