This article was written by all-round awesome dude Will Clay.
For all the flash, big bang production, celebrity voice acting, and apocalyptic scope of the flagship fantasy role-playing games of this world, there is one thing they’ve never done well: Mounted combat.
Mount & Blade eschews magic, slick graphics, and even a plot and sells itself hard on being the best medieval combat game ever made. Having ridden this dark horse since its beta days, I’ve watched this elegantly single-minded creature evolve and become its thrall. An impressive physics engine and deceptively simple combat system are all it needs, and all it has.
The single-player game dumps you into a world inhabited by several warring kingdoms and leaves you to it. Swear fealty to a lord and fight his battles. Round up outlaws and brigands. Lead a band of outlaws and brigands. Trade if you’d like. I found the trading mechanics fairly boring, and opted instead to ambush my kingdom’s enemies’ caravans and just sell whatever I could take. Sieges, melee tournaments, duels, and bandit raids on farming towns all await the gamer who doesn’t need to save the world or be lead around by the nose.
WASD, left mouse attack, right mouse defend. That’s all. Really. Add in the ability to control your swing with mouse movement and a physics engine that factors your speed relative to your target into the damage total and combat becomes a fascinating dance of death. My favorite way to experience all this is atop a horse with a lance or sword. Nothing is more satisfying than flying headlong at an enemy knight and punching your lance through his plate, instantly slaying an enemy that would otherwise require much hacking and flailing. In fact, some of the more stupendous collisions involve lances killing both horse and rider in one charge.
Atop a healthy steed, a good player can fly across the battlefield dealing death like a god to those on foot. A sword swung from the back of a charger at full gallop can shatter a shield or bite through chainmail.
Of course, your charge is also what makes you vulnerable. One false twitch of your mouse-hand, and you just threw yourself into a spear. At best, you’ve just been unhorsed, at which point your place in this world changes. Now it is your lot to trudge around, flinging your shield up when a knight crashes toward you. And if you spilled your ass behind the enemy shield wall, it’s over. More popular games have conditioned us to think that one man, if he’s a total badass, can hold off dozens of foes all alone. Not so. You will find yourself quickly encircled and hammered down. If you want to live, stay on your horse or next to your men.
You have an amount of hit points which can be increased as you level up. Realistically, though, at any time a single well-placed blow can end you. Other stats and attributes affect your ability to wield certain weapons, your base running speed, how many men you can employ, etc. If you like to level, there’s a lot of dinging here for you, all unhampered by a story.
The newest version of the game introduced multiplayer combat, which the game’s following had been clamoring for since the beginning. Even if you feel you have mastered the single-player game, be prepared for defeat. A lot of defeat. I’d like to think I’m not terrible at the game. My kill/death ratio leads me to think otherwise. However, if you grit your teeth and keep going, some really unique, fun, and often hilarious moments await.
For instance: I once joined a battle as a footman, armed with a cleaver and a tower shield. My fellows lined up alongside and we became a wall, slowly climbing a hill crowned by a contingent of enemy crossbowmen. It was slow going, and every so often a shield would break, or a low shot would pierce an unguarded shin, and one of our number would grunt and fall, forced to watch the rest of the match as a
Finally, we crested the hill. Our shields came down and we layed about with our clubs and axes and swords. The crossbowmen were no match for us in close quarters, and in short order they were all dead. Spattered with blood, most of my guys were still on our feet. Elation! Then one of my own men crushed the back of my head with a mace. The option to boot appeared. But so did his quick apology, “Sorry bro, I was ragin’.” I forgive you, bro. I was ragin’, too.
A married couple in Turkey spent countless hours in their basement creating the coolest way for you to go Medieval Times in yours. It’s a raw labor of love that pulls off its one trick better than anything else out there.