Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shattered Delusions: Mount and Blade

The Riesling drinking wine buff scorns the masses who have not moved beyond Chardonnay. We gamers also have our precious snobberies. We have our secret games that are too complex or too ugly for mass appeal but which we "in the know" hold to be superior to the mass market commercial stuff. I guess Dwarf Fortress is such a game although I haven't played it. For several years now Mount and Blade has been my secret game.

I bought the game when it was in its seemingly never ending Beta. It was a perpetually half finished game that was missing big chunks of stuff that games are supposed to have. Yet it shone brightly because of its sublime horseback mounted combat. I fell in love with that combat. I fell in love with the thrill of riding down opponents from the back of a thundering war horse. The regularly updated beta earned a place on my hard drive and I would go back every few months for another adrenaline filled bout of medieval sword bashing.

I hadn't checked the developers website in a while. I didn't realise that the game was due for official release last week and I was surprised to find a review of the game in this month's PCZone. Surprised and indeed a little disappointed to note that reviewer Jamie Sefton had only seen fit to award the game 62 out of a 100.

You can read a shortened online version of Jamie's review here. To be honest it is a poorly written review and it is easy to poke holes in it. Jamie's comparison of the game structure with Total War is laughable. His reference in the printed version to a time when the game was freeware is factually inaccurate. The game was never free, there was a free restricted demo but even in beta you had to pay for the full game. His dismissal of the sublime combat model shows a complete misunderstanding of what the game is all about. It would be easy to dismiss this review and yet ... deep down I understand why the game only scored 62%.

To confirm my own opinions I downloaded the release version and started a new character. The game is a lot prettier than when I played last with beautifully constructed villages and castles aplenty. Nevertheless it does still feel unfinished. The gameworld feels lifeless. There is little direction to tell you what to do. The combat is hard, very hard. I struggled to complete the tutorial despite having been somewhat adept previously. Viewed a a commercially released game I can understand why this only rates a score in the 60's.

You can read a much better review of the game here from Gamespot's Todd Brett. Todd's review is more detailed and presents a fairly accurate accurate picture of the game but his score is still only 6 out of 10.


Anonymous said...

Am struggling hard to think of a game that I haved played recently that isn't a big title...

The games industry should give more hearsay to the fansite/blogger, as most games reviews are very much a 'copycat' affair ie scores, even reviews themselves.

Nice post mbp.

mbp said...

Thanks DM. How goes things at your new "Construed" home?

Anonymous said...

Good! Am enjoying the direction of the writing etc.

Don't think it has made me too popular with the PR at a number of games companies but tough!

Melf_Himself said...

I know what you mean, after reading about Mount and Blade I was keen to try the beta too, epsecially for the way the combat sounded. About 6 months ago I downloaded it.

I found the combat to be really difficult, and I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing at the start of the game. Crap tutorials are an auto-fail for me, I have a zero tolerance policy for them.

mbp said...

Hi Melf. Mount and Blade doesn't do itself any favours in wooing new players sadly but I assure you it really is great when you get the hang of it. I don't think any other game comes close in terms of the quality of the mounted combat. It just isn't a commercial game however and it looks bad when judged as one.

Anonymous said...

Review of Mount & Blade v.1.003:

Overall, I really enjoy this game. In fact, I've shelved Guild Wars and Titan Quest since I began playing this game again.

Let's get the negative aspect taken care of first. This game really needed a better Tutorial. Although there is one which teaches you different techniques such as blocking, archery, melee [single, 2-handed] combat, the tutorial lacks giving the player guidance as to where to start.

After plodding through various villages and garrisons [towns] and castles, I was able to figure out my options.
Once I understood gameplay dynamics such as the various components affecting 'Party Morale', I was able to feel more at ease. Perhaps the retail hardcopy version in stores include a decent Instruction manual. Yet, as of v.1.003, this game does not lend any in-game assistance for new players. This was a big strike against the game.

Yet, muster through this initial confusion and you will find a very rewarding medieval simulator with beautiful sounds,visuals and a well thought out 'Character' screen where every single point spent on an 'attribute','skill' or 'proficiency' has a very real effect on your characters advancement.
For example, archery. Initially I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if I tried because my 'Archery' proficiency was very low. Over the course of leveling up, I discovered that my aiming became much more accurate due to investing points into 'Power Draw','Horse Archery'[Skills] and 'Archery'[Proficiency].
Simply by using a weapon, you will become Proficient in the use of that weapon over time as well.

Game dynamics as follows: You begin as a Mercenary with 1 of the 5 Factions. Eventually you may wish to chose a Faction and help them defeat the others. By choosing a Faction, you are eventually rewarded a village and castle, both of which you should protect from invaders.

From tournament battles to castle sieges, from trading goods to upgrading equipment. This game has it all. I especially enjoy the real feel of the horse you ride and the clash of swords hitting each other. Or the sound of a 2-handed axe smashing through a shield. Better yet, rushing forward on your horse while holding your shield up, just in time to hear 4 arrows thunk into the shield.
Ok...you get the point. I'm having a blast with it. It's one of the most enjoyable games I've ever played.

mbp said...

Thank you @anonymous. I am delighted to read a positive review of Mount and Blade. I always knew there was a diamond in there, its just hidden a bit in some rough packaging. I guess I was surprised that even though I had played beta versions I still found it hard to follow what was going on. The old reliable starter quest used to be defeating river pirates but now that seems to be gone or at least hard to find and the other quests I picked up seem to be beyond me. I fully agree with you about the thrilling combat though. It stands head and shoulders over any other implementation of sword bashing I have every played.

Hey - you wrote a good review there. I hope you don't mind if I move it to the main post so it doesn't get lost in the comments section. You seem to enjoy writing Have you considered starting a blog?