After the release of the first entry in 2008, which we covered last time, TaleWorlds continued listening to feedback from the community and in 2010 it was time for Mount & Blade: Warband, a sort of semi-sequel.
At a quick look, it didn’t offer many new features: Slightly fancier graphics, a new faction, some UI improvements. Peek deeper though, and you’ll find a first step towards a tutorial. A scripted mission, guiding you into this new world you are about to explore (without pulling any punches along the way, at least for people new to the series). A bit deeper even, and you’ll find a still lacking, but at least now existing political system, allowing you to build relationships with one of the many lords, kings and queens. And then finally the option to start your very own faction.
All of these changes and additions in Warband were certainly needed and the singleplayer experience was a much better one for it, but wait a second… why did I just deliberately name drop singleplayer, you might wonder.
One of the most requested features from the community was the ability to play online. You can only imagine the fanfares playing inside the head of every Mount & Blade fan when it was announced that Warband would come with multiplayer support. Not because of the official 64 player limit or the struck overarching RPG elements in favor of a system that would let you buy better equipment during the match, but with no progress save between matches. No, it was the promise of what was yet to come. You see, in the first part of this little journey through Mount & Blade history I talked about what made the original entry a success, but I left out one very important detail.
Communities centered around a single particular game usually die down over time, but there are exceptions. Warband is now five years old, and while that might not be enough to fully age a good whisky, it is enough for a player base to evaporate. So how come we still find Mount & Blade: Warband in the top 30 most played games on Steam at the moment of writing?
Let me borrow the immortal words of a certain Steve Ballmer: Developers, Developers, Developers,… or in this case: Modders, Modders, Modders, Modders!
With the release of Warband also came another push from the modding scene, releasing alternative maps and new weapons at first, but soon afterwards modifications that would completely face lift almost every aspect of the singleplayer (personal favorite: the floris mod pack). They also returned RPG elements and more from the singleplayer experience back into the multiplayer, and made so called total conversions which not only changed the setting into the Wild West, feudal Japan, Middle-earth, Star Wars, etc., but also added completely new mechanics. Oh, and that 64 player limit for online gaming? It’s up to a whopping 222 now and you don’t even need any mods, since it’s done server side.
The modding scene is highly active until this day and, with the support of TaleWorlds, even managed to successfully release two paid add-ons and one standalone:
In 2011, we got Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword. Like the previous release it was based on the original 2008 title, but included some of the improvements featured in Warband and, for the first time in Mount & Blade history, a story mode.
Based on the book ‘With fire and Sword’ by Henryk Sienkiewicz, you were thrown into the historical 17th century Poland, and got to try out some more advanced weaponry, like early rifles and bombs. Unlike the other entries, I’ve never actually played With Fire & Sword, but other critics praised its eased entry for newcomers, while criticizing the lackluster inclusion of guns and overall little new for the franchise veteran.
2012 saw the release of Napoleonic Wars, a multiplayer-only DLC for Warband, set during the name giving 19th century Napoleonic Wars, with combat centering on realistic musket warfare, including player organized line-battles. It’s an amazing concept for a game, there is a very healthy community around it, but keep in mind: like the base game is not necessarily the RPG for the Fable player (especially since they’ve turned that into a Kinect horse riding game), this is not a shooter for the COD, the Battlefield, the Halo or the Unreal Tournament crowds. Battles take long, movement takes long, aiming takes long and reloading takes long. You need to have a very methodical approach when going into it, otherwise you will be bored fast. In short: Ritalin is your drug of choice in this.
Still, like with the base game, this is an experience you will find nowhere else. Seriously: tell me of one shooter that allows you to run around the battlefield armed with nothing besides a drum or a flute.
Originally released in December 2014 and therefore the latest piece of DLC for Warband is Viking Conquest, which offers a story mode covering the Early Middle Ages in north-Europe, the traditional sandbox, and a dedicated multiplayer mode. Besides the story mode and setting, its most alluring feature was probably the ship combat; however this was also one of its biggest issues, thanks to an AI that was not fully optimized for the task of seafaring (or maybe was a bit too liberal in the simulation of Viking alcohol consumption). A free content update, called Reforged Edition, was recently released, including a new story, new features, more companions, and bug fixes. Our very own Trey Valeska called it one of the best games in years, so head over to his review (once he's done) for more details on it.
And this is where we end our little trip through the history of Mount & Blade. Next week we actually get to find out some more information on the upcoming Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord, so stay tuned.
Did we spark your interest? Are you planning on getting one of the games (don't worry console gamers, Mount & Blade: Warband will actually see a release on PS4 and XBO) and if so, do you want us to cover some of the available mods? Tell us in the comments.
(Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored feature, but TaleWorlds gave me a pretty sweet bag after the preview of M&B2: Bannerlord during Gamescom. It doesn't influence my opinion of the series, but hey, thought I'd let you know ...again)