Warband is perhaps one of few games I’d recommend playing with a mod. The base game is certainly there and playable but it’s also a little light on content. So, the use of a mod that adds such content can only be a positive thing as far as I’m concerned.
Before we get to mods, though, let’s discuss the actual game. In Warband, you create a character, choose a spawn point, and you’re thrown into a medieval world in which you can do whatever the hell it is you choose. You can be a trader or prey on them, join an army or raise your own, kill officers and/or become one; the variety is unprecedented. Whether you’re a trader, bandit, general, king, slave-trader or land-owner, there is time-swallowing satisfaction in whatever path you choose.[drop]It’s not easy, though. While creating your character you place stat, skill and weapon points, each of which will affect your abilities while playing the game, from what weapons you can use to how much food you’ll have to carry with you at all times. The effects of these stats and skills are far reaching and careful thought is required when you’re placing them. Yes, personal skills that result in you personally dealing more damage are useful, but being able to command more troops is even better. If you’re into trading, trade is obviously a very useful skill, whilst the slave-trade requires prisoner management.
As you can tell, it’s important you know what you want to be doing when you’re choosing where your skill points go and, since skills are limited to a third of the value of the attribute it is dependant on, it’s important to tactically place your attribute points too.
Complicated? It might seem so but it’s easy to pick up, thanks to information that tells you everything you need to know being available by simply highlighting a skill/attribute.
The actual gameplay is split between two sections – the map and battles. The map is where you’ll likely spend most of your time – it’s a map (shock) that you click on to move yourself around. It’s a very large map dotted with villages, cities and castles that all belong to one of five factions.
As mentioned previously, you can choose to join one of those factions and help it against its enemies or simply do your own thing, but the factions will rule how you play the game. Gain a negative reputation with a faction and you can lose access to their cities or find their armies hunting you down.
The battle section of the game triggers whenever you go into battle from the map (obviously). This gives you direct control of your character using the WASD keys and your mouse. The combat itself is not amazing but it’s more than functional and even fun once you manage to get used to it.
Attacking is done by moving the mouse slightly in the direction you want to attack from and clicking the left mouse button – moving the mouse up slightly will have you deliver a downwards slice, for example, whilst moving it down triggers a thrust. Blocking with a weapon is done by mirroring your opponents attack and press the right mouse button, whilst blocking with a shield will block any oncoming attack provided you’re aiming correctly, though your shield will eventually be destroyed.[drop2]There are also ranged weapons in the game, namely bows and crossbows, although thrown weapons like throwing axes, darts and spears feature as well. These are all affected by different stats so it’s probably most advisable to specialise in one of them and stick with it.
Aiming is done by switching to your ranged weapon and holding the left mouse – for the bow, your highest accuracy will be just after pulling back the string; waiting will result in your crosshair widening as the accuracy of your shot decreases. Projectiles are affected by gravity, so aiming is more than just a stat wall and requires actual aiming on your part too, which is nice.
Whilst in battle, you can also use the F keys to give orders to your troops. A tap of F1 will pull up a quick menu that lets you choose an option (all bound to the F keys), whilst holding F1 will order your troops to your crosshair. These are useful commands and they can can make up the difference between winning a battle and being utterly slaughtered, so use is encouraged.
As with real life, however, all of this comes down to money. A steady income is a must for survival and success. How you get the money is down to you, but your army will need a weekly wage, not to mention hiring new troops requiring a substantial one time fee too, and the food to feed them all costs money too.
Loot is a very effective way to gain cash; whether it’s from caravans or bandits, you can take all your loot to a city and sell it all. Or you can put some of it to use yourself if it’s an upgrade compared to your current equipment, just make sure you’re making ends meet or things will go south for you pretty quickly.
The loot isn’t too varied in vanilla Warband, however – and this is where the mods come in – they can add pretty much anything you like, from more items and features to whole new worlds (there is at least one Game of Thrones mod online somewhere). The mod I’m currently playing with is Floris Expanded, which adds items, spruces up the graphics, adds a few features and streamlines some awkward mechanics. It’s pretty much essential, as far as I’m concerned.
It’s difficult to express just how big the game is, really. There’s so much you can do and the random happenings around the map only serve to lengthen the time you’ll spend playing should you give yourself to it. If free form plundering, trading and/or conquering is your thing, Mount and Blade: Warband is most definitely your game. I’ve never had quite so much fun when forced to fight an army of 100 all alone because I lost my own army. I didn’t last long.
Warband is available for Windows from Steam at the upper CPCG threshold of £14.99. The Summer Sales are coming, remember, so you might want to wait and see if it’s part of a deal when they arrive. I got it for £3.75 in a daily deal on Saturday, so it’s certainly possible.