These days, much is discussed about the demise of the PC as a gaming platform and the rise of console exclusivity. Whether or not you agree that PC games are a dying breed, there is some truth to the rumour. More often we review games that either never even see a PC release, or only see a PC release months after the initial console release.
Or, worse, they get ported directly from a console version to a PC at the time of release – but suffer as a result. Ugh, we’re looking at you, Mercenaries 2.
There are many reasons behind this decline – the biggest being money. It's easier, and therefore cheaper, to develop on one (or even two) stable platforms with known parameters than it is to develop for a platform with a seemingly infinite number of configurations.
What this does mean is that the market for indie PC developers has increased in the last couple of years and indie titles are receiving more attention than they have since the early days of PC games, when most developers were independents. Just look at things like Audiosurf!
From the stable of Paradox Interactive, publisher of such indie titles as Penumbra, comes Mount & Blade, a medieval combat RPG title written by Turkish developer TaleWorlds Entertainment. Described as an action role-playing game with a focus on medieval combat, Mount & Blade is a free-roaming, open-ended game where you decide where to go and what to do next.
The question then, is whether such open-endedness is a good thing, or whether we do actually need to be guided like sheep through a storyline.
Making Castles in the Sandbox
Being an open-ended game means that there isn't really a story to tell you about. The game is set in the fictional land of Calradia, a medieval setting where feudalism and big castles are still in vogue and bandits hang around on street corners like latter day teenage gangs with better dress sense and grasp of the English language.
There are five kingdoms in Calradia, all vying for power and fighting for control of the region. Which kingdom you opt to follow, if any, is entirely up to you. You can start by swearing allegiance to one ruler only to change your mind after a while and switch sides. You can choose to remain neutral and concentrate on building up your bank balance instead. The choice is yours and there’s no D&D alignment or binding gameplay mechanic to hold you back.
You start off life as a lowly adventurer with just a horse and a few coins to your CharName. It's up to you to decide how you want to proceed through life – whether you want to be an errand boy, market boy or a bully boy, it's entirely up to you, boy.
As you progress through the game, your fame grows and you become a trusted advisor and vassal to a king, slowly becoming more and more embroiled in the adventure and intrigue of high-politics and medieval living. If you want.
Think Elite with horses, basically – but, unfortunately, without the ability to mount lasers on your horse – and you'd have a fairly close idea of what Mount & Blade is all about.
Next, we take a look at the character creation system, the physics-based combat and how great it is not to have to buy Horse Armour with real monies - eh, Bethesda?