SummaryThis report provides an analysis and evaluation of thevideo game Mount & Blade: Warband and its most critical components. Subjectsof analysis include game setting and themes, open narrative framework, impactof the physics-driven combat system, and game graphics efficiency. Thecollected data is used to determine the game’s performance in each researched aspect.Results of the data analysed show that through resourceful use of the narrativeand world-building, the game provides an overall positive experience despite sufferingfrom considerable technicalflaws due to low production values.
Introduction With the global technological advancement in recent years, the standardsfor visual and technical performance in video games have been raised higher than everbefore. In order to meet the newly set quality benchmark, game production isbecoming a widely upscale effort. However, there are still games beingdeveloped that have their creative resources focused on elements other than productionvalue.
For the creators of such games, the intended end product is typically a story-drivengame with emotionally engaging gameplay that counterpoises the less impressivegraphics. Mount & Blade: Warband, released in 2010 by TaleWorldsEntertainment as a follow-up to the original 2008 title, stands as one of themore recent examples of such a game.The aim of this report is to provide insight into the game’s keycomponents, as well as to examine and reflect on the ways it succeeds as a strategy–based,smaller-scale role-playing game project.
To that end, the text first goes over thegeneral setting and the recurring themes of the game. Subsequently, it delvesinto the essence of the narrative structure, and offers a more elaborate look intothe combat system. Finally, the efficiency of the game graphics is explored.
Mount & Blade: Warband, an analysis SettingThe game is set in the fictional land of Calradia: a continent where five factions are locked in a struggle forinfluence and sovereignty over a batch of disputed territories. Drawing inspiration from existing history of the Middle Ages, the gameaims to offer an authentic representation of medieval reality as it is devoidof fantasy elements and instead spotlights true-to-life warfare and politics(Ford, 2017). For the most part, the game adopts the theme of “man versus man”,as explained by Huitema (2017), where the core conflict takes place between acentral character and a set of opposing characters, or in the case of Mount& Blade: Warband—entire kingdoms. The game also features the “man versussociety” model as a secondary theme (Huitema, 2017), as the player’s character(especially if they are a female) often starts off from the position of a socialoutsider. In this world of incessant conflict and power struggle, each of the fivekingdom is free to wage war, forge alliances or sign an armistice with theirneighbouring countries. The kingdoms are populated by a host of non-playablecharacters that play the roles of monarchs, claimants, nobles, deserters,traders, villagers or bandits. They each have their own agenda and are made toact independently from the player, often clashing with one another off-screen. Thisfeature aims to inject the world with a sense of dynamics and progression asthe state of affairs is affected by more than the player’s own actions.
These constantconflicts between the non-playable characters are used to provide backdroptension and a framework for the player’s adventures to unfold. NarrativeMount & Blade: Warband is a sandbox game. As noted by Bossom andDunning (2016), the sandbox principle refers to a more branched out narrative frameworkthat allows players to explore an open world. Players are free to define theirown goals and formulate unique objectives rather than conform to the linear three-actplot structure many contemporary games are based on, where the game has apredetermined outcome and unfurls in a film-like fashion (Huitema, 2017). The open narrative experience of Mount & Blade: Warband is preciselyencapsulated in the following excerpt: “Sandbox” sometimes challengestraditional narrative, but it always puts something new in its place.
Thus, itdoes not remove the narrative, but rather transforms predetermined narrativeinto dynamic, responsive narrative. In other words, the sandbox gamedistinguishes itself by making the responses more significant and meaningful(Breslin, 2009).Meaningful choices and decision-making lie at the core of the game indeedas the player’s actions trigger long-term consequences from the very beginning.Character gender and backstory are customizable, with the different backgroundsaffecting the character’s initial skills and social status. Females have a moredifficult time gaining respect as warriors at the starting point of theirexploits; members of the nobility are granted more leadership and diplomacypoints; a street urchin is likely to be an adept thief and persuader, while amerchant’s descendant has better competence in trading. From then on, the player can take their character in any givendirection. One can, among many other paths, choose to pledge their allegianceto an existing monarch, pursue kingship in their own right, become a man of thepeople, or simply be a person trying to get by.
The game offers plenty ofcontent for any of these occupations in the form of quests, political intrigue,planned battles, and unexpected encounters on the road. Therein lies one ofMount & Blade: Warband’s most thoughtful mechanisms—even though the gameseemingly drops its players in a vast world with scant guidance, it does not infact require one to actively seek out the events that propel their characterforward; the game is organised in such a way that there is always some form ofinteraction nearby, be it a village in need of military help or banditspatrolling about (Figure 1).Figure 1. Mount & Blade: Warband screenshot: En route encounter withslavers. Reprinted from TaleWorlds.com website, retrieved from https://www.
taleworlds.com/en/Games/Warband/MediaCopyright by TaleWorlds EntertainmentCompleting such minor quests and challenges adds up to a slow but steadyprocess of building a reputation for one’s self. A powerful name unlocks awider interaction with the nobility, which grants the player access to the realwar taking place. Character progress can however get abruptly interrupted shouldthe character suffer a loss on the battlefield. There is no player deathscenario incorporated in the game; instead, the game has the player held captivefor a time, essentially wiping most of their progress clean.
Once released orbroken free, the player needs to start rebuilding their assets from scratch—asevere punishment that makes the choices that have led to the defeat resonate withthe player all the more. CombatThe combat system of Mount & Blade: Warband requires players to takemany factors into consideration, such as real-world laws of physics, but itsinitial complexity does not draw away from the immersive experience (Kolan,2010). Combat is witnessed from a first– or third-person perspective, dependingon the player’s preferences. It involves mastering an elaborate set of controls.Nonetheless, the controls feel natural to the player after a short period ofadjustment, as observed by Hughes (2016). One-on-one combat features a varietyof weapons such as one-handed swords, two-handed swords, axes, shields, maces,staves, lances, crossbows and thrown objects.
Their impact changes drasticallydepending on the power and direction of swinging, the adjacency of the enemy,and whether the player’s character is fighting on horseback or on foot. Proficiency in different types ofarsenal can be developed over time through the character skills tree. Thisenables the player to specialize in one or two weapons, thus building their ownunique fighting style and preferences. In large-scale battles, the game calls for awareness of the position,numbers, and health status of friendly and adversary troops at all times, asdepicted in Figure 2. Assigning battle formations is possible, as well asgiving direct movement and damage type orders to nearby units. As Walker notesin his 2016 review of the game, assembling an army and coming up with variousbattle tactics is essential to surviving encounters with foes whose forcesoutnumber or outgear the player’s. Figure 2. Mount & Blade: Warband screenshot of mounted combat.
Reprintedfrom TaleWorlds.com website, retrieved from https://www.taleworlds.com/en/Games/Warband/MediaCopyright by TaleWorlds Entertainment GraphicsMount & Blade:Warband offers a largely simplistic visual performance.
The graphics of thegame have been described by multiple sources as “outdated” and far from “technicallygroundbreaking” (Jones 2016; Kolan, 2010). The visuals do not compare well toother contemporary games from the same genre, such as The Witcher and DragonAge (Hughes, 2016). That is due to the fact that the game relies heavily on lowpolygon count character models, meaning that the characters appear blocky andless smoothed out (Ong, 2017). The end result is a set of near-identical characterswith no facial expressions that fail to look three-dimensional on occasion. Inaddition, the game engine often produces glitches and freezes characters inimpossible positions, as seen in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Mount & Blade: Warband screenshot of low polygon count models:Horse with missing head. Reprinted from TaleWorlds.com website, retrieved from https://www.taleworlds.com/en/Games/Warband/MediaCopyright by TaleWorlds EntertainmentEnvironmental locationssuffer from low-resolution textures, causing them to fall short on variety and detail.
Another one of the game’s technical flaws is the design of overworld mapfeatured in the game menu (illustrated in Figure 4). It is used to navigate the open world, both geographically and politically,providing an overview of all fiefs and supplying the player with input on theircharacter’s current location as well as information on a fief’s owner andpolitical vassalage. As such, the overworld mapis an asset that the game references to frequently. For such a key feature itlacks the detail and variety of most modern games, barely hinting at terrain geographyand sporting a papercraft look.
Figure4. Mount & Blade:Warband screenshot: Overworld map. Reprinted from Manapool.
co.uk website,retrieved from http://www.manapool.co.uk/review/mount-and-blade-warband-review/ Copyright by TaleWorlds EntertainmentAn upside of a gamewith modest game graphics quality is that the game is fairly light in performance.Therefore, it is in full capacity to support extensive battles and load mapsquickly, making it suitable for older computers. ConclusionIn summary, Mount & Blade: Warband is not without its technicalflaws, but it also has a lot to offer in terms of narrative and gameplay.
Thegoal of this report has been to tackle both the strong and the weak points ofthe game in order to present an overall analytical view of the end experience. Itis also key to emphasize how a low-budget project divested of the costly leading-edgevisual appeal can still generate thrilling results through a thoughtful andresponsive narrative and strategy system. As stated throughout the report, eventhough Mount & Blade: Warband has been criticized for its underwhelminggraphics, many professional game reviewers hold it in high esteem for itsauthentic multi-themed setting, its open-world sandbox narrative, and its intricatecombat features. This slow-burn game is a clear example of how looks can bedeceiving, and how behind an unimpressive front one can discover a cleverlycrafted, vast world that has the potential to fulfil, immerse and captivate.