Mount & Blade: Warband may be ugly, but it hides a surprisingly transformative depth.

If you missed out on the fuss about Mount & Blade: Warband, let us quickly fill you in. It is a popular medieval simulator ported from PC, in which you create your character and their backstory and set off into the world. What you do from there is up to you, whether you choose to go and be a swine or a sweetheart. You're not going to step off into the world looking like Brad Pitt or Kim K, but you'll bear a passing resemblance to human that looks as though it emerged from Dragon's Dogma's character creator.

The safest place to start is the tutorial, and for a good reason. The combat on Xbox One is just terrible, and combat on horseback is nothing short of torture, but I'll touch on horseback combat mechanics in a moment. Long ranged combat -- using bow and arrows, javelins and crossbows is tolerable, yet still somewhat inaccurate judging on having to aim high and to the left to make contact with the skulls you have to hit. The sword mechanics are painful. Using the right trigger button to attack, you also have to aim the right stick to perform the strike at that direction. An overhead slash is performed by pushing up, but the camera is also mapped to the right stick! While I'm fighting against stunted and gormless looking AI opponents who wouldn't be out of place in an HG Wells movie, I don't want to feel like I'm flailing wildly with a sword. You don't have to use directional attacks, but they do help, especially since your opponent will certainly use them against you.

Horseback combat, or horseback anything is like fighting with a child throwing a tantrum in a supermarket. You want them to go this way, but they won't. The parent has to coax the child towards the goal with gentle physical persuasion. And then the kid speeds off, and now you've missed the cereal. It's the same is with these damn horses.

During training, you need to hit some targets from horseback while riding around a corral. Perhaps you should just turn the horse into glue now and save yourself the effort later.

The tutorial is terrible. It's difficult to be polite about it, and in all honesty, it was almost enough to scare me about what the rest of the game holds.

I was glad to persevere. Very quickly, the horsey aftertaste of the tutorial faded, and I was quickly plunged into this surprisingly pleasantly flavored and immersive open world.

Some of the scenery within the towns reminds me of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, though everything has a much sharper edge to it. The clarity of the graphics is starkly contrasted against the poor movement speed -- there's more than enough time to take in the scenery when you're trying to look anywhere other than at your character's awkward twisted running animation. If anything, Mount & Blade is better played in first person view since many of the glaring visual issues you may have are significantly lessened (and even the combat is a little more tolerable). Overall, Mount & Blade looks dated.

Setting off on your journey to make a name for yourself like a medieval Dick Whittington just leaves so much to your own choice. It's unexpectedly easy to overlook dated graphics when there is so much to figure out and do.

There isn't much variation between each of the smaller towns. When you enter a town, you're met with an overview screen which details whether or not the town is flourishing, and what the town is particularly productive at making. If you're smart, you can work out which items are best to trade between which towns and cities, making yourself a load of Dinars to hire extra hands with.

Hiring additional soldiers from neighboring cities and villages enables you to cross the expanse of the land (most often on foot, damn horses). During your cross country ramblings, you are likely to fall foul to attackers if your party isn't particularly large. After being kidnapped by a rowdy bunch of fellows, who then ceremoniously dumped me literally on the other side of the map, I decided to get a crew together for protection. Now whenever I run across would-be attackers, my extra swordhands make mincemeat of them, and then I sell the asailants to the nearest slave trader. Just call me Jorah Mormont. Party morale decreases if you recruit the criminals to your team, and you don't want your battle-hardened soldiers deserting you in your time of need. While I mention it, make sure you have gold to pay for their services. Wars weren't won with kisses.

There are so many quests to partake in, though some of them I've not worked out how to even start. In some quests, you're given an objective and a timeframe to do it in. This usually results in the locals taking kindly to you and eventually helping you out in turn. Unfortunately, the very first quest I attempted failed. Shepherding sheep shouldn't be brain surgery, but I was stumped if I could actually get the sheep to move. I could select them to be herded but they would just vanish after a while, making it unclear whether it was bugged.

You can talk to anyone you see, asking them questions about how life is in this town, but they'll all tell you the same things, recounting their town history in the meantime.

If you played the game with little-to-no combat at all, it would be considerably boring; but the combat mechanics are so clunky and wild that it doesn't really feel like fighting. Perhaps there's a finesse required that I haven't achieved, and am unlikely to with my "close my eyes and stab away" methodology. Fighting is a big downside, but with better armor and weapons, in time you should at least be able to weather more hits before you die.

It's difficult not to expect more regarding exploration and NPC interaction. You can't enter any buildings beyond the main castles and the taverns, and you can't interact with anything. We're a bit spoilt with open world environments lately, what with the likes of Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and we've fallen into a trap of our own expectations.

The warring factions across the lands add an air of political intrigue, as the actions you take for one country or another will help stoke or calm the fires. I get the feeling, particularly for new players and early game, that the life of crime is, in fact, the easiest. Since you can repair relations with towns and cities for doing good deeds, rustling off a few cattle now and again for money doesn't make me bad, does it?

Summary

I've spent the majority of the time in Mount & Blade traveling from town to town, being a general bit of a swine and just generally finding the direction of how I want to shape things. It won't try to feed you a story, as that part is entirely up to you.

Pros:

  • Surprising depth
  • Can be engrossing

Cons:

  • Poor combat mechanics
  • Even worse horse riding mechanics
  • Dated (though upscaled) interfaces
  • Lack of variety in NPC dialogue options

Mediocre

2.5/5

There is much more time to sink into the game, and a larger part of me looks forward to it. Mount & Blade: Warband isn't supremely polished and swanky, but it is enjoyable, and there is enough intrigue to keep anyone entertained if they can see beyond its datedness. The fighting mechanics and the horse-riding need overhauling entirely for it to be a great game, but in the meantime, Warband is a good game to spend a few hours at a time in.

See on the Xbox Store {.cta. .shop}

This review was conducted on Xbox One using a code provided by the developer.