Mount & Blade: Warband’s journey to console platforms has been a lengthy one, for sure. First released on PC way back in early 2010, TaleWorlds’ medieval sandbox RPG was simplistic-looking but impressive, with its patented blend of political maneuvering, kingdom building, and large-scale battles. The years haven’t been kind and though there are clear graphical improvements in some areas, a lot of people will be put off by the fact that this Xbox One version is not particularly close to looking like it belongs in the current generation.
At times, “not a pretty game” could be considered as being generous, in fact. A lot of the character models look like they’re from the era of the original Xbox and there’s a distinct feeling that though throughout the game’s world there are an absolute stack of villages and castles, once you’ve seen one or two, you’ve seen them all. The reason I’m leading off with visuals here is that even though Warband is a budget release and you’d possibly expect some corners to have been cut, some of the decisions regarding visuals that have been made during the course of bringing the game to consoles negatively impact the gameplay.
For example, something as simple as reading messages and notifications that appear in the bottom left hand corner of the screen is often impossible, due to the fact that the font used is atrociously small and that there’s nothing to separate the notification text from whatever is going on behind it. Sometimes that same text even covers menu options, so you can’t tell what you’re choosing. Inconsistent controls are a problem, too. On some screens you’ll notice that you get a cursor that can be moved around with the right stick and though it’s clunky, it works. On other screens, you get a snappable selection box that is much more functional.
But one of the biggest and most boneheaded issues comes right at the start of the game, when you realize that it’s hard to see how the developer tested the controller mapping. In the tutorial, you’re asked to perform controlled attacks, pulling the right trigger and pushing the right stick to direct the attack. Only, the right stick also controls the camera at all times and that camera doesn’t lock. So you try to perform an overhead swing and end up missing and looking at the sky. Fortunately, the options menu contains the ability to turn off controlled attacks, so that you just need to pull the right trigger and the game selects the best direction. Even still, that’s just a huge oversight right out of the gate.
Other issues with combat persist as well, such as the amount of times you’ll lose your entire game progress (more or less) because your horse decides to ignore your command to move and the “dismount” option fails to work because the camera was pointing at the wrong pixel, leaving you surrounded by four enemy warriors who are slowly depleting your energy bar. You can’t actually die, but the entire goal of Warband is to build up a band of followers, earn enough money to get some land, maybe get yourself married into the bargain, and then take over the entire kingdom. When you lose a battle, you’ll very often find that most of your men have been killed, the majority of your money has been stolen, and after a quick jaunt around the land as a prisoner, you’re pretty much back to square one.
In the first hour, that’s fine. In the tenth hour, when it’s happened a few dozen times already because your character starts off so incredibly underpowered, it’s more than frustrating. It’s part of the skill of the game to judge your potential to win a battle before you take it on, I suppose, but the times that you’ll fall because of glitches or the general slow response of your character – even after you’ve leveled up several times – will undoubtedly push people to their breaking point.
In spite of all of this, a lot of players will get to that tenth hour. Not only that, but they won’t notice the time passing. At its heart, Mount & Blade: Warband is an impressive political simulation that can prove to be pretty addictive at times. You might settle in for an hour of play and find yourself still roaming the lands after two more in the hope of finding a group of bandits that your favourite Count wants you to dispatch of.
Maybe you’ll play as a mercenary and hire yourself out to each of the factions in turn, making your money through undertaking tasks for the gentry. Maybe you’ll put together a serious battalion to protect your merchandise as you track back and forth between towns, forging profitable trade routes. Maybe you’ll align yourself with one leader and help him overthrow the other parties, before overthrowing him and taking command yourself. The choices are all there and if you like deep stories with plenty of text (there’s page after page of it here and I’ve only heard one single line of audible dialogue in the game after a fair few hours of play) then maybe you’ll be able to get around the decidedly low-rent feel of the game.
Others who are more drawn to the combat side of things will likely be left cold though, since impressive numbers of characters in battle at one time is all well and good, but when they’re getting stuck behind trees, running in circles, or just trying to head-butt your horse to death while you unceremoniously slit their throat, the very little lustre that was on hand is lost entirely. Relatively standard multiplayer modes are included and work well enough, but their success will very much depend on what sort of player base the console edition of Warband can reach. Battles will likely need large numbers of players to be anything like thrilling and encountering full lobbies of warriors all mounted up and ready to charge seems unlikely.
At face value, this version of Mount & Blade: Warband feels like a desperate cash-grab even though it’s available at a budget price. It has next to no improvements over the PC edition, looks incredibly dated, has a number of frustrating control and interface issues, and is missing the rather large “Viking Conquest” expansion that has been available for the PC for almost two years. There’s no doubt that some will be hooked and will find ways around the bigger problems but while Warband promises a lot and is truly ambitious in scope, this console edition falls well before the kingdom is won.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
There’s no doubt that some will be hooked and find ways around the bigger problems, but while Mount & Blade: Warband promises a lot and is truly ambitious in scope, this console version falls well before the battle is over.