Summary

This report provides an analysis and evaluation of the
video game Mount & Blade: Warband and its most critical components. Subjects
of analysis include game setting and themes, open narrative framework, impact
of the physics-driven combat system, and game graphics efficiency. The
collected 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 narrative
and world-building, the game provides an overall positive experience despite suffering
from considerable technical
flaws due to low production values.

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Introduction

With the global technological advancement in recent years, the standards
for visual and technical performance in video games have been raised higher than ever
before. In order to meet the newly set quality benchmark, game production is
becoming a widely upscale effort. However, there are still games being
developed that have their creative resources focused on elements other than production
value. For the creators of such games, the intended end product is typically a story-driven
game with emotionally engaging gameplay that counterpoises the less impressive
graphics. Mount & Blade: Warband, released in 2010 by TaleWorlds
Entertainment as a follow-up to the original 2008 title, stands as one of the
more recent examples of such a game.

The aim of this report is to provide insight into the game’s key
components, 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 the
general setting and the recurring themes of the game. Subsequently, it delves
into the essence of the narrative structure, and offers a more elaborate look into
the combat system. Finally, the efficiency of the game graphics is explored.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mount & Blade: Warband, an analysis

 

Setting

The game is set in the fictional land of Calradia: a continent where five factions are locked in a struggle for
influence and sovereignty over a batch of disputed territories. Drawing inspiration from existing history of the Middle Ages, the game
aims to offer an authentic representation of medieval reality as it is devoid
of 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 a
central character and a set of opposing characters, or in the case of Mount
& Blade: Warband—entire kingdoms. The game also features the “man versus
society” 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 social
outsider.

In this world of incessant conflict and power struggle, each of the five
kingdom is free to wage war, forge alliances or sign an armistice with their
neighbouring countries. The kingdoms are populated by a host of non-playable
characters that play the roles of monarchs, claimants, nobles, deserters,
traders, villagers or bandits. They each have their own agenda and are made to
act independently from the player, often clashing with one another off-screen. This
feature aims to inject the world with a sense of dynamics and progression as
the state of affairs is affected by more than the player’s own actions. These constant
conflicts between the non-playable characters are used to provide backdrop
tension and a framework for the player’s adventures to unfold.  

 

Narrative

Mount & Blade: Warband is a sandbox game. As noted by Bossom and
Dunning (2016), the sandbox principle refers to a more branched out narrative framework
that allows players to explore an open world. Players are free to define their
own goals and formulate unique objectives rather than conform to the linear three-act
plot structure many contemporary games are based on, where the game has a
predetermined outcome and unfurls in a film-like fashion (Huitema, 2017).

The open narrative experience of Mount & Blade: Warband is precisely
encapsulated in the following excerpt:

“Sandbox” sometimes challenges
traditional narrative, but it always puts something new in its place. Thus, it
does not remove the narrative, but rather transforms predetermined narrative
into dynamic, responsive narrative. In other words, the sandbox game
distinguishes itself by making the responses more significant and meaningful
(Breslin, 2009).

Meaningful choices and decision-making lie at the core of the game indeed
as the player’s actions trigger long-term consequences from the very beginning.
Character gender and backstory are customizable, with the different backgrounds
affecting the character’s initial skills and social status. Females have a more
difficult time gaining respect as warriors at the starting point of their
exploits; members of the nobility are granted more leadership and diplomacy
points; a street urchin is likely to be an adept thief and persuader, while a
merchant’s descendant has better competence in trading.

From then on, the player can take their character in any given
direction. One can, among many other paths, choose to pledge their allegiance
to an existing monarch, pursue kingship in their own right, become a man of the
people, or simply be a person trying to get by. The game offers plenty of
content for any of these occupations in the form of quests, political intrigue,
planned battles, and unexpected encounters on the road. Therein lies one of
Mount & Blade: Warband’s most thoughtful mechanisms—even though the game
seemingly drops its players in a vast world with scant guidance, it does not in
fact require one to actively seek out the events that propel their character
forward; the game is organised in such a way that there is always some form of
interaction nearby, be it a village in need of military help or bandits
patrolling about (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Mount & Blade: Warband screenshot: En route encounter with
slavers. Reprinted from TaleWorlds.com website, retrieved from https://www.taleworlds.com/en/Games/Warband/Media
Copyright by TaleWorlds Entertainment

Completing such minor quests and challenges adds up to a slow but steady
process of building a reputation for one’s self. A powerful name unlocks a
wider interaction with the nobility, which grants the player access to the real
war taking place. Character progress can however get abruptly interrupted should
the character suffer a loss on the battlefield. There is no player death
scenario incorporated in the game; instead, the game has the player held captive
for a time, essentially wiping most of their progress clean. Once released or
broken free, the player needs to start rebuilding their assets from scratch—a
severe punishment that makes the choices that have led to the defeat resonate with
the player all the more.

 

Combat

The combat system of Mount & Blade: Warband requires players to take
many factors into consideration, such as real-world laws of physics, but its
initial complexity does not draw away from the immersive experience (Kolan,
2010). Combat is witnessed from a first– or third-person perspective, depending
on the player’s preferences. It involves mastering an elaborate set of controls.
Nonetheless, the controls feel natural to the player after a short period of
adjustment, as observed by Hughes (2016). One-on-one combat features a variety
of weapons such as one-handed swords, two-handed swords, axes, shields, maces,
staves, lances, crossbows and thrown objects. Their impact changes drastically
depending 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 of
arsenal can be developed over time through the character skills tree. This
enables the player to specialize in one or two weapons, thus building their own
unique 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, as
depicted in Figure 2. Assigning battle formations is possible, as well as
giving direct movement and damage type orders to nearby units. As Walker notes
in his 2016 review of the game, assembling an army and coming up with various
battle tactics is essential to surviving encounters with foes whose forces
outnumber or outgear the player’s.

Figure 2. Mount & Blade: Warband screenshot of mounted combat. Reprinted
from
TaleWorlds.com website, retrieved from https://www.taleworlds.com/en/Games/Warband/Media
Copyright by TaleWorlds Entertainment

 

Graphics

Mount & Blade:
Warband offers a largely simplistic visual performance. The graphics of the
game have been described by multiple sources as “outdated” and far from “technically
groundbreaking” (Jones 2016; Kolan, 2010). The visuals do not compare well to
other contemporary games from the same genre, such as The Witcher and Dragon
Age (Hughes, 2016). That is due to the fact that the game relies heavily on low
polygon count character models, meaning that the characters appear blocky and
less smoothed out (Ong, 2017). The end result is a set of near-identical characters
with no facial expressions that fail to look three-dimensional on occasion. In
addition, the game engine often produces glitches and freezes characters in
impossible 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/Media
Copyright by TaleWorlds Entertainment

Environmental locations
suffer 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 map
featured 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 their
character’s current location as well as information on a fief’s owner and
political vassalage. As such, the overworld map
is an asset that the game references to frequently. For such a key feature it
lacks the detail and variety of most modern games, barely hinting at terrain geography
and sporting a papercraft look.

 

Figure
4. 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 Entertainment

An upside of a game
with 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 maps
quickly, making it suitable for older computers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

In summary, Mount & Blade: Warband is not without its technical
flaws, but it also has a lot to offer in terms of narrative and gameplay. The
goal of this report has been to tackle both the strong and the weak points of
the game in order to present an overall analytical view of the end experience. It
is also key to emphasize how a low-budget project divested of the costly leading-edge
visual appeal can still generate thrilling results through a thoughtful and
responsive narrative and strategy system. As stated throughout the report, even
though Mount & Blade: Warband has been criticized for its underwhelming
graphics, many professional game reviewers hold it in high esteem for its
authentic multi-themed setting, its open-world sandbox narrative, and its intricate
combat features. This slow-burn game is a clear example of how looks can be
deceiving, and how behind an unimpressive front one can discover a cleverly
crafted, vast world that has the potential to fulfil, immerse and captivate.

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