Mount and Blade Warband is a game about travelling through a fictional medieval world, called Caldera, and assembling a band of warriors to whatever ends you desire.
Do you want to be a caravan that buys goods in one town and sells them for a higher price in the next? You can do that. Do you want to aid local villages in their defence against bandits? You can do that. Do you want to court noble women despite having not an ounce of royal blood in your system? You can do that, most likely fail, but eventually succeed if you have the patience.
But the real question is do you want to kill innocent people, burn down their villages and steal everything of value from their homes? Well you certainly don’t have to, but you definetly should! The reason being that if you want to make not just money, but a healthy profit to pay for your ever-growing army of mercenaries, you’re going to need to become a heartless murderer at some point. Eventually your elite units will cost too much, and the sheer amount wages you’ll have to pay when you have filled out your roster will be draining your gold income significantly, so you’ll eventually find yourself stealing from the poor to give to… Yourself.
My advice? Start the game by recruiting as many villagers as you can, from as many villages as you can, and when you start to go into a deficit don’t stop there. Keep recruiting until you an recruit no more. Kill bandits as you go to make sure your men get the experience required to become proper soldiers. Finally, when all hope seems lost and bankruptcy is just around the corner, it’s time to discriminate. Start burning down villages wherever you can, preferably ones with no nearby Lords around who can come and aid them against your rampage. Next you’ll want to take all of their precious supplies, march to the nearest large city and sell all of it for a minimum of 10000 gold.
But be careful! Once you loot a village it will not allow you to recruit people from there because they understandably hate you for murdering everyone within. So, to circumvent this, you’re doing to need to discriminate even harder. There are several factions waring in Caldera and you will need to decide which one’s you like and dislike. When your mind is all made up, be sure to only burn the villages of factions you are sure you don’t want to align with, and never burn the villages of those who you think you can benefit by hiring soldiers from.
When your army is big enough, and your sack of gold over-flowing enough, it’s time to align yourself with a faction. For a person as rich as you will be by the time this occurs, it may seem trivial to bend your knee to a Lord. But don’t worry, you’ll only be under their boot for so long…
Fight in wars for this faction. Perform quests for the Lords of the faction. And, most importantly of all, be a complete suck-up to the faction leader so he’ll give you ownership of territories captured in your endless wars. Once you have ownership of a village they will pay you taxes. The more villages you own the better, because once an AI opponent burns down your village it stops producing taxes (on account of being deceased), until it is rebuilt. So, what you really want to set your sights on is cities and castles. If you’re lucky enough for your Lord to bestow a couple of cities or castles upon you, you’ll have your own court for your spouse (if you were patient enough to get one), and party to reside in. They will also provide much better taxes, and have more impressive fortifications. Unlike villages, you can leave hefty garrisons within them too. In my experience, you can easily pay for a garrison of 150+ soldiers, on top of 200 soldiers in your travelling army provided you can be bothered to travel the distance required to loot the villages needed to pay for them. In all honesty you don’t really need that many soldiers yourself, but it’s really funny and overpowered to have them anyway.
Eventually you might want to do something more interesting like declaring independence from your faction, and taking all your owned territory with you. No doubt everyone you once were allied to will hate you for it, and declare war to get it back, but it’s nothing you won’t be able to handle by that point in the game.
But how does this game play? Well you start on a world-map where everything is frozen in time until you start travelling. When that happens, the whole world starts moving too. While you’re on your way to suck up to a fair lady, 300 soldiers are losing their lives on the other side of the map in a siege battle you have no knowledge or investment in. And therein lies the brilliance of this game: The world doesn’t care about you a single bit. The factions will go about their business as though you don’t exist, because they really couldn’t care less about you to begin with. Unless you join them and actively do quests on their behalf, or continuously raid their towns and villages, they’ll just treat you like the peasant you are: With righteous ignorance… The same ignorance you’ll treat them with when you eventually make them extinct from the world map.
When you engage in a battle, the game becomes a third person action game. You have hotkeys that give you command of your army, allowing you to change their formation, sort soldiers into groups, give firing orders and much more. Depending on the equipment you have bought, you can play as a skirmisher, archer, swordsman, axeman, crossbow man or any combination of the lot. And while the massive scale AI battles are tremendous to see (though they are not without their hilarious pathfinding issues at times), it is YOU who are the one with the power to turn the tide of the battle.
This is because victory in battles earns you experience to level up. Level up’s provide you with skill points you can put into a variety of stats such as Strength, Intelligence, Agility and Charisma, and into skills like Iron Flesh, Siege Engineer and Power Strike. But deep down I know that Prisoner Management might be one of the best skills of all. Because even if looting all those villages isn’t paying for your bills, being able to capture more prisoners to sell into the slave trade certainly will.
My conclusion? This game is amazing. Everything from the dynamic world to power-fantasy once you reach a high enough level is marvellous. But it’s not only that; It’s the thrill of knowing that now matter how powerful you are as a person, as an army, or even as an independent faction, defeat could be around the next corner and you are the only one capable of calculating the risks you’ll need to take if you want to succeed.
So yes, I would highly recommend Mount and Blade Warband.