After being in beta for what seems like forever, the upcoming role-playing action game, Mount & Blade is due for release in September, bringing with it what seems to be a unique take on medieval combat. We had a chance to check the game out during a guided demo to see how it's shaping up just ahead of its release.
Unlike many games set in the days of brave knights and fair maidens, Mount & Blade forgoes the monsters and magic for a much more realistic take on combat in the Middle Ages. Here, you only fight against human beings, but the open nature of the gameplay means that the political intrigues in the world of Calradia will be constantly shifting. As a result, your allegiances will shift as well.
In Mount & Blade, you play as a warrior who's looking to make a name for himself. In the early goings, the game plays very much like a role-playing game, with you leveling up, earning new skills, and hiring soldiers from the nearby villages to help you with the many quests you can pick up during your travels. As the game progresses, however, there seems to be a strong strategy element that will develop, as different kingdoms vie for control and the political landscape continues to shift.
Your character will be able to carry and access a maximum of four weapons at a time (including a shield), though you'll have an inventory that will let you hold more stuff. You'll also be able to own and ride multiple horses; different mounts will have different attributes--some faster, some stronger--so it will be to your benefit to have different horses for different purposes. As you continue through the game, you'll earn experience that will let you level up, improving your personal and combat attributes.
As you make your way around the environments in Mount & Blade, sooner or later, you'll encounter enemies. Combat in Mount & Blade is all based on the physical direction and momentum of the players, as well as the weapon you're currently wielding. If you're charging on a horse against a static opponent and manage to blast him in the head with an axe, it will be a much more devastating attack than if you were merely standing still. You can fight both mounted and on the ground with a variety of weapons, including axes, swords, crossbows, and more.
You can hire soldiers and heroes to assist you in combat, resulting in some very large-scale battles (which can be tweaked with sliders, depending on the relative power of your PC rig). While basic soldiers are more or less cannon fodder, the various heroes that you'll meet in towns are a different matter. Not only are they more expensive, but they're also more effective in combat, and you'll need to keep track of each soldier's mood. One hero might look down on your insistence on looting towns and killing villagers; another might get grouchy if you forget to buy enough food for your latest mission. As your cadre of heroes grows, you'll have to constantly keep track of their different requirements to keep them happy and fighting on your side.
Its free-form nature might turn off players looking for some more structure to their fantasy gaming, but there's something to be said for the constantly shifting nature of the world in Mount & Blade that might appeal to those who are looking for something a bit more realistic in their medieval warfare. The game is due for release in September.