Mount & Blade: Warband Hands-On - Castle Sieging, Melee, and Dying Horribly

We try out the sequel to Mount & Blade and die horribly in the game's exhilarating multiplayer.

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The 2010 Game Developers Conference is under way, and so is the ongoing beta test for Mount & Blade: Warband, the upcoming expansion to the unique medieval hybrid action game from developer Taleworlds and publisher Paradox. Like in the original game, you can play as an ambitious young warrior noble in search of fame, power, and conquest, though Warband's single-player campaign will give you access to new paths to power--specifically, by marrying into a wealthy family. The campaign will let you woo your potential mate with song and with your long, long, long…list of battle accomplishments, but that's not how we spent our time with the game. Instead, we jumped headfirst into the game's already-thriving multiplayer beta.

Behold! The Castle Anthrax!

Warband is currently undergoing an extensive multiplayer beta with hundreds of players pounding the servers daily, trying out the expansion's six new multiplayer modes (which will include free-for-all Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Siege--a team-based mode that requires the attacking team to capture a castle and the defending team to repel the onslaught). All multiplayer modes will support up to 64 players (competitive modes will support teams of up to 32 players each), and surprisingly enough, the ongoing beta has plenty of 64-player games running at this very moment. The game offers six different nationalities as factions, and each faction has several character classes to try--since this is a large-scale medieval combat game, some classes are more useful than others in various situations.

In our session, which took place in a full-on 64-player siege, we played a few rounds on the attacking team as a Norseman, trying out each of that faction's three classes--the archer, a very lightly armored ranged fighter; the huscarl, a heavily armed melee warrior; and the scout, a lightly armed soldier with a small shield and handaxe. This particular siege map started us out just beyond the walls of a castle, with a gigantic, wheeled siege ladder available for pushing, as well as a few smaller ladders on either side of the keep. Warband is based on an enhanced version of the original Mount & Blade engine--much of the work on the expansion is being poured into balancing the game and its physics for multiplayer, but veterans of the first game should feel right at home with the expansion. Like in the original game, you can commandeer a horse and pick off any enemy infantry with a dramatic lunge (assuming you don't miss horribly or your enemy doesn't spear you with a pike), though since our mission was storming the castle, we left the horses behind and went for the siege ladders.

In Warband's multiplayer, life is cheap, and death by crushed skull or arrow-in-the-throat happens all the time. In several cases, while we made our feeble attempts to set up ladders, we took well-placed arrows from defending soldiers clean in the face. Warband's archery, like its swordplay, isn't a simple, button-mashing deal--it requires precision and careful timing. Your accuracy when firing an arrow is extremely compromised if you're on the move and will also decrease if you nock an arrow and hold it too long. Fortunately for us, our opponents were already extremely high up the game's learning curve and had no trouble feathering us with arrows multiple times before we made it up into the castle. Once inside, we experienced the chaotic and brutal nature of Warband's melee combat--repeatedly.

Melee seems deceptively simple in Warband--you left-click to perform a melee attack (you can also hold down your left mouse button to prepare a stronger attack and then let it go to unleash it) and right-click to block with your shield, if you have one. However, in the confines of castle keeps and narrow walkways, battles can become crowded quickly, and carefully timing and aiming your melee hits becomes a lot more challenging. You also need to make the seemingly simple decision to either attack or defend, since you can't use your shield while you're attacking or charging an attack. In addition, in Siege mode, castles have various heavy wooden doors that can be opened freely by the defenders but must be chopped down by attackers in order to pass.

Warband will let you have fun stormin' the castle later this year.

Smart defenders, like the ones we faced today, make judicious use of opening doors just long enough to allow through one or two attackers to cut down or to send out a counterattacking force in a swarm. In addition, doors can be smashed only by melee weapons, but Warband lets you pick up weapons and shields dropped by any fallen friends or foes nearby, and if our multiplayer session was any indication, there won't be any shortage of those in any given game. Warband also has heavier two-handed weapons, such as cleaver swords and two-handed maul hammers, which don't let you equip a shield but do let you put a quick end to one of your enemies if you can place your strike well enough.

Warband's competitive multiplayer modes are already chaotic, brutal, and action-packed, and with some more polish and balancing, they will hopefully attract a large enough fan base to make 64-player games happen regularly. The game will ship later this year.

Discussion

35 comments
InvisiblyClear
InvisiblyClear

Playing the trial version, and I'm really into it. I'll probably buy it later this month.

calanorn
calanorn

my version of m&b has no drm. mods are on the main forums

hywel69
hywel69

Does it still use the borked DRM? I tried to DL the dem. Windows goes nuts with warnings, a quick look online tells you that at least the orginal wants to install various DRM stuff on your system.

GK-GOR
GK-GOR

This game has mods? Where ?

trixx666
trixx666

Yeah, gunna be a hell of a game when it comes out... hopefully not a lot of glitches like other upcoming games.

canis_rah
canis_rah

Wonderful game - but still lacks what I want from it most... multiplayer campaign. Imagine it, 64 players roaming around the campaign map in realtime with their accompanying armies, chasing each other, hunting each other and having battles all over the place within the broader context of the game world.

hinkwokching
hinkwokching

This game is great, in my opinion for what it matters. None of the touch-ups and refinements that one would find in expensive production games. But what makes this game different is its rather innovative blend of gameplay. This is old-school gaming which is solely needed in a world of usually-high-investment game production, where everyone is worried about making a lost and most simply stick to game-making along lines that worked previously. This is often the problem with well-developed industries, lacking in innovation and focus on streamlining and cost-effectiveness. My strategy been play a few games that you really like for a year and a half and only look to new games after that, keeps things fresh.

bisq1345
bisq1345

Reapy i totally agree with you i have played this game since it came out 2 years ago and enjoyed it. I have also been part of the Multiplayer beta for 6-7 months and will tell you that this is a very fun game that all medieval fans will definitely enjoy and you will have no problems finding a full server and to answer brazucass you only watch your team fight after you die in the battle mode the rest you respawn as many times as you need. There are also modules already made by players to play online with other players so just do the right thing people and buy the game

Reapy
Reapy

I'm in agreement with Rastal... if you like this genera of medieval combat there is no game out there like m&b. In terms of multiplayer respawn there are several different kinds. The siege, team deathmatch, deathmatch, and conquest modes are respawn, where as battle and fight and destroy modes are spawn per round (ala counterstrike).

rastal66
rastal66

The reason the original game recieved a poor review was most likely because the vanilla version of the game was lacking in balance and a lot of very powerful features... which were all completely covered from hundreds of different angles by the mod community. I know "mod" strikes fear into the hearts of the non-tech savvy, but in this game it was relatively easy to plug in the mod you want and be playing a totally revamped game upgraded in variety, graphical quality, combat, party, command formation, and loot systems. Flat out, the original game was mod-driven, and you would not believe how professional some of the total revamps were. Better than any midieval action game I've ever played, and I love them to death. I dumped so many hours of play into some of my favorite modded versions... it had to have been hundreds, and I loved every minute of it. If you are on the fence about this game, take my word for it and give it a shot. You won't regret it. Even if multiplayer suffers from certain imbalances, modders will come up with ways to fix them if they devs dont, but the devs are obviously very dedicated from their game if you look at the history of the company. The original game was single player only and it easily pulled me away from games like WoW and such which were more addicting than crack! When you add multiplayer to that, I dare say you might have a game made of solid gold.

StewSpot
StewSpot

The Beta must be signed up for through the Taleworlds forum. I have been testing since the beginning, and it is lots of fun for those that enjoy the medieval style combat!

pimpjump
pimpjump

Looks and sounds really exciting, I think I will download the Beta and anticipate the release of this :)

JPMackel
JPMackel

@gemno u said u imagine the multiplayer will be awesome. Just incase you didn't know the warband multiplayer "open" beta is available to anyone with a M&B seriel key if u go on taleworlds forums! u should try it out its so awesome!

Taffelost
Taffelost

Mount & Blade deserves a huge development team with huge resources. As it is it's merely good because of it's incredible combat. It could've been epic with a proper story, world and atmosphere. Warband is on my to-buy-list althogh I can't help to think what an awesome RPG it could've turned into with proper resources.

redneckdouglas
redneckdouglas

M&B has awesome combat system, but was greatly helded back by the mediocre out-world structure.

Brazucass
Brazucass

@Kristophski Alright. Thanks for clarifying that man.

gemno
gemno

Mount and Blade is a fantastic indie development. One of the best first person medieval combat systems anywhere! I've owned it since playing the original beta. I imagine the multiplayer will be a phenomenon. Go Taleworlds!

Kristophski
Kristophski

Seemss pretty good. @Brazucass - From what they wrote (about dying multiple times in the one siege) I'm going to go with the respawning scenario. In a siege with 32 defenders; I'd be very surprised if the attackers managed to win without losing a lot more than that.

Brazucass
Brazucass

Do you respawn when you die? Or do you watch the hole fight like an overview mode/ghost mode?

nekered
nekered

All that is missing in this game are to build own castles ala crusader with mouts and bridges etc... But hey it doesnt have to cause it rocks anyways

sircyrus
sircyrus

The sword combat is fun, but when it becomes a contest of quick half-slash+turn and slash-parries it quickly loses it's fun factor if the practice between players isn't there. I say practice and not skill level, because that's really all it is. The best players are the ones who are playing the most and practicing the most. They're not necessarily playing any smarter than the other players, they've just learned how to manipulate the combat system so that they aren't left open to attacks as much as someone still learning the ins and outs. It's still a blast to play, but when a sole player can take out half of the opposing team just by themself by doing the slash+block+turn trick extremely well due to playing 6+ hours every day, single player starts to become more attractive. My concern is that it will turn into Savage's multiplayer. Where very few people play it because the learning curve makes it totally unenjoyable for anyone new coming in.

Reapy
Reapy

One thing to add to melee combat is manual blocking. There are 4 swing directions that you select by moving your mouse in that direction then attacking. When you block, you have to choose the correct direction of the incoming swing and move the mouse that way and press block. This sounds simple, but can really get quite deep when both players know what they are doing. You can feint in directions by starting up a swing one way then switching it out. You can even perform a 'riposte' style move by attacking with the correct direction into another person's swing that simultaneously blocks and attacks (but is very difficult to pull off ). Honestly I haven't seen a multiplayer melee game as fun as this one in a long while, and while this is only one part of warband, it is really done well.

sircyrus
sircyrus

I have been playing M&B since it was in early beta and available for $10 or so. To this day I still load it up and have as much fun with it as I did the first time. Very much looking forward to the single player additions in the expansion, and I've been having a blast in the multiplayer beta for a couple weeks now. Only 2.5 more weeks to go!

kulgan18
kulgan18

OMFG I was just thinking on going back to playing the first game given how awesome it was and i see there is a sequel. One of the most underrated games that have come out lately.

Shardz7
Shardz7

What irritates me is you have this hyped out on the front page, but when I was totally into the first game, Brett Todd gave this a terrible and very undeserving review. I still laugh at the score it received here as it was quite an addicting and very well done game in general. I'm looking forward to multiplayer options and new facelift to this tile for sure...but this time, do us all a favor...have someone else review the game and make up for that travesty last time.

Dawn_oF_Doom
Dawn_oF_Doom

I just hope they added some variety to the nations... and balanced them a bit because the kharghats (hope i remembered them correctly and spelled their names right- the purple ones in the desert) had ovp horsemen very early on... It was almost a win to play with them... even though my fav were Swadia(orange) and Vargath(the green ones) I also hope they improved the combat AI and everything and make them seem more realistic. Also, more dialog options with NPC's wouldnt hurt... Anyway, see you all in the multiplayer when this game comes out! //prepare to meet my legions!!

SunofVich
SunofVich

I liked M&B very much. And I think this one will be just as awesome especially since you can now become the King of a faction. Still excited to see what With Fire and Sword is all about though.

RyuRanVII
RyuRanVII

Mount & Blade was great, and this one will be even better. I can hardly wait!

VozacVjekoslav
VozacVjekoslav

Hm... you really give us detail gamespot.. This game has potential, but its coverage is way too low... But anyway i cant wait for true sequel, with even more polishing, and possibly a single player campaign, or even some "main story" . The first one was great, but i couldnt shake the feeling of chaos and it all felt a little too much unconnected and chaotic.. Well this one will at least rock on multiplayer....