Introduction & Blade: Warband is a sandbox game.

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 overcomes its sparse
financial background. 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 is introduced.
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
offers 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 start off from the position of a social
outsider.

In this world of incessant conflict, each 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 and bandits
alike. They each have their own agendas 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 indeed lies at the core of the
game 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, such as real-world laws of physics into consideration, 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, 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 is not a high-budget game, released by an independent publisher. As
such, the lack of capital is most apparent in the game’s 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. The end result is a
set of near-identical characters with no facial expressions that feel flat as
opposed to three-dimensional. 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, and fall short on variety and detail. One
of the game’s most severe technical flaws is the 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 enough detail, barely hinting at terrain geography and sporting a papercraft
look.

 

Figure
4. Mount & Blade:
Warband screenshot of the 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 to having
reduced quality of the game graphics is that the game is fairly light. Therefore,
it is in full capacity to support extensive battles and load maps quickly,
making it suitable for older computers as well. 

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