Mount and Blade, a computer game series by Turkish developers TaleWorlds, has some of the coolest game mechanics of any game ever. It has an unparalleled sense of scope: From tiny battles with raiders to eternal glory as king of an empire, the Mount and Blade series lets you live a medieval rags-to-riches story.
You start Mount and Blade as a party of one near a training ground where bandits roam. You quickly learn how to use the game’s awesome live-action combat, taking down bandit camps and taking on willing prisoners as mercenaries.
From there, you can roam the world, pursued by bigger and badder bandit parties. You cross paths with royal bannermen from different nations, doing errands for cash and favor. You get to visit cities and fight in tournaments, recruiting warriors from taverns.
Meanwhile, you get better equipment and your troops level up. Your army can tackle bigger and bigger challenges. Raiders start running away from you instead of towards you.
Eventually, you can swear allegiance to a king of one of the four or five nations. Achieve enough as a bannerman, and you can become a lord, responsible for the protection and taxation of villages throughout the land. Invest in their infrastructure and watch their quality of life and population grow.
You can become a top advisor for the king and marry into power, but where’s the fun in being a right-hand man? Declare independence and war, proclaim yourself king, and fend for yourself as the ruler of a small nation that you can grow larger and larger. Appoint loyal troops as your own bannermen, and expand your empire one city at a time.
There’s no story to Mount and Blade, but I consider it a “role-playing game” in the truest sense — you can actually take agency as your own character. It’s a wide-open sandbox world.
The broad infrastructure of the game would be a lot less interesting if the combat itself was weak. Fortunately, it’s a blast. It’s a little bit ridiculous — arms do not bend that way! — but so fun and addictive. It’s so satisfying to run at someone on a horse, full speed, and take him down with a massive sword swing.
Plus, the size of the battles is extremely impressive. Hundreds of troops can all be in one battle, which range from open field melees to town raids to castle sieges. The variety, polish, and sheer fun factor of the battles is the heart of Mount and Blade.
Mount and Blade ranks right up there with The Sims 3 and Final Fantasy Tactics in games that I get fully addicted to whenever I play. I basically avoid it at this point — I’ve lost a few too many hours to this rise to glory.
My biggest complaint with the series is that the emphasis is entirely on combat. The economy elements are pretty minimal — relationships with fellow lords are just integers that goes up or down based on generic dialog choices. Town development is expensive and hardly interesting. You buy a building, and it gives you some money, but that’s all there is to it. The bountiful mods help, but it’s still underwhelming.
If someone made a game that took the depth of the game’s battle system and party management and fleshed it out in other areas — crafting, hunting, trading, politics, relationships, etc. — I think I’d be hooked for months. But once you have your own nation and the biggest army, there’s little reason to keep playing — there’s not much point to expanding your nation.
Still, its massive scope, fun battles, and open-ended gameplay make the Mount and Blade series a winner.
To date, there are four games in the Mount and Blade series, with a fourth expected to come out later this year. Mount and Blade, the original, kicked the series off, but sequel/expansion Warband really beefed it up and gave us the cool end-game stuff of becoming a lord and founding your own nation (as well as multiplayer that I haven’t experimented with). With Fire and Sword retracted the end-game stuff of Warband but added guns to spice up the combat, while Napoleonic Wars gave us the game in a historically accurate setting. Of these, Warband is the one I always come back to.