Mount & Blade is probably one of those series that many players have never heard of, or if they have, they simply give it a pass due to the less than stellar graphics. Sadly though Mount & Blade is a series that should definitely be played by as many people as possible, why? Because its one of, if not the best medieval warfare simulator out there and its a dirt cheap too.
Developed by Taleworlds, Mount & Blade has had several iterations so far, all of them being in the sword and chivalry era. Primarily the games are set in the fictional continent of Calradia, comprising several kingdoms each vying for control and eventually dominance of the land. The nations cover the gamut of ethnicities and equipment of the medieval europe/middle eastern period. The best part was that you played as a single mercenary soldier, building up a force of peasants and sell swords to train and either join up with one of the factions, or take the more difficult path, and try to conquer the land for yourself and make yourself king or queen.
Combat was fast and very deadly, with death being only a single sword swing away. Battles placed you and your allies in open fields, mountains, farmland, castles and woods to slaughter your foes. Fighting is deceptively easy, but difficult to master, with you having to aim your swing using the mouse. A downward slash for instance would require you to hold the left mouse and move the move upward to ready a downward blow. This works for four directions and a certain finesse is required to ensure in multiplayer that you don't telegraph your strikes, or you will be easily blocked.
Napoleonic wars however builds on this foundation and adds a tonne of depth to an already deep combat mechanic. Being there is quite a jump from the medieval period we now have ready access to muskets and early rifles, so nearly every class will have some form of firearm at their disposal. Shooting is straightforward, requiring you to hold the left mouse to aim, then release to shoot. Reloading is just a single click of left mouse, but you cannot move or else you will need to restart the reloading process again. Reloads in this time period took several seconds, so make your shot count. Of course Muskets where notoriously inaccurate so you will need to all fire on the same target to have a better chance of hitting.
There are 5 nations to play as online. Great Britain, Imperial France, Imperial Russia, Prussia and Austria. All uniforms are accurately recreated here and are voiced by native speakers so it all feels realistic. Standards are also accurate and represent the different units in each battle. Fancy reliving Sharpes days in Portugal you can, by selecting the 95th rifles and wearing the green jackets. Want to dominate the field as the death's head Hussars of Prussia, go for it. There are loads of units, and probably more to come.
Online battles are huge in this game, going upto 250 players, and when you jump in its immense fun. Players fill the battlefield and you will see little groups forming to take shots and use cover. Melee gets brutal with bayonet and sword clashing and the community is really friendly and don't take it seriously like COD or Battlefield players do. You don't have to be the infantry though. Fancy riding into battle, penon's proudly displayed, lance ready, sword in hand, ready to run down your poor opponent on foot. Cavalry charges are deadly and if you get seperated you quickly get picked off. Most cavalry have only melee weapons so be ready to aim for the horse to level the playing field. Don't like getting into the thick of things? No problem, you can play as an artillery gunner. Gunners need to choose their rounds, from grape shot, explosive or round shot and load the cannon for each barrage. A good set of artillery gunners can dominate the field. Finally you can be the engineer of the field, building sandbag walls, spiked fences or constructing pontoon bridges for sieges. You don't have any proper weapons, but you are meant to help keep the soldiers alive, not do the killing.
Other infantry careers include musicians who provide buffs while they play, although the buffs have been temporarily deactivated to fix lag problems, but still its pretty cool to march in line with your drummer or flutist while shot wizzes past you. Colour bearers also provide buffs and make themselves huge targets but play a really important role in keeping the infantry players buffed with things like faster reload speeds, melee damage buffs or increased accuracy. Its a nice mechanic and again all of this is powered by players and teamplay.
Gametypes run the usual gamut of TDM, capture the flag, Control points, but really these are pants compared to Battle and Siege mode. Battle is tense, because you have only one life per round and the objective is to kill all of the other team. Its fun, nerve racking and has some truly memorable moments. Siege on the other hand requires more teamwork and uses limited respawns. Attackers need to coordinate to knock out walls and other defences to allow the rest of the team to swarm in and capture the forts centre. Other modes include duel which is a one on one scrap for settling disputes from other game sessions, and Commander which allows you to command a unit of troops on massive battles. Each player controls a unit and needs to work closely with your team to dominate the battlefield.
Now as I said this game isn't the prettiest of titles, but really this wins out purely on the gameplay. Compare the idea to say Minecraft which is nothing special to look at, but is very good gameplay wise, this is the same. You play this game for the depth and scope of the action, it also helps that being like this your system will run it smoothly and not lag like hell when online with 200+ players. How many other games can you say have that many online in a match.
Now to run this all you need is a copy of Mount & Blade Warband, which costs around £13.00 on Amazon.co.uk and £14.99 on steam. The Napoleonic DLC is on steam for £7.99 and is worth every penny. Yes you need to buy a full game to run it, but trust me its worth it.
My only complaints about the Napoleonic DLC is the lack of a singleplayer mode like Warband has. Unfortunately you cannot run your own army and fight against the powers of europe. Maybe a future patch or expansion will add this, but thats my only gripe. If you want battles on a massive scale that require teamwork this is your game.
SCORE: 9.0/10 - Yes in my opinion its that good.