Brainwaves From Beta: M&B Warband

By Phill Cameron on September 14th, 2009 at 11:16 am.


Mount & Blade is going multiplayer and the beta is in progress as we type. We’ve taken a look at the very specific ramifications for that knight being another actual living person in the unforgiving horse and sword game we love so much. Will you be joining the Warband? Let’s find out.

Blood stains the chainmail you could barely afford to wear. Your shield lies in shatters at your feet, victim of a barely deflected lance thrust. The last, shuddering breaths of your steed flutter the grass in front of you, the pike through its chest proving to be just as fatal as it looked. The knight who previously shattered your shield turns and comes thundering towards you, his lance couched, his eyes invisible behind his helmet. Death is fifty feet away.

Try and stand him down, and that’ll be met with death. Everything rests on this one throw, and praying it’ll do something. You pull your arm back, you feel like you can almost feel the heat from his mount’s breath on your face. You throw.

It catches his horse clean between the eyes, the animal collapsing, sending its rider flying forward to skid to a halt at your feet. You dispatch him quickly, feeling as though fate was finally on your side. This is Mount & Blade Warband, at its best.

Most of the time, Warband is getting killed with the lance that destroyed your shield. It’s getting caught with that pike that went through your horse’s chest. It’s getting hit by an errant arrow that was meant for the guy behind you. It’s getting killed by one of the dozens, hundreds of things that are oh so deadly. At it’s worst, Mount & Blade is ten seconds of expectation met with the business end of a sharp bit of metal, leading to minutes of slowly unwinding disappointment. It’s risk/reward at its finest, pushing you to outsmarting your opponent, leaving it until the last possible moment to thrust your lance forward, catching him in the chest. You always know why you were killed, but you’re never sure whether it was fair. That final thrust always questioned in your mind as to whether it should’ve gone your way. The mechanics behind Mount & Blade’s hit detection always were a little nebulous.

Mount & Blade was always a triumph of game over graphics. It looked old when it was released, and even with a wide range of mods giving it HDR and high quality textures, it still looks considerably worse than some games released even 5 years ago. Thing is, none of that stuff has ever mattered, because it gets the feel of being in a medieval battle perfectly. It was glorious, running down pathetic peasants on your courser, axe held high, ready to lop off heads. It was glorious because it was, for the most part, easy. You were the badass on the field of battle, racking up the kills and making a name for yourself.

Take that online, and suddenly you’re the underdog. It’s the same as with any single-player/multiplayer transition, moving from protagonist to just another guy, but here it feels that much more powerful and jarring, if only because it’s taken this long for TaleWorlds to get multiplayer working, and you’re still just as vulnerable as you were in singleplayer, it’s just now the people you’re fighting are that much more handy with their pointy sticks and shiny swords. If you charge a pikeman, you’re more often than not going to come out with an extra hole in your body.

At the start of each game, you’re handed 1000 gold and some basic equipment, dependent on the troop (read: class) you’ve picked. (There are three for each faction, of varying levels of unbalance.) You can usually get a better main weapon and perhaps some better armour, but for now, that’s it. Moving onto the battlefield, you earn money by winning rounds and getting kills. You can save up for better equipment, or try and keep a reasonable set each time you respawn.

Of course, this being Mount & Blade, the equipment only does so much. It might mean you can take a little more damage, but an arrow to the head is still an arrow to the head. Vulnerability is key, and luck is everything. All of the ranged weapons have an element of randomness to their flight paths, with arrows merely landing somewhere in the area you pointed, and thrown weapons more so. When you hit, it’s the best thing in the world. When you miss, you’re that tiny bit closer to catching that knight’s attention, and becoming a kebab.

There are a few game modes, from the classics like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag to the more interesting such as Siege and Conquest, both of which revolve around the capture and retaining of flags; in Siege there’s one inside a castle one side defends, and in Conquest they’re scattered across the map. There’s also Battle; a one life-per-person slugging match that always starts exciting, but fitters out towards the end as you try to find those few who survived the initial charge.

Regardless of which mode you’re playing, one thing remains abundantly clear; fighting like an army really fought in the Dark Ages is far more successful than fighting as a lone fighter. To begin with, I played a hammer wielding maniac, able to take on anyone alone, and I dominated the scoreboard. That was until some of the opposite team started to patrol in a group with shields, and proceeded to surround and poke me to death with pointy bits of metal.

Similarly, if you stick a few knights together, you can do serious damage that wouldn’t be possible as a lone horseman. You create a group that isn’t so easily avoided by the footsoldiers, and suddenly they’re a lot more scared of you. It even works for archers, creating a quick flurry of arrows that make it more than difficult to just hide behind your shield. Sticking together, than having certain groups go off to harry a cropping of archers, or creating a line of horsemen and having a makeshift cavalry charge are some of the best moments of the game.

Balance issues are slowly getting ironed out, and the prevalence of cavalry that so dominated the early beta is slowly fading as people get better with spears and pikes, and a guy on a horse isn’t the threat he once was. There is the odd bug in the system concerning joining teams and the like, but as beta goes on, these too are getting fixed.

The real thing that’s going to dictate how much longevity and enjoyment Warband provides will be the players; if they continue to gravitate to a more organised style of play, (as they’re already doing so), it’ll become harder and harder to resist getting caught up in it, finding yourself part of an impromptu strike force tasked with using the riverbed to sneak around behind the fragile archers and dispatching them, while your footmen harass the horsemen with their pikes, slowly dwindling their numbers. The temptation to pull a group of friends together and talk tactics on voice chat has never been quite so strong.

It’s a pity the multiplayer doesn’t extend to the campaign, or provide any sort of persistence; any gold earned is only useful for that map or round, and not beyond. Added to that is the inability to start your own server in the current version, which means any settings or changes can only be done through a limited vote system, making the ins and outs of how it all works still slightly vague.

It’s very much just a multiplayer component, and not an entire reworking of how the game works, but then again, it’s something that has been asked for since the game was around, and with a whopping sixty-four player limit on the servers, the possibility for some pretty grand battles is certainly going to be a big draw. Now, it’s just a matter of getting those thirty-two players into some sort of fighting shape.

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60 Comments »

  1. morte says:

    /brilliant/

  2. jamie says:

    wooooooo!!!! mount and blade!!

  3. Hermit says:

    Hopefully some aspiring modders can take the netcode and make some sort of multiplayer campaign mode. Bonus points for Co-op campaign mode.

  4. Mike says:

    @Hermit – Yeah, I’d always thought that was what this was. A friend of mine’s in the beta (Rudi, show yourself) and he’s having a lot of fun, but without the campaign stuff I don’t think I’ll buy it.

  5. Andrew Dunn says:

    The beta is multiplayer-only but the campaign is promised to be reworked for Warband too, with many new additions.

    From what I’ve played of the beta, it’s certainly got a lot of potential and I can’t wait to actually play it with more people I know.

  6. Jezebeau says:

    The one thing that would absolutely make the game is first-party team voice chat.

  7. TC says:

    Sign me up baby..sounds awesome.

    Only downside is that I liked playing M&B with the battle size set to 1000, I will miss those epic fights but pitting yourself against real humans and using group tactics must compensate. Next step is for for an online campaign map with player warbands.

    I bet now that uber horse archers will become the best and most annoying to face class.

  8. Andrew Dunn says:

    Horse archers don’t dominate as much as I thought they would – they’re big targets, and horse archery only became unstoppable in the singleplayer once you reached a high skill level for archery. Khergit horse archers in Warband have a moderate skill level so they miss as often as not.

  9. Phill Cameron says:

    It’s been really interesting to see the change in attitude to certain troop types as beta progresses and people get more used to playing as certain types; for the longest time anything on a horse was oh-so-much better than anything on the ground, but as people figured out how to use pikes and spears, and tag those riders with crossbows and arrows, there’s been a definite shift towards ground troops. I think horsemen will be used more like shock troops to harry, which is only right.

  10. ignoble says:

    I’ve been having a great time in the beta, partly due to the game and partly because its the same few dozen guys plus some new faces every night. Rather satisfying to finally kill test20 for instance, who is a force of nature when mounted and even more dangerous with a bow.

    And I have played in a 32v32 or close to it, and it is indeed awesome to behold. Dozens of cavalrymen and infantry fighting in a big chaotic mass of red and green and shining metal, while crossbowmen wait for that perfect shot… Well, in my case I didn’t get it, hiting a teammate instead of heroically saving him and dying since Taleworlds have all the beta servers set to that most loathsome of settings: full reflective friendly fire for ranged weapons (Including hits on horses!).

  11. Malagate says:

    I’ve been having a lot of fun with this over the weekend, definately going to get it when it arrives. I even managed to somehow find Dartt and fight on the same side as him!

    Siege can get kind of silly at the moment though, what with only 1 siege map available and random factions means that it can get quite terrible quite quickly (Kherjits defending with Nords attacking for example, ouch that was messy). I can see it really taking off if ladders were a bit more user friendly (if there is a way to take them down whilst still being on the wall, I haven’t managed to do it yet) and if the gate ever becomes usable as it would be a real boon to any horse based strikes.

    I’ve also been trying to couch charge a lot, with varying degrees of success, it really seems to have been toned down compared to the singleplayer. Well, that’s also been aided by the fact that the standard single player experience is set to “Really easy” with the player only taking 1/4 damage and the enemies attacking and defending very slowly. Change all the options to “realistic” with full damage and speed and it’s a lot more like Warbands with death only being a moment away.

  12. Tei says:

    I have played it, and I hope all ranged weapons get a bit of a nerf. After the latest patch where shield penetration where fixed, I die a bit too much and the game is a bit less fun, and the games are a bit too static:

    before patch:
    a team win, a team win, b team win, a team win, b team win, b team win, b team win, a team win

    after patch:
    a team win, a team win, a team win, a team win, a team win, a team win, a team win, a team win

    coincidentally, I am always on team b.

    I feel like naked, I a world full of guys with nailguns. I don’t say the current balance is erroneous, more like … is a step curve, and less fun for me and some dummmies like me :-) (maybe is less fun for the nailguns guys too, I don’t know).

  13. Dante says:

    I’ve gotten into Mount and Blade recently and I have to say I’m very excited by Warband, it sounds like fantastic stuff.

    I’m a fan of horse archery myself, so I hope the skills are still workable.

    Out of interest, what ‘classes’ are available in the current version?

  14. Andrew Dunn says:

    Each faction has three troop types (except for Khergits, who have only two – lancer and horse archer). They broadly translate into ‘archer, infantry, cavalry’. You then buy equipment, and each faction’s troop types have different equipment available. So, Rhodoks get crossbows but Nords get short bows. That kind of thing.

  15. Dante says:

    Interesting, and is the whole team the same faction? Randomised as said.

    Guess that breeds a certain amount of versatility.

  16. Ansob. says:

    The lack of skill points definitely makes ground troops okay against cavalry – actually, anything thrown is now usable on the move, which is a vast improvement and means you can put four or five javelins into a horse’s ass quite reliably, even if it’s on the move.

    I’ve just had five games, infantry versus hordes of crossbowmen, and we actually did quite well. I had a nice little adrenalin rush when four or five macemen ran with me into the top floor of a ruined building filled with crossbowmen, and we cleared the place out in thirty seconds. :D

  17. Andrew Dunn says:

    Yeah, teams are factions (except in Deathmatch). Not sure how factions get decided, it seems to be random.

  18. woppin says:

    “I have played it, and I hope all ranged weapons get a bit of a nerf. After the latest patch where shield penetration where fixed, I die a bit too much and the game is a bit less fun, and the games are a bit too static:”

    I’ve been playing the beta to death for the past couple of weeks, and I have to say the most fun we had with it was a 10v10 battle with no archers, cavalry or throwing weapons. I don’t like the way there is hardly any chance to have mounted vs mounted combat, since you are constantly peppered with arrows since the horse hitbox fix (0.590) a couple of days ago. To me the most fun you can have is a melee duel, esp. with the mix of people playing naked vs armored and the challenge of manual block.

    The melee and mounted melee combat in the game is still streets ahead of anything else, but I think archery is really going to kill it without some serious rework, it’s just not fun.

    @Ansob: Infantry are insanely good against cavalry…you can de-horse someone using a lance from the ground without getting hit really easily, and with a pike or spear its impossible to miss.

  19. Lack_26 says:

    How would I go around getting myself into this beta?

  20. dartt says:

    Yeah, it can become pretty tactical when someone takes command: Foot soldiers backing up against walls and buildings with long lances works great for nullifying cavalry charges, which you then counteract by bringing out an archer heavy team to force them out in to the open which in turn is dealt with by more cavalry etc, etc.

    A few more maps (soon dealt with by modders) and some tweaks to the random map generator (less pointy hills please) and this will be a solid purchase for me.

    One thing someone suggested in game a few days ago that might be great is a banner, selectable as equipment, that would be useful for rallying troops around a leader.

  21. Nimic says:

    I did get a spot in the Beta a week or two back, but I haven’t had time to check it out yet. Maybe I should.

  22. dartt says:

    @ignoble: Yes the reflective FF can be annoying but I think I see why they do it: it prevents archers firing in to melee, something you would be very irritating to your team mates if FF was on and something that would be overpowered if it was off. Treat it as if full FF was on and you’ll be fine.

    @Malagate: Yeah! was great to see a familiar name pop up out of the blue, do you know if any other RPSers are in the beta? The ones I know about are you, Sponge (Phill), Mythrilfan and myself; it would be great to get together in voice comms with a few more of you fine fellows.

    @Lack_26 I think that the sign ups are closed now :( Keep an eye on the taleworlds forums though.

  23. Andrew Dunn says:

    If there are RPS folks going on in any organised capacity, count me in please.

  24. Cigol says:

    Count me in as another beta player.

    I honestly never for one minute thought they could pull this off. I’m sure we all played the original offline and thought it would be fantastic online, but how many of us actually thought they could achieve it without cripplingly jarring lag and compromises.

    It’s honestly like stepping into a singleplayer version of the game, only with real human artificial intelligence. I say artificial because some of the ideas I’ve been privy to (“hide in the shed!”) haven’t been as inspired as the ones expressed in this comment thread :D

    This has huge potential. The only problem I have now is that now I’m worried they aren’t going to exploit it to the full… so I hope the modders can get their hands on this as soon as possible.

  25. Norskov says:

    I just got my invite a few days ago, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far. It robs me the time i planned for Champions..

  26. Malagate says:

    @dartt, I think I saw another familiar RPS name on a random server, but can’t quite remember what it was. We should probably start putting [RPS] tags on people just to make it more obvious that we’re out there, throwing axes in each others faces.
    Banners could be nice, even if it was a little flag on a regular spear, but I really think players need the option to start cheering when they win a round, winning in Warbands is sometimes a bit dulled when all that happens if you get some text saying “You win! yay”.

    I also saw a shield wall once. It was beautiful. The teams which perfect getting into formation and moving together will definately dominate pretty much everything.

  27. Tei says:

    There are some rock / paper / scissors into play, so If you see the enemy using X, is a good idea to take Y. But this change (as the other guys will change too), and as people get progressive more wealth, you see better gear, that is nice.
    Theres also the random barbarian guy that choose to play naked, but don’t seems to work well.

  28. El_MUERkO says:

    I downloaded it last night but only did the training to dust off my rusty archery skills, will have to give this a crack tonight

  29. Yargh says:

    you guys make me wish I had signed up for beta testing this. Any idea if applications are still being accepted? I can’t seem to find anything on the TaleWorlds forums…

  30. Wolfox says:

    Any improvements on the single-player side?

  31. fishoil says:

    I downloaded it and avg said it was a virus. rage.

  32. Norskov says:

    @Wolfox
    The beta is multiplayer only at the moment..

  33. M_the_C says:

    Been in the beta about one and half weeks now. I haven’t being playing it in very long stretches but have found it nice for on and off play.

    The only major problem I ran into was the wall of text whilst trying to join a team but as of the latest version that has been sorted so it runs great.

    The thing I am most worried about is the skill ceiling. I’m managing to hit about average at the moment but I can feel the top players increasing the distance between our relative skill levels all the time. It really is a game with lots of niggles and those that work them out have a big advantage which may put off new players come release.

    Otherwise I’ve been having a lot of fun, it’s one of those games that has great moments, such as when I was harassed by two men on horseback as a lowly archer and managed to take both of them down. Nord shields are a little worrying though…

  34. Jockie says:

    The AVG virus thing is a well known bug, it thinks part of the installation softare is a Trojan, which it ain’t.

    Just go into AVG and disable the resident shield component, download and install (because AVG will delete your download automatically).

    You need to do the same thing everytime there’s an update as well.

    As for the game, it’s good fun but lack of persistance may be a killer in the long term. They took all the RPG out of the game for the MP.

  35. Dan (WR) says:

    Will Warband require the original game or is it a standalone? I’m debating whether to pick up M&B or just wait until this is released.

    Ta.

  36. Davee says:

    Gah! I can’t understand how unlucky I must be, or there’s something wrong with my Beta application. I submitted to the beta very early on, and yes – I did use my game key when I signed up. Yet I haven’t gotten anything more than the “click here to confirm -mail”. :(
    Anyways, sounds like great fun; can’t wait to play it!

  37. Tei says:

    davee, i don know, maybe bad luck, anyway look into the spam and trash folders. and if you use hotmail, upgrade to gmail

  38. M_the_C says:

    @Davee

    They have a list of everyone who applied for the closed beta, they just haven’t let everyone in yet. They’re working through the list as the beta progresses.

    As Tei says keep an eye on your Junk\Spam folder, that’s where mine ended up.

  39. Archonsod says:

    If you use the download link in the forum it checks your serial against the list of invited players and lets you download if you’ve been invited.

    As stated though, they’re adding more and more players every day, so if you have applied and didn’t get in yet, keep checking.

    Applications are now closed, but there may be an open beta before the final release. Fingers crossed.

  40. Subject 706 says:

    Argh, one of these days I really must find the time to get into this game. Sounds great fun.

  41. Kadayi says:

    I wish I had the time for this….

    *green eyed envy

  42. Malagate says:

    @Jockie, there’s a much easier way than disabling the shielding for each download with AVG, just go to Tools, Advanced Options, Resident Shield, Exceptions, then add a path to a folder where you will keep all your Mount & Blade Warbands downloads. Download the M&B files to that folder and you won’t get a trojan warning ever again.

  43. Pod says:

    I want in :(

  44. Pod says:

    Also: are seiges still a single, hilarious ladder of doom?

  45. ascagnel says:

    LTTP, but, what are the mods that add HDR and high-rez textures?

  46. xaphoo says:

    I have to say, this is just incredibly, INCREDIBLY fun. But I’m not talking about Battle mode, nor Siege, but DEATHMATCH. Nonstop fighting, fantastic duels and chases, without end, epic moment after epic moment.

    This is a game that has created, maybe by chance, a whole new *kind of skill* – that of medieval combat – that can stand on par with that *other* action gaming skill, the shooter. A part of me wants to say that I haven’t had this much fun action gaming since the first time I played a multiplayer shooter, with two comps playing E1M1 of DOOM2 hooked up with a COM cable, in 1994.

    Warband DM makes me want to play forever and forget food, drink, bodily functions, career, family. I exaggerate but despite the graphical ugliness and the general unpredictability I feel this is exciting, kind of the first game in a great multiplayer genre.

  47. Nakki says:

    There are rather large balance issues and battle – the most prevalent game mode that basically is team deathmatch with rounds instead of normal respawn – needs to have attacker and defender that only change game mechanics by making the defender win if time runs out. That’d stop some of the camping in a game mode that is supposed to be closer to a field battle than a defend-some-crap that is known as siege

  48. woppin says:

    @Nakki: It needs to be area defense, otherwise people can go horse archer and ride off into the sunset on defense and win the round by boring everyone to death. I agree something needs to be tweaked, round times should be shorter and something akin to TF2′s capture points would encourage players to actually fight each other rather than running away all day.

    “There are some rock / paper / scissors into play, so If you see the enemy using X, is a good idea to take Y. But this change (as the other guys will change too), and as people get progressive more wealth, you see better gear, that is nice.
    Theres also the random barbarian guy that choose to play naked, but don’t seems to work well.”

    The r/p/s is broken for a number of reasons: Cavalry post-hitbox patch are actually poor vs everything, archers/xbow can reliably hit feet now, khergit only get 2 troop types, nord veteran can take 15 throwing axes and kill everything pretty easily.

    As for playing naked, you get a handy speed increase, it’s a lot of fun and you can effectively kite infantry playing as a naked archer which can be amusing.

  49. Malagate says:

    @Pod, nay, there are about 4 ladders around the castle now, and as of the latest patch those ladders are now easier to knock down from the top of the walls, also the gate to the castle can be opened for sallying forth/walking straight in.

  50. Catastrophe says:

    Is WB stand alone?

    Anddd does it have a Singleplayer Campaign component? As I would love additions to the lovely M&B campaign :)