We've never actually explained Mount & Blade properly, in terms of what you do. I figured the best way to actually capture the random adventuring lifestyle was to narrate the adventuring life-style. Since the demo stops at level eight, it struck me as the right sort of length for a sample. You know - with the added advantage of showing what you can get up to with just clicking on the download link. So I make my character, choosing options to make Violent Trevor a gruff nobleman character out for trouble. Click create and...
Damn. It's hit one of the latest version bugs where you start in the wilderness, unarmed in your underwear.
I decide to find out what I can do even when the game goes wrong. And it all ends up working delightfully.
While I've only got a shield and a pair of Y-fronts, the bug hasn't hit me as hard as some others. I've got a little gold. Gods knows where I'm keeping it, but I'll worry about hemorrhoids later. I check the map – I'm towards the North, in the Land of the Norns. I head North to the nearest city, avoiding a band of nasty looking Sea Raiders. Admittedly, everyone looks scary when your only protection is a thin sheaf of cotton around your testes.
I go to see the Lord and see if there's any missions that I could possibly complete. Good grooming leads to him not caring about my disrobed state, and he points me in the direction of a murderer to hunt down. Since I'm playing on standard difficultly – so I'm a lot harder than the average combatant – I figure I could deal with this. I head to the shops, and see what my coins can buy. Firstly, some chicken, as a man's got to eat. Secondly, a weapon and some armour. The only thing I can afford is a big stick and a woman's dress. This is me, cross-dressing...
Sexy, I know. I head off the the village where the murder was rumoured to be hiding. I get there with no trouble. When I say “no Trouble” I mean “I met a rampaging group of bandits, was captured, dragged around the country for a few days, then escaped”, but since I only had a handful of coins, I couldn't lose much. In the village, I question a few of the locals, then head up to the nervous looking guy near the windmill and beat him unconscious with my awesome stick of twattage.
Mission complete, I head back to the Lord who gave me the quest. He's moved on, so I talk to another Lord in his castle who tells me where he was last seen. There, I discover this quest doesn't actually pay – I get a reputation boost. He likes me, yeah, but not enough to give me some money. Fucko. Luckily, the other Lord he's hanging with has a little tax-collecting duties he needs someone to perform. If I do, I get to keep a considerable fraction of the money gathered.
This strikes me as a good idea, so I march off, dodging bandits, to the unfortunate town and spend a week of in-game time collecting money. They grumble and I lose reputation – and I think their settlement falls a economic level – but I've got the money, which – clearly – I plan on using for my own gains and never going anywhere near that Lord again. I was going to drive south to hang with the pseudo-Mongol Horde guys, but it doesn't quite turn that way.
So, I'm now rich and I plan a spending free. I head to the bar, and hire some mercenary crossbowmen and a hero-character called Lezalit. He's a bit of a dick, but can train soliders and generally is a bit of a hard-case. I'd also be able to give him better equipment, but in practice never get around to it. I'm still in my underpants, remember. I get fancy Norman chainmail, helmet, greaves, gloves, a decent horse and – since I spent too much money to afford a decent sword – a brutal looking warhammer to split heads. Looking suspiciously like a proper knight rather than a bloke in his kecks, I head off to save a village.
I didn't mention that, did I? When I was in the bar, I bumped into a villager who in true Seven-Samurai/Magnificent Seven fashion was looking to hire warriors to drive out the bandits who are persecuting his people. Yeah, I can give it a crack. I'm a little nervous about going into a full-size battle, and wander the countryside trying to recruit extra troops from nearby villages. These tiny hamlets are a useful source for useless troops, as clearly being lead into battle by an idiot is better than prodding at hay all day.
I kind of get most of them killed by a skirmish with some heavily armoured Sea Raiders, which pisses of Lezalit enormously, before my luck turns. I come across a relatively small group of foot-bound Looters dragging behind over a dozen prisoners. If I can win the battle, I double my forces at a stroke. And in the first proper rout of the game, I do so, charging across the battlefield and slicing my sword satisfyingly into the small of their backs. We free the slaves and stomp off to rescue the villagers.
And here we are, with our villagers forming a nice little lynch mob.
Frankly, between us and them, it's a bit of an agreeable slaughter. The Villagers try and shower us with extra stuff, but I decide to turn it down and become Mr Popular. I figure it can't hurt for one village to like me. It later turns out it'll be the only village who likes me.
Anyway, here's us celebrating and about to presumably sacrifice all the surviving bandits to our dark, Nord gods.
With this victory, I figure it's time to go off to War. What I didn't mention that while doing this – as well as getting ambushed by Bandits when I was trying to go into a town, which I brained with my warhammer – was that I pledged my service to the Norn army for three months. The King has summoned me to join their forces attacking the Rhodoks. I figure they probably deserve to die just because of their unfortunate name. Dragging my forces across the map, I reach the massing armies around Ibdeles Castle.
After waiting around for a bit, he orders me to go and gather some cattle. He doesn't care where from. That's a Proper Regal for you. I end up raiding the local villages, stealing their various trade goods too, as I figured if you're going to be unpopular, you probably should really go for it. I drive most of them back to camp, discovering the Siege has actually kicked off. I figure I should probably join in, it being a war and all.
So, I have we storm the battlements and there's three of us left when the enemy – who are also re-spawned in until they're exhausted, which isn't the game's strongest point – crumple. Sadly, it's not enough for us to storm the final stronghold. Troops battered, I get back to the castle-rustling to give my characters a chance to heal. And lo! We'd weakened them enough for the Citadel to collapse in the next attack, and the armies march off to the south. I follow, driving the slow moo-cows before me.
I'm dragging behind when I spot something – a Rhodok Lord heading a force of troops only a couple of men bigger than mine, with a healthy number of prisoners. I do the maths, realise I'm reaching the level cap, and go for a dramatic conclusion. The problem is immediately apparent – his troops are soldiers and mine are footbound militia. I've only a handful of crossbowmen to his good dozen or so, and my fighters are armed with things like hoes while his are armed with things like bazookas. Okay, halebards, but they may as well be nukes.
But we win!
It's mainly down to my superior horsemanship (and, really, fairly superior horse), harrying their missile troops and allowing my foot soldiers to press their numerical advantage over the Proper Grown-Up Soldiers of the Rhodoks. The bit where the Lord is cornered by a mob of my glorified Norn peasants and I run a sword through his back is immensely satisfying. He manages to escape after the battle, but we get enough prisoners to fill in our losses and a few captives into the bargain.
Heading off in the direction I thin our army went – there's a fog of war based around your characters skills – I bump into a group of bandits and... well, at which point I hit the level cap and the demo ends.
So, in the hour-and-a-bit of play, I went from underwear to an officer in a full blown war between two nations. I was involved in a siege. I freed a village from raiders and raided freely other ones. I killed a man with a piece of wood. That's what Mount & Blade is about. It's quite the game.
And when I stopped, I found myself turning to my Paypal account and paying Taleworlds for a Serial Number to carry on.
If you want to know what your eight levels are like, go get the demo. Feel free to share in the comments.