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Filling in the Mount & Blade blanks

Mods for Mount & Blade are a little different than you might expect. Where most mods add bonus content to an already good game - as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to waste time modding a stinker - virtually all of the homebrewed goodies for this RPG-action-strategy–kitchen sink hybrid from TaleWorlds are about filling in the blanks.

You see, all on its lonesome, Mount & Blade sort of sucks. This indie may be an astounding technical achievement given its origins as the creation of Turkish husband-wife dev team Armagan Yavuz and Ipek Yavuz, but the original game is just too barren. While I loved how the game focused on sandbox roleplaying in the medieval realm of Calradia - I particularly liked the autonomy I had to explore the land at will and raise armies to raze castles and villages - I was far from enamored with how pointless it all seemed. Wide open game design is great; being plopped down in a vacant land without the aid of any direction or plot is not.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, so enter the modders. Dozens of talented basement programmers have dedicated themselves to finishing Mount & Blade’s nearly empty canvas by adding in backstories, quests, NPCs, monsters and magic, visual frills, sound effects, army formations, swords, warhorses, sailboats, and various and sundry AI tweaks for everything from mounted combat to tax collection. All of these mods lend much-needed structure to a game that provided too much of a good thing by elevating exploration above the sense of purpose that most people want from their halberds-and-horses epics. In other words, “Hello, mainstream!”


Above: A scene from The Last Days: "Forget it, dude - we'll never find your wallet"

In a sense, TaleWorlds’ premiere product has become more of a platform than a game, with users growing, adapting, and evolving the game however they see fit. The Mount & Blade Unofficial File Repository is crammed with both the been-there, done-that mods you expect to accompany an RPG, but also a lot of expansive, creative content that turns the land of Calradia into everything from ancient Rome to Middle-earth.

The biggest problem I had while deciding on a mod to play was determining how far I wanted to depart from the original design. The game has great bones, thanks largely to the outstanding battle engine and the network of kingdoms, castles, and villages that compose a solid framework atop which you could build just about any RPG you want. So my initial leanings were toward mild customizations such as Janus’ Battle Size Changer, Dark Soldier’s Zombie Soldier, and Sheek’s Calradia Capitalism, as you can’t go wrong with larger armies, the walking undead, or being able to play Old McDonald on your very own farms.

But since I’m an absolute whore for a good total conversion, I chose to sample some of the bigger projects as well. Ancientwanker’s The Last Days is a nifty take on the War of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings, while Ealabor’s Hegemony 268 B.C. morphs Calradia into ancient Europe during the rise of Rome, and Chel’s Illumination grafts a whole new story about the search for immortality onto the game world.

So, hooray for modders. I wouldn’t quite say that they have “rescued” Mount & Blade, but they have certainly helped this hybrid role-player realize more of its promise and given it a real shot at making an impact with folks in the mainstream RPG scene.

MOD OF THE MONTH
The Haunted (Unreal Tournament 3)


Above: Another zombie goes splat in The Haunted mod for UT3

A mod that lets you kill - if that’s the word - zombies in a shooter isn’t exactly original these days, but The Haunted managed to do a fantastic job with a somewhat shopworn theme. Gameplay resembles Resident Evil 4 on ’roids, with humans taking on speedy zombies. You can play solo against bot monsters, or go online and choose sides in multiplayer. And yes, this description makes me want to yawn, too. But honestly, this is a must-play mod for all UT3 fans, even if it sounds like something you’ve played a hundred times before.

Nov 21, 2008

5 comments

  • saxondragon - December 7, 2008 7:38 a.m.

    There is a great deal that I would like to say about this. First, while the review was accurate, it was woefully incomplete and it gives perhaps the most negative and most narrow view of what M&B is and what it can become. It is like building a car, where the designers made this amazing engine that is does things that no other car can do, goes faster and is super fuel efficient, and the review focuses on the lack of ashtrays, and power windows. Is M&B perfect? No. Is there room for improvements? Yes. But M&B delivers where it counts.. under the hood. It delivers in a way that 99% of other companies and designers out there can barely fathom, much less provide. This is the strength of M&B. This is what makes it great. Yet.. at the same time the reviewer made some valid points regarding main stream acceptance. if you want to have more people pick up and play this offering, then it will require deeper stories, more engrossing content. The good news, as pointed out by the reviewer, is that here in this community we have some very talented and dedicated people who are donating thousands of hours of expertise to make that happen. I know. I am one of them. Do you want to know why? Partially it is because after three years of downloading beta's, modules and now just after it's official release... I still enjoy playing M&b. For me, as a discriminating gamer who at best can play something a few hours if it is a decent game, maybe a few weeks it it is great, to play something for years is just simply unheard of.
  • CptCHARLES - November 23, 2008 12:21 a.m.

    Damn, second. Nice article
  • gorilla325 - November 23, 2008 1:07 a.m.

    it's very interesting the article pointed out that mount & blade was not just a games, rather it's more like a platform for modders! very interesting indeed!
  • Dr.Mr.Gamer - November 21, 2008 10:18 p.m.

    FIRST!! i love using mods and DL extras. mostly for flight sim X and Star Wars EAW
  • Mitchifer - December 11, 2008 11:05 p.m.

    I heard about this game a while back, but I didn't pick it up until after I read this article. I'm glad I did, because this game is a blast so far. Does anyone have links for the mods that were listed in the article? I know to look in the unofficial file repository, but I can't quite find all of them.

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