Combining horses with sharp objects doesn%26rsquo;t usually end up in fun %26ndash; as anyone who%26rsquo;s seen Equus will agree. However, Mount %26amp; Blade is a half-decent stab at the open-ended medieval RPG, especially considering the game began as an indie project by a Turkish husband-and-wife development team. Imagine those arguments.
The setting is in the harsh, peasant-swamped land of Calradia where many different factions are vying for control %26ndash; God knows why, as it%26rsquo;s actually a very dull place, with little much else for the population to do except look miserable or indulge in malnutrition. You begin the game by creating a character %26ndash; male or female %26ndash; and by choosing a series a multiple choice questions about your family and your upbringing, you define a character with a modicum of stats. These range from strength and agility, to weapon proficiency and those essential prisoner management skills.
Mount %26amp; Blade%26rsquo;s structure is rather like the Total War games, with a map screen you can use to move your character and any recruits between the settlements, and if you encounter any random attacks, you can choose to surrender or join the battle in full 3D. It%26rsquo;s here (and in the fight-for-cash battle arenas in the larger towns) that you have to employ your riding and combat skills to survive, using the standard WASD keys to move and the left-hand mouse button to strike enemies or fire arrows.
While the horse handles rather well, the heralded mounted combat is patchy. The archery is OK but largely ineffective with large numbers of enemies, and the sword/knife/axe hits are annoyingly random in their effectiveness (which applies to on-foot fighting too). Hiring recruits for battles with more than 50 units, visiting taverns for the local gossip, trading items for more cash, upgrading your weapons and be-hooved companion, racking up quests and claiming the throne in a bloody coup will provide much entertainment, but they won%26rsquo;t dispel the feeling that despite the horse-based combat, Mount %26amp; Blade is really an anorexic Oblivion set in a budget version of Tolkien%26rsquo;s Rohan.
Sep 16, 2008