Written by Justin Hawthorne
There are currently three standalone versions of Mount and Blade in Taleworlds line-up of Feudal combat simulation, and this raises the question: which should I get? There aren’t many obvious differences between them other than title, visually they appear to use the same engine, and the only clear sequential progression between them is when they were released and how long their title is. For me, the best choice is Mount and Blade: Warband.
The three games in order of release are: Mount and Blade, Mount and Blade: Warband, and Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword. Each successive release has been marketed as a ‘standalone expansion pack’ because the core function of Mount and Blade remains unchanged. But each iteration has added some features that seemed lacking from its predecessor.
The first two games are set in the fictional world of Calradia with factions based loosely on historical groups. Warband offers a larger world, different some different factions, and was the first game to have a real end-game goal. In the first game you could rise to a position of great power, but it is in Warband that you can not only form your own nation, be become king of the entire realm.
Or, if being king seems like a bother, you can easily spend hundreds of hours traipsing around the world trying to rid it of bandits.
With Fire and Sword added actual storylines. The previous games were completely open sandbox games in that any narrative was not only of your own devising, but had to be of your own devising. With Fire and Sword gives you the option of three different story lines to pursue. Or you could just spend hundreds of hours traipsing around a simulated mid-evil Europe, trying to rid it of bandits.
Unfortunately, in each successive release, in addition to adding something missing, Taleworlds broke something that worked. Mount and Blade rapidly developed a thriving modding community. Possibly in part because of the lack of a narrative of its own, the community began to exert creative license to alter and shape the world to suit the narrative they wanted to create. But, those mods are incompatible with Warband–though it now has a thriving mod community of its own.
With Fire and Sword, primitive firearms were added, but at the loss of crossbows. Worse, the ability to recruit villagers was severely crippled in favor of forcing the player to hire mercenaries. One of the great pleasures of the previous games was leveling up raw recruits into mighty warriors; this loss could almost be overlooked if mercenaries weren’t so expensive and if it wasn’t also much harder to earn money.
Unfortunately, the learning curve for all of the games is the same: steep. Equally unfortunate is that the best of the set is also the most expensive. However, they all have demos available for download with unusually long play times, so you can test for yourself if firearms are worth the increased difficulties in getting money and troops.
Pros: Open ended, Can rule the World, best selection of all the good features from the M&B games
Cons: No Star Wars mod (yet); Most expensive, but offers the same basic game play as cheaper versions