M&B Warband is, without a doubt, one of my favorite PC games of all time. It is an underappreciated gem, and a gift that keeps on giving. As the sequel to the fun (but problem plagued) Mount & Blade, Warband has improved on almost every aspect. Controls are smoother, battles are more awesome, fighting is fluid, and graphics are better – to name a few of the improvements.
The core of this game is its single-player campaign. Like an RPG Total War, the campaign is split into a large-scale campaign map and a small scale battle map. The campaign map allows you to travel between settlements and attack other parties. The battle map is, predictable, used almost solely for battles.
The ultimate goal of the game is to conquer all of Caldradia, and bring peace to a troubled land.
The game is set in the world of Caldradia, which is a essentially a microcosm of Europe and the near east. There are five factions. The central Swadians are meant to represent Western European monarchies, like France. They have strong heavy horsemen, good crossbowmen, and decent infantry. The Northern Vaegirs a representation of Russia and south-eastern Europe. They have decent cavalry, and amazing archers. The coastal Nords are meant to represent Vikings from Scandinavia. They have amazing infantry. The mountain dwelling Rhodoks represent the republics of Italy and Switzerland. They have fantastic crossbowmen and great anti-cavalry infantry. The South-eastern Khergits are meant to repsent nomadic tribes of horsemen, like Mongols. They have good horsemen and rely heavily on horse archers. The Sarranids lie in the far south. They are meant to represent Muslim/Arab/Turkish states of the near east, like the Mamluk Sultanate and Ottoman Empire. They are good at everything, but fail to excel in any one field.
The game is designed to force you to tailor your army to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of each faction, but unfortunately this did not work at all. Horsemen are the name of the game. An army of Swadian Knights or Sarranid Mamluks will steamroll everything in the field. This makes sense for the small scale and historical period of the game, but it really does not wonders for balance.
The other big issue with this game is hitboxes. They are, in a word, terrible. Fighting in a settlement is often a boring chore, as troops get bottled up slashing at nothing. Siege battles in general are an unmitigated clusterfuck, with only one narrow entrance to the settlement.
Another big problem with this game is the AI. It is really, really stupid. On the campaign map AI armies will chase you if they are stronger, and flee if they are weaker. Realms routinely make crippling strategic blunders. Fortunately, their opponents are just as inept. In battle, the enemy army will charge directly at you every single time. They will walk into impassable walls forever trying to reach you, like zombies. Sometimes, finding stray AI is a major hindrance, especially in city ambush battles.
Finally, quests in this game are not particularly good. Most of the time AI lords will offer repeated courier or assassinate missions. The rewards are minimal, and the quests are boring. Occasionally you’ll get a cooler quest, but for the most part if you want adventure in this game you must find it yourself.
Despite those problems, Warband is a ton of fun. Fighting in the field looks and feels awesome. Raising funds and an army feels natural and very rewarding. Raising your character from a pathetic imbecile to the greatest warrior in Caldradia is just so much fun.
Warband has a pretty active multiplayer scene. I mostly play single-player, so I can’t much comment on the multiplayer. From my few hours of online play I’ve seen that it is a bit crazy, but definitely enjoyable.
The real jewel of this game is, rather strangely, not the game. It is the community, and specifically the mod community. This game is blessed with an easy to use mod system, and modders have taken ample advantage of that. There are multiple fantastic total-conversion mods, and many more general improvement mods. Note that most of these mods make the game much more difficult. My advice is to master Native before you branch into any major mods, like Prophesy of Pendor or Perisno.
Overall, Warband has its problems, but its a game that is a ton of fun that you can sink lots of time into. For its cost, Warband and its mods will keep you occupied for a long time. I give it an 8.0/10