Mount & Blade is the first, great medieval role-playing game.
Medieval combat in gaming really hasn't been done that well so far, every so often we get a game that manages to get some of the elements right - such as Oblivion - but not until the release of Mount & Blade has a truly great game based on the concept been put out.
Previously independent shareware designed by Turkish designers TaleWorlds, it was recently picked up by publisher Paradox Interactive. The resulting release won't appeal to a wide base, but for those interested in open world medieval combat there isn't anything approaching the level of professionalism and fun packed into Mount & Blade.
Civil war is good for the mercenary business
Players start out in Calradia, formerly a unified kingdom that has fractured into five smaller kingdoms - the Swadians, Vaegirs, Khergits, Nords, and Rhodoks - which variously substitute for generic archetypes of the medieval world such as vikings and mongols. From here you create a character, largely assigning his or her starting skills by a series of questions such as what occupation you had before turning to the life of an upstart mercenary captain, etc.
After finishing these prompts, you're dumped into the world with little more than your person, a horse (probably lame), and some rusty weapons. With the paltry little coin you have at first you're given more than a few options that generally end up with you putting together a small group of men either as a small mercenary company or eventually as a petty nobleman to one of the five kings of Calradia.
There are two important things to amass in the game besides men, money and renown. The first is self-explanatory, allowing you to purchase supplies and pay your troops weekly wages, among other things. Renown is harder to accumulate, mostly done by achieving hard victories on the battlefield and winning tournaments, but allows you to eventually be offered vassalage by one or more of the various kings.
Vassalage is one of the larger aspects of the game, for upon becoming a vassal you are given a village for which you act as overlord. With enough money you can add improvements, and also recruit more men faster. As your renown grows and you participate in military campaigns at the behest of your king, more possessions will eventually come your way - maybe even a castle if you're lucky.
Since the game is fairly open ended you can take the opposite track and stay an independent mercenary company for as long as one wants, attacking only brigands, pirates, and other like minded scum.
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