Welcome to a Very Special episode of The Demo Man. Why is it Very Special? Because I actually played a demo I kind of like, as opposed to the demos I usually play which are pure crap. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of crap in this demo. But what isn’t crap is actually really, really good, so I’m afraid I’ll have to say some nice things about it. Bear with me.
Mount & Blade is an open-world single-player medieval RPG created by some guy and his wife. The demo lets you play the game for free until you’ve gained seven levels. You may not last that long once you get a look at it. It’s ugly as hell. The graphics and models look as if they were made in 1997, and were clunky and outdated even then. In reality, the game came out a couple months ago.
There are several tutorials that teach you the basics of movement and combat, which includes mounted combat. The tutorials put you in the role of a dead-eyed, vapid-looking warrior.
I present to you Sir Pauly of Shore. Just look at that guy. This game just came out. In September. Of this year. Shit you, I do not. On the other hand, it’s nice to finally have a game cranked up to maximum visual settings. It’s just a shame it doesn’t help.
Mount & Blade is played in third-person perspective, with an interesting (let’s call it “dumb”) camera placement that shows you only the head and upper body of your ass-ugly character. Melee combat is simple, but also, dare I say it, kinda good. To parry an enemy’s attack with your weapon, you hold down the right mouse button, similar to Oblivion, but with a tiny twist that makes all the difference: you have to wait until your enemy has begun his attack, otherwise you might not be parrying in the correct direction. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes the combat about timing instead of about simply waiting.
Mounted combat is trickier, but a lot of fun when it works properly. The faster you ride, the more damage your attack does but the harder it is to land your blows correctly. Even on stationary targets, it can take a while to get right, especially with bow and arrow.
Once I finished the tutorial, I got to create my own character. There are a number of sliders that allow you to adjust your character’s face to various degrees of ugliness. What kind of character will you create? Butt Ugly? Dog Ugly? Fugly? I couldn’t decide, so I used the randomizer, which came up with Ass Ugly.
Meet Sir Face of Ass. Time to choose his starting stats. Since I’m enjoying the combat, I put his points into Strength and Agility, give him some proficiency in single and double handed weapons, and a couple points in skills like Ironflesh and Powerstrike, which sound pretty badass. I have one skill point left, so I put that in Prisoner Management. I have no idea what that entails, but if Sir Face can’t cut it as a bruiser, at least he’ll have some corporate skills to fall back on.
I begin my adventure, finding myself in the beautifully rendered landscape in the stunningly gorgeous land of oh balls it looks like shit.
I ride my little horsey icon around until I encounter a group of four looters. The leader threatens me, but Sir Face of Ass does not scare easily. It’s time for some real combat. The music swells and surges, the map loads, and I prepare for battle.
Um. There’s no one around. The looters, after threatening me, have apparently retreated to a safe distance of 34 miles. I ride around for a few minutes, looking for them. The music continues to swell hopefully. I reach the end of the map and turn back. Still nothing. Even the soundtrack has given up: I’m now galloping around in silence. Then, suddenly eventually the looters appear!
As opposed to highwaymen in Oblivion, who are often decked out in fancy armor and bear expensive weapons, these looters do not appear to have much of a bankroll. Only one has armor, the rest don’t even have shirts or boots. They carry stubby swords and crude axes; when I ride out of range they stoop to pick up stones, which they fling at me (which is pretty awesome). I spend about five minutes weaving in and out of them, landing about one of every five blows of my axe. I gotta say, it’s immensely satisfying when I do manage to hit one of them at full gallop.
Sir Face does the land of Ass proud, however, and slays all four looters, then, perhaps ironically, loots their corpses.
I ride to the nearby town of Kedelke, where I’m given a few options. I can try to recruit people to join my party, visit the village center, buy supplies from the peasants, or take hostile action. I think you know which I chose. I just took on four looters, what fear could a few shabby peasants hold for Sir Face? I ride in at full gallop, brandishing my axe.
Whoops. There were a lot more peasants than I was expecting. They quickly knock me from my horse and club me unconscious. That’s me face-down on the ground, that’s them celebrating. No need to rub it in, jerks.
I visit another town and decide to be nicer. The Elder of the town asks me to train some peasants in the ways of combat, which requires me to click the words “Train Peasants” a bunch of times, and occasionally spar with one of them. After a few days, I’ve molded them into a fighting force, as well as recruited some tribesmen to my party, and we have a big brawl against some bandits.
This is where the game gets really fun, with thrilling and awful music blaring, dozens of NPCs hacking and slashing at each other, arrows zipping by your head as you weave in and out of them on horseback, slamming your axe into anyone foolish enough to get in your way. We overcome the bandits and I greedily take everything the villagers offer in payment. I recruit a few more fighters into my party, then head back to the village that kicked my ass earlier.
This time, they give into my demands without a fight. Yeah, I thought so. I take all their stuff and leave, returning moments later to steal some cattle. That’s what happens, peasants, when you dare to knock a marauder unconscious while he’s trying to loot your village. Your village gets looted. Let this be a lesson.
The adventures of Sir Face of Ass and his Merry Mercenaries continue. We triumph against a force of fourteen warriors whose crime it was to desert the army of whatever land this is. We triumph against a force of nine farmers on their way to market whose crime it was to be easy to triumph against. We visit a castle prison to see if there are any prisoners to manage. There are none.
Anyway. I’m kind of enjoying this demo. I guess there are a bunch of actual quests you can do, too, though I prefer to just get into fights, as that’s the best part. I actually recommend this demo: the combat is a lot of fun, and even if you don’t want to build your own ugly character and round up some mercs, there are some ready-to-play combat scenarios, huge battles you can just leap into and immediately start to play, including some castle sieges. If you can stand the horrid graphics, ugly models, terrible character animation, annoying constant music, bland dialogue, and rotten inventory management, there’s definitely some free fun to be had here.