Mount & Blade: Come On, Read the Words

When digital distributors give you free games, make blog posts about them. It’s like making lemonade, if you don’t think about it.

Mount & Blade’s writing… well, it really reminds me that I’m in a video game. More after the break.

For one, There’s a lot of text that is just filled in forms. Most of the time when someone gives you a mission the only differences in their lines are specific places you have to go or the units you have to fight or what have you. And if you ask someone how the war is going, they say, “They have X armies. We have X armies. The war is [going well/even/going poorly].”

The village chiefs that you can talk to never seem to have any distinction or personality, at least none that comes off as memorable. Nobles rarely come off as memorable either.

I don’t know if this was ever written on the box or advertised as a feature, but Mount & Blade does not have dialog options. What you have, nine times out of ten, are dolled up lines of “Yes” or “No.” And it’s a dolling up that I don’t always appreciate.

If you decide to go that route in Mount & Blade, you can spend a lot of time trying to endear yourself to nobles and raise you reputation with them so they like and support you. So that makes it very jarring when some of the options I have to refuse a mission cme off with a tone or statement that I don’t like. It’s like the Mass Effect problem all over again where none of the dialog options say what you want, and all of them take a tone that you don’t want.

I don’t have the option to politely refuse a noblelady’s mission, I have to refuse it in a way that comes off as cowardly. I can’t just turn down a mission , I have to do it in a way that insults that person giving it to me. Which makes it even worse because these missions are randomly given, I have no idea whether I’ll be asked to collect taxes or travel halfway across the map to spy on a city until I click the button. And it’s also random whether refusing will lower your reputation or not.

It’s times like this that I really end up longing for the dialog in the boss conversations of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where the options were grouped by the tone or stance they took rather than if they were good, evil, or neutral.

There is one bright spot in the game’s writing though. Companions.

Unlike the rest of the game, the companions actually attempt to be tied into the universe and don’t exist as separate simulations.

When you meet a companion first they’re in an inn (Yep) and they’ll dump their backstory on you. Surgeon bucking against superstition. Deposed noblewoman. Spirited young woman fleeing arranged marriage. Bandit with pretensions of nobility. Their stories manage to be somewhat interesting, and give you a sense of what’s happening behind the gameplay.

Because that it something that the game is lacking. There are farmers, who only show up when you are fighting in a village. The villages are all incredibly tiny. You never see the vast fields, you never see the iron mines, you never see any resource gathering at all. Villages exist just as glorified shops and occaisonal battlegrounds. You can talk to villagers and commoners wandering around towns and cities, but they just drop autogenerated lines on you. It’s another thing that makes the game very dry, that it is just soldiers travelling around.

The companions add color though. The annoying thing for me though is that some of them have problems with one another, but the only thing you’ll ever hear of it is when someone complains to you and you have to make a decision. It’s incredibly hard to care when someone brings a complaint to me, because it just happens out of nowhere, and there are only perhaps two companions that I actually care about.

Far more interesting are when companions complain but don’t expect you to solve the problem, or when they are getting along. It’s fun to read about how the ladykiller horseman has eyes for the dispossessed noblewoman and she has eyes for him and an appreciation for his ability to compose poetry on the battlefield with his taunts.

That people are becoming friends or hating each other adds in more life than anything else in the game, and it is sorely needed.

I stand by my original statement: The writing in Mount & Blade makes me feel incredibly like I am in a video game. It’s bland, it’s autogenerated, the world only exists for fighting. But there are companions. And when they don’t expect you to solve all their problems, the companions are nice, and what the game sorely needs.

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