Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mount & Blade: Warband - 16/20 hours

I don't think I'm cut out to be a warlord. Emotionally, I mean. I think, taken on balance, the story of Honoria the dispossessed noblewoman seeking to restore her family is a happy one. She wins more than she loses, and even when she's faced with complete disaster, she gradually ratchets up her skills and resources so that her next disaster is even bigger than the ones that came before.

But there's just so much blood. I win a glorious victory, defeating 182 enemies with just 75 troops, but it costs me 30 men. Then, shortly after the battle, the village is reinforced by another 200 soldiers, so I flee the field, and a dozen of my men give their lives to cover our escape. As I head back to safer territory, I recruit more peasants to my banner, but before I can train them, an enemy corners me. Our numbers are about even, but my soldiers are green. I decide to risk it, and it's a complete rout. I'm taken prisoner, which costs me some gold, but I've still got a substantial warchest, and my fancy weapons and armor are still in my possession. I can rebuild.

But damn, this cycle of feast and famine is starting to get me down. I don't blame the game. The rules are more than fair (it seems like the sensible thing to do after all this time is cut off my fool head so I don't rise again). Rather, it's the political assumptions that undergird the setting. There will always be war. The nobility have a sort of gentelmen's agreement that they will treat each other in such a way that war bears little cost for them. You always take the enemy commander prisoner, but you never hold him in such a way that escape becomes impossible. And if you wait long enough, his family will offer a ransom. And then you can use that money to finance your next campaign.

It's just a never-ending slaughter. The peasants and the towns exist purely as resources to be plundered. Peace is a fevered dream. And if you want to join the nobility, there's nothing you can do about it. You have to fight to get your slice of the pie, because any other path just leaves you a victim to those who are willing to do what it takes.

It's grim, and the thought of building back up my forces for another round exhausts me. It doesn't help that the kindom of Swadia, to which I had hitched my star, is under attack from two sides. It's lost two of its biggest cities, and there are scarcely any villages left unplundered. The adjoining nations will both attack me on sight, which means that recruiting a new force, let alone training them to be a credible threat on the battlefield, is a going to be a nightmarish game of hide and seek.

I don't want to do it, but I'm thinking of starting over and playing a simple merchant whose goal is to build a commercial empire. Leave the game of thrones to the experts and just concentrate on having a big enough force to scare off bandits. Buying and selling goods for simple, honest profit, while exploring the land and making friends may not have the epic sweep of a tale of valiant warriors fighting for passion and honor, but at least I won't have to crawl to success over a mountain of skulls.

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