Maybe I´m tapping into something fundamental about the human animal, but riding a bastard sword through a guy´s neck is fucking satisfying. It´s like the thwack of a Wii Tennis ball, the chime of a Tetris, the clink of gold coins being collected, the closing of a profitable trade; carnal base-hormones are triggered, edifying the beast, galvanizing the spine. This is core gameplay at its purest, an unceasing reinforcement exercise, like the thrust of procreation pushed on endlessly, taking lives away rather than risking new ones. Real visceral kind of fun, just like our ancestors used to have when they ran each other through with long swords over land and women, back in the day. When I made another pass on my horse and cut down two blokes in a row, I turned to my chica and said "this kind of thing happened a lot back then." At least, it feels like it should have.
Mount and Blade has been compared to Elite, but with a horse. It evolved out of a husband and wife team in Turkey, a land that´s seen lots of bladed warfare over the millenia. I bought a beta license back in 2005 and played the hell out of it for weeks, hundreds of players like me helped the spouses keep going, and years later we have the final release. Its design has evolved in tandem with the mod and forum community, its spires of achievement have risen from mere wealth and high level slaughter to full on lordship of towns, castles, and siege engines. We´re taking about the middle age Playmobile sandbox experience combined with a trading economy, min/max leveling, and simple yet gut busting swordsmanship. Your inner geek will be suckered by the smooth leveling hooks, the discovery of gear, the making of profits, the gaining of men, but will melt-down to infantile glee when the plank of your siege tower hits the wall of the enemy castle and you charge in with your friends, slicing up archers and chopping over shields. You will somehow find that you are role-playing a character, that the numbers are the garnish, not the main course, and though your character is still a relatively two-dimensional butcher with a civic streak, it´s the kind of role you deserve to play.
Critics have knocked the game´s visuals, and there are a few interface annoyances, not to mention the occasional feeling of juggling quests, but these things fade if you aren´t a completionist and let the chaos take you through battles and betrayals. What´s underlying, besides a great testament to procedural systems as the basis of gameplay, is a political reality that is as subtle as a sledgehammer kissing across your face. The entire game involves a region torn apart by stupid bastards who don´t understand the economic potential of trade, and all the interactions with written NPCs underscores the brutality of a world filled with bearded, grunting primates flinging around one kind of metal in search of another. What´s more, the class division between the armored, horse riding nobility and thier elite soldiers and the rest of the running rabble makes a point in gameplay the echoes through history: we have let ourselves be ruled by well-armed barbarians with fancy titles in order to have protection from less organized criminals. There´s a sense of social Darwinism as you rack up kills in the company of the noble thugs. It almost made me want healing powers and transcendental meditation abilities, but then my baser instincts take over and I lose myself again in a sea of blood and dopamine.