The last time I played a Lord of the Rings mod, I made Aragorn marry a giant spider. This time, I'm not looking for weird fan-fiction nuptials but for massive fan-fiction battles. The Last Days (of The Third Age of Middle Earth) was originally released in 2011, but it's been recently updated and made newly compatible with Mount & Blade: Warband, transforming the game into Tolkien's Middle Earth.
As with the A Clash of Kings mod for Warband, I'm hoping The Last Days will give me a grounds-eye view of the War of the Ring. And, the way I figure it, nobody has a better grounds-eye view than someone who was just born in a hole in the ground. I'm going to play as an Uruk-Hai, one of Saruman's faithful grunts. Seriously, I can probably only grunt because I'm some kind of mud creature who was born six minutes ago. I name myself Grug A Lug-Gug Gro Chug.
Some say Uruk-Hai, but Grug say Uruk-Hai-How-Are-Ya! Ha ha! That Grug's little joke. Naturally, my first order of business is to walk into Saruman s chamber and have a one-on-one consultation with the big man himself, and try to impress him with my go-getter attitude. Saruman says he needs a message delivered to an ally in a nearby camp -- I guess I'll be a go-giver -- and who better to deliver important missives to military commanders than a snarling naked dirt monster? On the way to the camp, I pass through Fangorn Forest, which turns out to be a huge mistake because of those sentient trees who are not huge fans of orc-folk. As if orcs are the only ones who cut down trees! Haven't you been to The Shire? Those Hobbit-holes are wood-paneled! Floor to ceiling! Why don't you slap them around for a change?
Time to make like a sentient walking tree and get out of here. Anyway, the Ent slaps me around until I'm unconscious, and the few shots I get in with my bare fists don't even hurt him. I eventually wake up, drag myself out of the forest, and deliver Saruman's message, improving his opinion of me. I return to Isengard, and start running errands for anyone who has one: Saruman, Grima Wormtongue, and a couple of orc generals. Things go smoothly, except for the occasional run-in with patrolling elves, who fill me full of arrows, because of course they do, because elves are a bunch of archery dweebs.
Screw you, Legolas. I visit a few landmarks in my spare time. Argonath, also known as "The Pillars of Kings" or "Those Two Giant Cool River Statues From The Movies." I make my way to Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor, just to see if I can meet with The Lidless Eye, also known as Sauron. I can't, but I do some errands for his helpers, including the one named The Mouth of Sauron, also known as "The Guy Cut Out Of The Theatrical Release." I even buy a shield with the Lidless Eye insignia, just to show my general support of evil. It looks quite striking on me as I lie unconscious on the ground after battles.
I think my Uruk-Hai needs some Uruk-Help. Tired of being beaten up by trees and tree-hugging elves, I start putting together an Uruk-posse. My errand running has earned me some respect, and joining one-sided skirmishes has given me enough experience to gain a couple levels and add some points in the leadership and prisoner management department. I start recruiting orcs, Uruks, and humans at every camp I visit. It's not long before I've got a couple newborn Uruk, a couple run-of-the-mill soldier orcs, and a small cavalry consisting of goblin warg-riders and Dunlander horsemen. We win some battles and take some prisoners, which I manage.
War. It's faaaaantastic!
It's not long before the elven patrols who used me for target practice are fleeing before me. We're raiding enemy towns and capturing deserters. My footsoldiers are graduating to become warg riders and I'm decked out in the best Uruk armor and shields, all with matching White Hand insignia. My crew is getting fierce.
Uruk, orc, human, goblin... I'm an equal opportunity employer.
Soon, Saurman realizes my potential. He lets me in on his plan. It involves defeating a troll, capturing it, and bringing it to him in a giant cage, where the beast will be trained to fight for The White Hand. No problemo! My army is well equipped and well-prepared. We'll get that troll toot-sweet.
No offense, boss, but you have a real dark side to your personality.
I ride out with my army in the middle of the night, nearly fifty of us, headed for Troll Cave, where we will find, presumably, at least one troll. As we cross the plains, a large party on horseback suddenly appears behind us, chasing us, moving fast. It's not good news.
King Theoden is following me? Awesome! Wait. This isn't Twitter. He's actually following me.
Theoden! I thought our side had him all bewitched and catatonic. Who cleared out his mental cobwebs? I bet it was Gandalf, that busy-body. We clash with Theoden and his men, and it's an absolute slaughter. I assume it's a slaughter, anyway, I can't even see my faithful orcs and Uruks behind the wall of horses and shields, but it's pretty clear from the wall-o-text that things are not going our way.
Theoden? Can I at least get an autograph?
I wake up alone, left for dead, and with my entire entourage gone. I scurry back to Isengard alone. Yes, I'll rebuild my crew. Yes, I'll get that troll for Saruman. Maybe I'll even meet Theoden again, only in a fair fight, and make him my prisoner. For the moment, though, I'm just bummed that I've gone from a bunch of Uruk-Guys back down to a single Uruk-Hai.
Back to being an orc-pack of one. Installation: Your installation is going to depend on which version of the game you're using (M&B, or M&B: W) and whether you've got a Steam copy or retail. Luckily, every eventuality is covered in the mod's comprehensive installation guide, which is a PDF contained in the download folder. Either way, it's not particularly complicated. Visit the download page here. For Warband, you'll need the 3.3 Warband patch as well as the regular 3.3 mod file.
Somehow, we seem to have missed TaleWorlds' announcement of Mount & Blade II a couple of days a year ago, but we can't very well deny its existence now that it's spilling screenshots all over the place, can we? Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord is the sequel to Mount & Blade: Warband (wouldn't that make it M&B3...or even M&B4 if you count With Fire & Sword?), and so far we know...um, zip. Stick around for some rather lovely screenshots, however, and a trailer featuring GIANT WORDS coming out of the screen.
"The drums of battle will beat again. And swords will sing their grim song." And bows will make a nice whooshing sound, presumably. OK, so it's a teaser trailer, and therefore light on actual details - I do feel suitably teased though. How about you? I'd say it's telling that TaleWorlds are name-checking Warband on the site, rather than the original M&B or Fire & Sword - I'm also quite excited by the thought of a 'proper' M&B sequel, despite deciding that the original wasn't quite for me. The lure of medieval combat/eventual Game of Thrones mods is too strong to resist. (Speaking of which, you've read Chris Livingston's experiences with Warband's A Clash of Kings mod, right?)
You'll find some Mount & Blade II screenshots below (the rest are here on the official site). It looks quite a bit fancier than the original games, and features all the mounts and blades you were probably expecting. Also: bows, barefoot urchins, cities.
News travels slowly in the lands of medieval fantasy, which is why I've only just noticed this hiding out in the crowded mass of ModDB updates. Mount & Blade: Warband's obligatory Game of Thrones mod A Clash of Kings has (as of a couple of weeks ago) released its v1.0 build. This is just the sort of milestone that calls for some celebratory capons. And a news post.
What features were required to prompt the mod's makers to break out of beta? Highlights from the changelog include new lords, new castles, and new NPCs, including Lysa Tully, Catelyn Stark, Melisandre and Vargo Hoat. In addition, the Eastern continent has been re-done, more locations have been added, and new quests have been made available. Oh, and Jaime Lannister is now in there, too.
You can grab the mod from its ModDB page. To see why you should, have a read of Christopher Livingston's adventures in Westeros when he made it our Mod of the Week.
Since Rich seems to be having fun with a Game of Thrones mod in Crusader Kings II, I thought I might try a GoT mod as well, but with a different game: Mount & Blade: Warband. Adding sea travel, naval battles, over a thousand new items, props, and textures, plus a massive map of Westeros and tons of characters based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Clash of Kings mod lets gamers step into a world ravaged by war as a handful of wealthy, entitled men violently quibble over who gets to sit on a big fancy chair.
While Rich's playthrough is focused on politics, intrigue, and poop-based assassination, I'm taking a slightly different approach with this mod (created by modder Cozur and a host of contributors). I want the experience that the Game of Thrones books and television show don't portray very often: the perspective of the commoners who are swept up in the drama, and moved around on the gaming board like so many checkers at the whim of would-be monarchs. Since George R. R. Martin often gives his characters slightly changed familiar names (Robb, Eddard, Tommen, Petyr, etc.) I went the same route. Meet my character, Keewristoffertt. As the son of a merchant and former street urchin, commoners don't come more common than Keewris.
His face got stuck mid-warg, apparently.
I begin the game in the city of Storm's End, with the world of Westeros already heading into the War of the Five Kings (which is the start of the second book, or the second season of the show). I'm eager to join up with a king, though even as a commoner, I'd like to do a little homework to decide which is the best king to align with. Unlike our own world, where we form our political opinions by listening to the paranoid rantings of spittle-spewing radio and television hosts, in Mount & Blade I can just walk right up to any old king and talk to him.
Under Barathocare, my hard-earned gold will go to leech treatments for peasants? I'm dubious.
I talk to King Renly Baratheon, who is polite and seems worth pledging my undying devotion to, then ride toward Lannisport to personally talk to Tywin Lannister, who is not technically a king but might as well be. Along the way, I'm intercepted by Ser Gregor Clegane, a Lannister knight. While trying to ask him where Tywin Lannister is, I accidentally click on a more threatening line of dialogue, which leads a rude reply from Clegane, which leads to a battle between me and 42 of Clegane's men, which leads to me getting slightly filled with arrows.
Um. I yield?
Okay! I think joining the Lannisters is out of the question. After I escape from Clegane, I ride back to Storm's End to pledge my sword to King Renly. Unfortunately, when I arrive, I'm told Renly has been imprisoned by his own brother, Stannis Baratheon, king of Dragonstone. Well, since Stannis is also at war with the Lannisters, I figure I might as well just join him. I head over to the island of Dragonstone (by boat!) and pledge my sword to King Stannis.
I have no honor, no friends, and the worst enemy EVER. Thanks for adding the jab about my reading habits.
As a conscript of Stannis, I follow him wherever he goes, and he's quite an active king. We ride patrols around his kingdom, fighting Forest Bandits, and patrol the seas, fighting, uh, Forest Bandits. Who are on boats. Okay. Naval combat is a lot like regular combat, only there are no horses and it takes place on boats connected by narrow planks, which can lead to a bit of a bottleneck. It takes me several minutes to even get off our boat, clogged as is with Dragonstone soldiers, and get into the fight, which promptly ends before I can even kill anyone.
I think I can see a Sea Bandit. Somewhere. Over there.
Even land battles tend to leave me out of the action. Since I don't have a horse, I get left behind during the attacks, and often the battles are over before I reach an enemy. Stannis, gracious king that he is, still sees my devotion and promotes me. After a few more weeks, King Stannis assembles a massive force of hundreds of men outside Driftmark, and we ride to Duskendale, a city under Lannister control. It's time for a siege! It's exciting as hell, though again, I'm stuck at the rear for most of the skirmish.
Follwing the seige of Duskendale, we move on to the city of Antlers (seat of House Buckwell in the Crownlands, according to the ASOIAF wiki). A little tired of being at the back of the crowd and only getting leftovers, I charge the ramp, bravely enter the city first, and yeah that was a terrible idea.
We lose the battle, and worse, King Stannis is captured and imprisoned. With Stannis imprisoned by the Lannisters and Renly imprisoned by Stannis, I seem to have run out of Baratheons to follow around. What's a commoner to do? Find a new king, I guess. I head to a likely sounding location.
Siege, or knock? Think I'll knock.
I join up with Ser Addam Marbrand, who despite following the Lannisters seems like a nice enough guy. Unfortunately, he may be too nice: he never leaves King's Landing. After doing nothing for a few weeks, I decide to desert Marbrand and look for a king who is a little more proactive. I even convince two other soldiers to come along with me, and we head for Highgarden, hoping to join up with Lord Mace Tyrell. Before we even get there we're taken captive by some of Tyrell's soldiers from The Reach, who view us as enemies. Apparently, word of my desertion has spread. Damn ravens! Stop delivering tiny scraps of paper that describe what disloyal soldier I am!
I think surrender is a fine tactical plan, actually.
I finally escape, abandoning the two companions I had with me. Sorry, guys! Enjoy prison for the remainder of the war. I head to Sunspear, capital city of Dorne, but they won't let me in, and I get captured by another Lord who also drags me around as a prisoner for a while. Eventually, I wind back up at Storm's End, where I run into King Renly, who has apparently escaped from prison (or perhaps was ransomed by Davos Seaworth). He doesn't trust me enough to let me serve in his army, but asks a favor: could I please spring his brother Stannis, my past king, from prison in the Westerlands? That seems unusual. First, why trust me, a guy you don't trust, with this task? Second, why free Stannis when he's the one who has kept you imprisoned all this time?
Still, the opportunity of freeing Stannis, my chosen king, is too good to pass up. I head to the city of Hornvale (seat of House Brax), disguise myself as a peasant (it's not hard since I essentially am a peasant), and slip into the courtyard. There I approach the lone prison guard and ask him who he's got in jail. He confirms it's Stannis, so I cleverly beat him to death with a big stick (politics!). I free Stannis, along with Ellery Vance and Lord Clement Piper, who are also being held captive, and we storm the courtyard, taking down a handful of guards and escaping. So much for just being a simple soldier, I guess: I've just had a major impact on the power structure of the world.
This escape came to be known as The Fist of the Bald Men.
After reuniting with Stannis at Dragonstone, we spend a few days in the castle and then ride out en masse, immediately clashing with... King Renly. It's the guy who asked me to free Stannis, and we're going to war with him again. Weird. Several minutes into the battle, I actually spot Renly slashing his way through Dragonstone soldiers. I hit him with my sword, and he collapses. I should point out that these two events are unrelated: the game log tells me I hit but did no damage and that it was some Elite Dragonstone Swordsman who actually felled the king. On the other hand, after we win the battle, I'm still pretty stoked to see I had better numbers than Renly.
See, this is why I just wanted to be a common soldier. Politics are weird and baffling. I just rescued a king for another king and then defeated the king while fighting for the king the king wanted rescued. I'm just confused. I guess I don't understand politics, and I definitely don't understand brothers.
Installation: It's not hard! Download the latest version of the mod. Find the Modules folder in your M&B Warband folder, and drop the downloaded file in there. Start the game, choose the mod from the drop-down, and get your Ice & Fire on.
Choosing the best thing out of a pile of really good things is always a tough decision, but hey, we're used to it. You too can participate in the careful choicemaking by voting for your favorite mod and indie game of the year over at Mod DB and Indie DB, where the top 100 nominations were just plucked from a gargantuan pool of over 9,000 mods and 5,500 indies.
With friendly vote buttons large and in charge until December 21, each database's 100 selections are sorted by genre and game for easy perusal. Numerous strong contenders vie for your mouse-click's thumbs-up, including noteworthy entries DayZ, The Dark Mod, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, and Natural Selection 2.
Current favorites leading the pack are Half-Life 2's powerful mod lineup—among which Black Mesa and our own 2011 Mod of the Year No More Room in Hell count themselves among the ranks—and role-playing indie games. You'll find Legend of Grimrock, Dear Esther, Mount & Blade: Warband, and others in the latter category. But like everyone's slowly expanding backlog of shame, plenty of other potentials yearn for your attention. Head to both award pages for the full lists.
You might remember developers Flying Squirrel from their work on the multiplayer Mount & Blade expansion Napoleonic Wars, but one look at their first standalone project, the brilliantly ambitious Battle Cry of Freedom, and that short sulky Frenchman will be forever banished from your mind. Like Assassin's Creed 3, it's set during the American Civil War, but not the American Civil War as imagined by a grumpy bartender lying in a sci-fi sunbed. Read on for details, including mention of the 500-player(!) battles.
Here it is: whoa, there's going to be 500-player battles. Actually, there's a '+' in there too, so the game may be capable of supporting even more. Other things we can expect: historically accurate maps, uniforms and weapons, a "completely destructible environment", 3D voice chat, 5X5 km big maps and, perhaps best of all, "special musician units with drums, fifes, fiddles or trumpets, able to play historically accurate tunes." It appears as if combat will be largely similar to that seen in Mount & Blade, but with a bigger focus on muskets, obviously.
Flying Squirrel are taking donations on their homepage via their own form of Kickstarter, and at the time of writing they've raised just over a grand of their surprisingly low 60,000 Euros goal. 20 Euros is the minimum donation needed to bag a digital copy on release (plus early beta access), though if you have a spare million, the developers promise to "personally fly over to you and host the most awesome party you have ever had in your life". Hey now - I've been to a roller disco. I'm not sure anything will ever compete with that.
Taleworlds are working on a sequel to Mount and Blade subtitled "Bannerlord" according to the teaser trailer posted on the Mount and Blade site. There are no screenshots or details at all yet, but this is excellent news nonetheless. Mount and Blade 2 promises to once again "take players on a journey into a fictional world of up-close and personal medieval combat on a huge scale, bigger, bloodier and more intense than ever before" and include "highly requested new features." Oooh, what could those be?
There is a teaser trailer, but I don't want to get your hopes up. It is just a series of dramatic statements layered over some mist. LET THE LAND BURN AND THE BLOOD FLOW.
The latest update to Mount and Blade: Warband's Napoleonic Wars DLC releases the full source code into the wild, which should give Mount and Blade modders plenty to get their gnashers into. Warband's been a great platform for modders, and the extra units and features added by Napoleonic Wars has only put more muskets in the toolbox. The addition of new units, more swords, longer swords and better saddle textures can only help. The ten most popular maps from a recent community map contest have joined the rotation, and there are a bunch of balance fixes to boot.
The full update notes follow, plucked from Steam.
Added “Litovskiy Ulanskiy Polk”, Lithuanian Lancer Regiment, to Russia. Added new swords for British Musicians and 95th Rifles, Austrian Infantry and Jägers. Added new wall scene props for mappers - in desert and wood styles. Added more destruction stages for some walls (that are commonly used in custom siege maps) and improved their textures. Added new French Officers pants. Pioneer earthworks can now be removed by using the shovel in alternate mode (accessible by press X). Added the top ten community maps from the mapping contest. Released full source code for modders.
Remade all equipment for Russia: Cartridge bags, belts, etc. Remade Austrian battle flags. Players are now forced to walk when surrendering. Improved textures of British and Austrian saddles.
Balance changes Reduced the length of the bayonet slightly. Increased the length of all cavalry swords. Made the readying animation for the upper stab slower. Upper stab chamber attacks are now not blockable anymore just like the lower stab. People getting bumped by a horse now stay on the ground a bit longer before getting up. Removed the damage a rider would receive when his horse dies. Horses don’t rear up anymore when hit by a bayonet to their front. Reduced the amount of bullets and damage of the Musketoon.
Bug Fixes Fixed an exploit that allowed players to spawn objects on the map. Fixed an exploit that allowed players to spawn with multiple firearms. Fixed an exploit that allowed players to spawn naked. Fixed a bug that made upper stabs unblockable when in crouch-mode Fixed a bug that when a rocket launcher is picked up whilst someone is using it the player using it would get stuck. Fixed small historical errors on Russian uniforms. Fixed the mirrored banners above players. Fixed stones not spawning near the walls that got destroyed. Fixed some upside down texture errors on roofs. Fixed some cases where you would not be able to spawn explosion crates. Removed riding skill from pioneers. Fixed several specular and normal map issues.
Snowbird Games, creators of Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword, have announced their upcoming project, Caribbean, that brings many of the mechanics of M&B to a 16th-century swashbuckling setting. The Mount and Blade series is definitely in that "high investment, high reward" category that only really works on the PC (with the likes of EVE, Dwarf Fortress, and Day Z). It's also about as close as you can get to a full-blown Game of Thrones RTS.
If commanding hundreds of scallywags in real-time boarding missions interests you, read on.
Snowbird's announcement cites a trove of ambitious features, including:
Sea battles with intuitive and easy control system; The real-time boarding fights that throw player in the centre of the action; Detailed management and customization of both the fleet and the crew; Complex siege system allowing the players to storm forts, harbors or entire cities; Different kinds of artillery: shipboard cannons, mortars and howitzers; Random events system that keeps players question their decisions during their voyage; True ‘Carribean’ atmosphere of the vast and dangerous world; Unique NPCs whose design based on the real historical figures; Various multiplayer modes featuring the sea and land battles, boarding and sieges.
The devs say you should be able to get your hands on the buccaneering goodness this September.
The Mount & Blade series has had a spotty history with guns, which is understandable when you consider that gunpowder was ultimately responsible for making both mounts and blades totally irrelevant. After the troubled Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword, Taleworlds and Flying Squirrel Entertainment are taking another pop at blackpowder in the form of this multiplayer-only expansion for Warband.
It'll feature five factions and 220 units, historically accurate weapons and artillery, and an engineer class that can erect barricades. You'll also be able to become a musician and play drums, fifes, trumpets and bagpipes - which seems like a recipe for getting shot, to me.