Mount & Blade: Viking Conquest is an odd duck. An expansion for a four-year old game is definitely something of an outlier, and with Mount and Blade: Warband’s reputation there are also higher expectations… plus the fact that it is about Vikings! Who doesn’t want a good Viking game?
The graphics of the Mount & Blade series have always been lackluster, to say the least. Even with the settings cranked all the way up, Mount & Blade: Viking Conquest is not that much of a looker. However, it does look better than Warband, which is appreciated. While there are improvements to the graphics and the underlying engine in general, there are very few large improvements. Instead there are a lot of little things that have been improved.
For example, when one went to the middle of any particular town in Warband, there was barely anything of note. A few houses, people walking around aimlessly, and a village leader in the center of the village.
But now, there are some differences. People are working in the fields and walking through the streets like they are actually going somewhere, rather than they were on a predesigned route ala Warband. It’s not completely convincing or anywhere near perfect, but it is an improvement from what the series has seen before. It’s actually quite endearing really. You can go to the stables and steal a horse and ride around town, talking to random people and buying wares, or perhaps you could practice your fighting skills with veterans that hang around town. There is an added depth, which is a phrase that could describe Viking Conquest’s single-player campaign. It fleshes out what Warband tried to accomplish and in the process makes me very excited for the eventual sequel in the form of Mount & Blade: Bannerlord.
What is hilarious though is the way Brytenwalda tried to incorporate swaying trees into the game. Instead of tree branches or leaves swaying in the wild, you get the actual tree swaying. It’s almost disturbing the way the tree rotates, like an invisible hula hoop that Mother Nature has demanded the tree to use. It’s definitely a good example of developers vainly trying to accommodate an increasingly archaic engine so that they can deliver the experience that they want.
It shows too. The game was released on December 11th of last year and was incredibly buggy on release. After three patches, it looks as though Viking Conquest has been mostly cleared up, although the game still loads incredibly slowly and suffers from the odd crash here and there. It is definitely something to look into if you are interested in this title, but as of January 23rd, it’s relatively stable… although that isn’t really an excuse. Patches shouldn’t be used as a crutch these days, which is something that game developers have now been universally relying on to a alarming extent.
But before we go point metaphorical fingers, another thing to consider would be the odd release date. Why not publish it in January, when the holidays are over and people are more inclined to purchase a mod for a four year old game? Who knows, but the fact of the manner is that Viking Conquest has had a rough journey so far.
The sound for Viking Conquest is honestly the same as Warband. The same sounding shouts, the same sounding crash of sword on shield, the same everything. Personally I do not find this a problem, being a fervent proponent of ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’ camp. But while the sound is perfectly serviceable, the music is excellent. It gives off a very Viking-esque vibe, like you are about to go and ahem pillage a village. Now go and say that three times fast.
When someone is asked to blurt out the first things they think of when hearing the time ‘Viking,’ a pattern soon emerges. Usually what comes to mind is of an overly muscled man screaming incoherently while banging an axe and shield together, their sheer rage overwhelming any possible foe. But that is not all what the Vikings were. They were explorers, people who braved the unknown and discovered new worlds in their pursuit of wealth and eternal glory. All of these things you can accomplish in Warband, but Viking Conquest does its best to add its own coat of paint to the mix, and in doing so it mostly succeeds.
Speaking of a new coat of paint, the story is definitely the biggest change from Warband to Viking Conquest. The story still throws you into the wilderness, but this time you are not attacked in the backstreets of a city; instead you are set upon by raiders at sea. Viking Conquest does a decent job of explaining the mechanics of the game before you step into it, although the games’ single player mode can still easily overwhelm the uninitiated. As mentioned before, there is an added depth to it. The story focuses on the fact that your mother and friends (via the tutorial) were murdered by a very powerful man. As the story broadens and expands, there are many choices to be made, such as whether you want to pull down a king or to potentially do the right thing and go to the defense of a village. There are ramifications for what you do, and it is quite refreshing. That isn’t to say there weren’t any of those in Warband, but it seems more focused here, as you gather an army and try to prove yourself in a harsh and unforgiving world.
The multiplayer of Viking Conquest is fun, although very similar to what has come before it. There are different spins on it, including a fun mode where players compete to become Thor, (which of course is accomplished by brutally murdering said Thor.) There is a mode where players try and survive wave after wave of enemy incursions on a single fortified location, which is commonly referred to today as a Horde or Zombie mode. The most Viking-esque mode of them all is definitely where you have two ships (each representing a different team) as they row towards each other to… you guessed it, horrifically murder and maim each other. It’s honestly kind of thrilling, jumping over to the enemy ship once they get in range, just like a real Viking would do, albeit most without the strange face and hairdo that I had for my character.
The multiplayer has all it needs to captivate, with the only real strike against it being a lack of players. Checking it as of January 23rd 2015, the game only had around 50 players when I tried to play, all of them from the European region. Some American servers do populate throughout the day, but it is something that cannot be counted on. So before you put on your custom-fitted helmet and battle armor and get ready for some pillaging, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you may not have the best experience if you hop on a European server that has anywhere from 100-125 ping. On the bright side, that helmet does look nice on you.
Viking Conquest is a game that does the best with what it has. I described it earlier as having more depth than Warband’s single-player campaign, and it is true. There are many small improvements and changes that make the game a much more pleasant and smooth experience overall, with the gameplay that Warband fanatics like myself know and love. It’s predictable in that way. Viking Conquest does what we expect it to do, although its execution is not entirely there, as bugs and crashes continue to mar its release. If you are looking for a decent story (with the occasional spelling error), and a sandbox to muck around with you could do far worse. Just be ready to wade through an ancient engine to get there, with all that entails both single and multiplayer wise.
This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on PC.
Mount & Blade: Viking Conquest is a good game, although it is not for everyone. If you loved Warband, pick this up, although be wary of potential bugs and a low multiplayer population.