The appeal of mercenary company simulators is somewhat more broadly-based than other gaming genres, as they tend to (more or less) successfully blend strategic, tactical and logistical tasks into an appealing framework. Choose your work, or your targets, select your personnel, make sure everyone’s equipped, fed and getting paid, fight your battles – and maybe get some looting and pillaging in on the side.
Here are my pet picks from the genre, in no specific order.
Mount and Blade
Mount and Blade comes in two varieties: Original, and Warband. At the core, they’re essentially the same game, but pick up Warband – there are numerous improvements and additional options and career paths for the mercenary captain on the go.
Mount and Blade is set in the medieval region of Calradia, once a united kingdom, now a splintered region of petty kings and khans, with tenuous treaties, old grudges, and long memories.
Having created a character, you’ll start as the captain of a small mercenary company with a few men under your command. You can recruit more, train your troops and battle looters, bandits and raiders. You can also find individuals, with assorted specialist combat and non-combat skills, in various cities that you can hire on. These individuals have character sheets and inventories similar to your own, and are particularly effective in combat.
Each of these individuals has their own back-story, personality, advantages and disadvantages – and they don’t always get along with each-other, occasionally forcing some tough decisions about who to keep and who to let go. They may also have unique missions associated with their background that you can undertake.
Most of your time in Mount and Blade will be spent in one of several views. The 3D overland map allows you to travel more or less where you will. Absent any other missions or obligations, it’s up to you where you go and what you do. Calradia is the mollusc of your choice. You can see other companies and battles taking place in the region, if you’re close enough.
Towns and cities are a mix of menu-driven interface and 3D wandering. Some poor fools might attempt to mug you in the streets, or a belligerent tavern-goer might make a fatal mistake at times. Random events spice up the mix of gameplay.
Combat itself is 3D and (by default) third-person. Accompanied by music that wouldn’t shame the Klingon Empire, battles are real-time and energetic. Fighting from a horse (and trust me, you pretty much always want to be fighting on horseback if you can manage it) is a lot like playing polo. Keep moving, line up on your target, time it right and swing. The faster you’re moving the more force goes into your blows, and it slightly widens the window of opportunity for a successful strike (at the expense of some last-minute manoeuvrability).
Still and all, a lot of the combat mechanics are based on your characters skills, and the calculation system underneath. Early on it is tougher to make those successful strikes, but a combination of practice, improved character skills and better equipment will make quite a bit of difference. Having 50 or more armed and armoured maniacs on horses at your back doesn’t hurt either, for that matter.
Become the vassal of a king or khan, marry into power, claim a throne, carve out your own lands by taking it from others, or dominate and take it all – but make sure you can pay the bills.
There’s a free trial from the official Web-site (which can be unlocked with the purchase of a serial-key), and the game is available as a digital download from almost everyone who does that.