A Mount and Blade: Warband mod might be the best Game of Thrones game we’ll ever get

A long time ago Bethesda was offered a chance to make an open world Game of Thrones title, which would theoretically have taken players on a massive open world adventure through George R.R. Martin’s world of dragons, politics, and frosty zombies. The offer never came to anything because Bethesda wanted to continue to expand on their own world and lore, which resulted in Skyrim, arguably one of the greatest games to be created in the last decade.

That said, since Bethesda turned down the gig, the Game of Thrones IP has been busy with pretty much everything except developing an open world experience set in Westeros, which has prompted fans to take matters into their own hands.

Specifically, this comes in the form of a Mount and Blade: Warband mod called A World of Ice and Fire, and although it’s not the only Mount and Blade: Warband mod taking on the task of creating Westeros’ unique world in graphic detail, it’s easily one of the most impressive we’ve seen to date.

Exploring Westeros

Mount and Blade: Warband might seem like an unusual choice for a Game of Thrones mod if you haven’t dived into it personally, and we admit that there’s no doubt that it’s not the prettiest horse in the pasture, but it suits the world of ice and fire particularly well.

Mount and Blade: Warband is a unique RPG that blends the strategy of tabletop RPGs like Total War with the ability to take the field with your army as your character to hack and slash alongside your troops. You can raise an army from peasants to knights, stake your claim on a province, join up with another army or kingdom, or even just amass wealth by traveling the kingdom as a merchant.

Essentially, you’re free to play a variety of playstyles as far as the game is willing to allow, but you’ll need the coin, the men, and the raw skill swinging a sword to make things happen. It’s this versatility that makes Mount and Blade: Warband the perfect setting for a Game of Thrones mod, because it lets you experience the cruel world of Westeros, with plenty of options in terms of how you play, while still forcing you to conform to the realities of a world that doesn’t care that you’re a player.

And it really is Westeros, every significant location in the game from Winterfell to King’s Landing can be found on the main map, with familiar characters and events to match. Periodically as you play your character will be invited to or notified of key events like the Red Wedding and Eddard Stark’s execution. Some of these events you can attend if you’re in the area, and because it’s a modded experience the quality varies wildly, but it’s a nice touch that reminds you what world you’re dealing with.

A cold, brutal world

That said, anyone that knows the books, or the HBO series knows that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps in a world of wolves, stags, and Lannister’s is particularly difficult, even more so when you start as a lowly peasant with little coin or renown to your name.

There’s no doubt that A World of Ice and Fire is painfully difficult even for a community that loves cranking the difficulty of their mods to eleven. I’ve easily put in a thousand hours in the base game and conquered every inch of the main campaign and the Viking map, but A World of Ice and Fire is on another level.

The base difficulty is so realistic it’s practically suicidal to even look at bandits and gathering a warband takes paying careful attention to your renown as well as who you recruit and challenge. Battles force you to take a hands-off approach to combat, because even a single hit can give you a deadly stat breaking wound that’s costly to get healed.

The result is a world that forces you to abandon the traditional style of recruiting an army, training it to elite status, and then railroading anything in your way. You’re forced to function in Westeros as a proper citizen until you can rise through the ranks of martial nobility to start influencing the course of events.

As a result, you become a small piece on the playing field, a humble spectator to many atrocities and events, until you can find a way to amass enough power to finally put your boot to the throat of those that wronged you. You’re tossed into a world that doesn’t care what you do, who you are, or how you do it, but has no problem railroading you if you lack the skills or abilities to survive.

In our playthrough we started out feeling a lot like Bronn from the HBO series, then became a merchant warlord by the end when we realized we were nowhere near as good with a sword. We joined up with an army to get some money and gear, trained our character in a variety of wars, and finally ditched the lord and took our pay to start a warband.

When we died, a lot, we flipped around and did it again and used our pay to start up a merchant caravan and continue to upgrade our horse and gear. We eventually collected a group of hero characters like Brienne of Tarth and used their skills to keep the caravan alive, but it was incredibly difficult, and we lost loot, companions, and plenty of health over the course of a series of long trade runs.

All the while, we could see Lannister and Stark armies trading blows, watch as the Flayed Man took over the north after the Red Wedding, hear rumors of a Targaryen queen, and fight everything from Tully’s to robber knights as Westeros tore itself apart.

The sheer size and scope of A World of Ice and Fire is impressive on its own, but for a fan-based mod what’s really impressive is how dedicated the mod author Produno is to doing justice not just to the subject matter but to the grim, cut-throat tone we all know so well. It’s an attention to detail and difficulty that pays off by making you feel like you’re actively struggling to survive not just in a game, but in Westeros itself.

If you’re interested in diving into the mod yourself, it’s available on its Moddb page and the Steam Workshop.