Gameplay & CombatThese two subjects are inseparable in this game, since combat is the primary design of the game. The controls can be altered to whichever keys you like, though I vastly prefer the default setup. You can also choose to change displays (such as archery targetting reticule and directional indicators for melee attacks). These types of decisions will change the overall difficulty of the game. Speaking of difficulty, it is also possible to adjust what percentage of damage you take from hits from full to half, to a fourth. Choosing the latter will certainly make surviving this game a lot easier for new players. But it should also be noted that, much to the dismay of some, you cannot actually die in this game. Whenever you lose a combat you are simply knocked unconscious and much of your possessions are stripped from you. I prefer this style, since it allows me to keep a character even when defeated, and let's face it no one enjoys losing a character.
Combat is essentially you, and whatever troops you have, facing off against someone else on a gorgeously rendered, mid-sized battlefield. You can adjust the number of troops present on the battlefield so as not to overwork your machine. Combat is pretty intense, the style of which really depends on what your choice of combat style is. For myself, a medium-armoured warrior with shield and sword, combat comes down to keeping my shield up and waiting for the right moment for a few rapid strikes with my sword. Archers will find it hard to keep the enemy at bay for long, so a good back-up weapon is a must if you don't have a horse to keep moving. With a simple system of blocking and attacking the game is both enjoyable without being a simple "swing and kill" Nintendo-style combat game.
My one complaint about the combat system itself is a lack of unity and command of your soldiers. You are only given the ability to give very basic commands (such as "stay here" or "attack"). Positioning your troops, getting them to form a wall to protect archers, and other very normal combat maneuvers are completely absent in this game, which is often disheartening as you watch your newly recruited crossbowmen get cut down by enemy soldiers because your own infantry ran off to chase down a horsemen somewhere. The game would improve by huge leaps and bounds if a more thorough way to command your soldiers was implemented. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.
And let's not forget horses. This is, to my knowledge, the first combat game to really employ mounted combat. You can ride around on a horse, hacking at enemies and lancing opposing knights and footmen. The horses are beautifully rendered and definitely have a realistic look to them. My major concern, and one I have voiced to the designers themselves, is that horses seem to be targetted far too frequently. This means that horses have a pretty short lifespan, which is no fun considering their incredible expense. Getting your horse cut out from under you in every battle is incredibly annoying and I'm hoping something is done about this before the final version is released. Even so, if you download the Unofficial Editor for this game, you can give the horses higher armour values to keep them alive for much longer. So a special thanks to Taleworlds Forum member Effidian for making that editor.
Enemy AI is another issue that needs to be considered for the final release of the game. Enemies tend to crowd you and attack without any sense of morale or intelligence. They will ride horses into rivers, don't defend with their shields as they should, fire arrow after arrow without having to really aim... etc. These are relatively minor issues as the game is all about running into a group of enemies and hacking them to pieces, but it would still be nice to see your enemies behave in a more intelligent manner. As it is the enemy AI is fearless and doesn't seem to know when to stop running towards you. This causes a rather silly visual issue that many people seem to dislike where you are constantly 'backpeddling' while you fight because your enemy is consistently walking forward into you, well inside the useful range of both of your weapons.
GraphicsThe graphics in this game are really gorgeous. All of the items, especially weapons and armour, are rendered very well and despite some items being a bit overlarge, they are still lovely. A wealth of weapons and armour appear in this game and all look really great. Likewise, the people and horses in the game are gorgeous, and it would take an incredibly scrutiny to even notice that this game is independantly made rather than designed by some big company with a whole team of programmers. Bravo to the entire Taleworlds team for creating a game that is such a joy just to look at.