The Mount and Blade series is known for providing a realistic (to a fault) approach to medieval RPG gameplay, so now the developers have made an expansion into one of the pivotal eras of Europe, with a five-sided war between countries, fraught with constantly shifting alliances and betrayals. The 1650’s were also a time of technological advancement, especially with the advent of the musket and its increased use in European warfare. Does this new setting do enough to set With Fire and Sword apart from its predecessors? Or is it just Warband with guns? Read on to find out.
The game throws you into the action right away, with little explanation of how the gameplay systems work, making the first few hours quite difficult for one new to the series. I had to re-roll my character a few times at the beginning, but it was fine once I got used to how it all worked.
The single-player campaign is as open-ended as can be; there’s no real pre-written plot. A few of the missions and characters you can encounter over the course of the game indicate some inspiration from the novel the game’s based off of. (At least so it seems; I’ve never read the novel.) The game is set in a vast stretch of Europe connecting several cities such as Warsaw and Moscow. The five factions, the Cossacks, the Crimeans, the Polish, the Swedish, and the Muscovites, each want to wipe out all of the others, and each have constantly shifting alliances and betrayals. The player can choose to ally with any of the countries or become a freelance mercenary or become a rebel and set up their own country.
If one wanted to, they could join up with, say, the Polish and then rebel against them and join the Cossacks and then take all of their officials prisoner and use them as collateral to build your own nation out of what was once the Cossack nation. The game’s main appeal comes out of that openness and free choice, and it does that extremely well.
Combat takes a while to get used to. This isn’t a game in which one can take down twenty enemies single-handedly; from the very start of the game, you’ll want to hire mercenaries and soldiers to do the fighting for you. You can still fight on your own, but it’s very difficult, and chances are you’ll be taken prisoner by some bandits early on. Melee combat is reliant on timing; hold down the left-click to raise the weapon, release to attack. It’s tricky at first, but one can become very good at it with practice. Ranged weapons are more standard. The bow and arrow is a simple hold-and-release weapon, but it arcs realistically, so you’ll have to aim upward to get longer range. The musket (new to With Fire and Sword) doesn’t arc nearly as much and is much more powerful, but most of the muskets in the game are extremely inaccurate and take a long time to load. I never used muskets due to this, but at least they’re being accurate in their portrayal.
Combat also allows for tactical maneuvers with one’s army. Armies in the game can go up to over 250 men, but only a certain amount can be rendered in-game, which can lead to strange events with enemies popping up out of nowhere. The player’s army is, by default, set to division by cavalry, infantry, and marksmen, though one can set up different groupings for the army based on class, and the player uses these divisions to specifically maneuver their armies around the battlefield. I never had to get especially tactical, but I can see it being of use in certain situations.
With Fire and Sword also introduces caravans to the trading system, which allow for one to move more trading supplies than one could just do by oneself. The trading system is pretty basic; item X is in high-supply here but low-supply there, move it and sell it to make large amounts of money. I never used the caravans because moving supplies without it was easy enough and made more than enough money that it wasn’t necessary.
The single-player campaign doesn’t have any sort of set length due to that openness, so if you get really into it, it’s a hell of a value, and that’s not even including the other modes present within the game.
Custom Battle mode allows one to pit two armies against each other on preset battlegrounds or fortresses, with up to 200 men on each side and sliders for how many of them are cavalry, infantry, or marksmen. It’s mostly for practicing combat or just messing around with combat strategies. It does allow for pretty fun situations, like pitting 100 pikemen against 200 horsemen with the player cutting up their horses as a heavy swordsman, but it’s mostly just practice for combat in the single- and multi-player.
Multi-player is mostly the same as it was in Warband, except muskets have been added in. Unfortunately, due to their realistic treatment, they don’t really make much of a difference. Capture The Flag and the more tactical modes in multi-player are really fun, but Team Deathmatch is a bit overly-chaotic for my tastes. It’s quite entertaining, but it’s not much of an improvement over the last game.
The graphics are still fairly basic. I felt like I was playing a Morrowind mod from 2004 for a lot of the game, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference on the whole. It doesn’t take away anything from the experience. The game also has a pretty decent score, though it places a bit too much emphasis on the bassoon at times. It alternates between being kind of corny and appropriate throughout the game. Neither are major issues or benefits.
The only negatives I can really see is that the single-player’s pacing is pretty glacial. Even if you open up the console and go crazy with it, the game’s still very slow. Trading and following military campaigns take a while, mostly due to the time it takes to cross the massive map. Even many battles are slow-paced due to the pop-ins. It’s not for everyone, and it can really grate on one over time, making it a difficult game to get into for some. The game also doesn’t do much to separate itself from its predecessor, Warband. There aren’t enough additions to justify a $15 upgrade.
Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword is full of unique, intelligent mechanics, but it lacks in entertainment for a lot of the experience. Its setting is brilliant, and there’s a lot to appreciate about it, but it’s a tough game for one to get into. If you can handle old-school RPGs and a more slow-paced, thoughtful game, Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword is a good purchase, but chances are you already have Warband. If so, you’re better off spending your money elsewhere. This is a good game for newcomers to the series, but for owners of Warband, it’s too much money for too little of an improvement.
- Game: Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword
- Platform Reviewed: PC
- Developer: TaleWorlds
- Publisher: Paradox Interactive
- Release Date: May 3, 2011
- MSRP: $15
- Review Copy Info: A download code for this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.