"Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword builds on the sandbox gameplay of its predecessors and provides a deep, hour-devouring experience for those who enjoy the history of early modern warfare in Europe and the revolutionary changes in how war was fought in that period."
Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword is the newest release in the increasingly popular Mount and Blade franchise from TaleWorlds and Paradox Interactive. Although similar in many ways to its predecessor M&B: Warband, With Fire and Sword introduces early gunpowder warfare into the equation. Of course, as was true in history, this novel form of warfare brings drastic changes to battlefield tactics. Although you’ll still see mobs of soldiers engaging one another in chaotic melee combat, the addition of musketeers makes for more widespread and scattered action when battles take place. Beyond this major change to gameplay, M&B: With Fire and Sword builds on the sandbox gameplay of its predecessors and provides a deep, hour-devouring experience for those who enjoy the history of early modern warfare in Europe and the revolutionary changes in how war was fought in that period.
The story of the game is based on a Russian novel called “The Black Hetman” by Alexander Trubnikov and also Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “With Fire and Sword” novel published in Poland. In other words, the storyline is well thought out and works within the historically-based mid-17th century setting of the game. The player will have the opportunity to ally with one of five factions seeking control of the region which is now Ukraine. Only three of the five factions have their own storylines, while the other two are focused primarily on conquest of the entire region. Given the amount of time it takes to complete one storyline (I am still working on my 50+ hour Crimean Khanate conquer all campaign), With Fire and Sword would certainly require a great amount of hours to complete entirely.
For those who have never played a Mount and Blade title, With Fire and Sword can be a little unfriendly at start up. There is little direction provided for the player when you begin a single-player game. At this point however, the player has the option to do a wide array of different tasks in this large sandbox world. You can start off working your way from village to village taking up odd jobs like retrieving cattle or hunting down local bandits. Soon after, you will be ready to take quests from mayors and nobles doing things like escorting caravans across the region or capturing hostages for your allies. Every quest you fulfill will give you experience and a little bit of thaler, the currency in the game. Experience is distributed among your party as well. Although you are restricted to your own character in battles, you can recruit different mercenaries from taverns found within each city and fortress. Mercenaries are special characters whom can be equipped from items within your own character’s inventory and skill points distributed upon leveling up. Players must make use of mercenaries early on because the top three skills of each mercenary can be counted towards the entire party thus giving you a clearer picture of what to invest valuable skill points in (although this is not true for every skill). Regular troops can be recruited from many different areas in the game and they also benefit from gaining experience. Rookie troops can turn into seasoned veterans if they survive enough battles or receive enough training. Troops recruited from mercenary camps can have their equipment upgraded as well, provided you have some deep pockets.
The battles have always been one of the most thrilling aspects of Mount and Blade, and With Fire and Sword is no exception. As previously mentioned, the addition of early gunpowder weapons certainly changes some of the chaotic melee-focused gameplay of the previous games. Musketeers are indeed essential to any standing army you put together. However, the addition of guns also brings lots of new thrilling experiences into battle at well. Gun-fighting on horseback is very much like dog-fighting in aircraft. It's really a joy to ride up behind an enemy and gun him down just before he strikes one of your own. The parry (blocking) system works well enough that when used in the right situations it can mean the difference between victory and surrender. The ability to equip up to four different weapons means you will never get too bored on the battlefield, and even then you may choose to have the battles simulated for you.
Other features such as building your own caravan and the ability to upgrade villages and cities are good methods to increase your income. These cash sources are the best way to accumulate the money needed to buy top shelf equipment for you and your party members. There is a lot of equipment to choose from and much of it has some historical basis. The player can also get into fistfights with pub patrons for a little extra thaler and experience. With every fight you win your character builds his fighting skill, and can then take on other, more talented, less drunk, pub patrons across the map. These are small things that, nevertheless, add to the depth of With Fire and Sword.
While the gameplay is as engrossing as it is, With Fire and Sword does have some imperfections. For one, the graphics and animations are by no means state-of-the-art. The game looks great at high resolution but there are never any really jaw-dropping visuals. Caravan and escort missions require laborious clicking due to the fact that there is no way to control the speed by which you move around the map. This adds to the fact that the game is a very long grind. It takes a long, long time to build up a force capable of knocking out the more formidable foes on the map. This is made more difficult due to the fact that as you get past level 18 or so, it becomes very difficult to level up with any meaning as the reward for leveling up is always the same (1 attribute point, 1 skill point, and 10 weapon proficiency points). Attempting to run a successful military campaign is also made difficult by indecisive ally AI. Too often are you in a position to steam roll through enemy towns if only your allies would band together and fight with you. This makes the goal of conquering the entire map much harder. These quirks aside, With Fire and Sword remains a very enjoyable title that can be played many different ways.
Multiplayer in Mount and Blade is quite fun as well. There is a wide array of different modes to choose from and each has its own entertainment value. The most popular modes are most likely Captain Team Deathmatch and Captain Co-op. These modes allow you to recruit your own army to fight with teammates against other players or the AI respectively. There is a persistent feel to these modes as you continue to get more kills (and thus more thaler), your army will continue to get larger and stronger as you make the appropriate purchases. All in all, the multiplayer in With Fire and Sword provides plenty of good times and laugh out loud moments and is a great way to spice things up should single-player become stale.
Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword is a really great title and will likely remain under the radar for most gamers. The combination of historical accuracy, Sid Meiers’ quality gameplay (very similar to Pirates!), and addictive grinding makes With Fire and Sword a worthy addition to any gamer’s collection. My only hope is that I can beat the Crimean Khanate objective of conquering all before I hit the 100 hour mark. I guess it’s time to get back on the horse again.