Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword (PC) Preview
Posted by Vince Osorio on 05.03.2011
The third entry in the popular Mount & Blade series, Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword, is set for release in mid-May, but how is it stacking up so far? 411's Vince Osorio takes a look with his hands-on preview of the game!
The Mount & Blade series came out of nowhere for many PC gamers. Developed by TaleWorlds (which, at the time, consisted of a wife/husband pair who programmed and released a beta by themselves), Mount & Blade is a "medieval simulator" with a focus on timing-based, mounted combat. There are no fantasy elements (as opposed to the heavily unrealistic Elder Scrolls series) and no real storyline to speak of; you can create a warrior from scratch and travel the lands, making friends or enemies along the way. Released in late 2008, the game was met with mixed (but mostly positive) reviews and solid sales figures, which eventually led to a stand-alone expansion pack in 2010: Mount & Blade: Warband. In many ways, I found Warband to be one of the most addicting PC games I've ever played, if only due to the fantastic online multiplayer component (which was sorely lacking in the original Mount & Blade release). The series has a lot of problems, I'll admit, but the scope of the combat, especially in a multiplayer setting, is second-to-none.
With that said, I eagerly awaited the release of Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword, which is absolutely unlike me, since (ironically enough), I just about loathe anything to do with medieval times (the restaurant in Buena Park is pretty awesome, however). But I digress. Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword is another stand-alone expansion to the original Mount & Blade release. In case you're asking yourself why the subtitle looks familiar, that's because the game is a loose adaptation of the Henryk Sienkiewicz novel of the same name. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the novel, but from what I can tell, it's a fictionalized take on the Khmelnytsky Uprising/Ukranian war on Poland which took place in the mid 17th century. The game itself (from the trial version that I played) uses this conflict as a backdrop for the open-world aspects of the game. You can align yourself with one of the five different European factions, roam the land as mercenary for hire, or even head your own empire if you wanted.
The beginning hour of the game will be extremely familiar to Mount & Blade fans. If you absolutely have no experience with the game however, I'll explain the basics to you. You can name and create your own character with a fairly in-depth character creator (my character takes the namesake of the now-former WWE Champion, The Miz), assign a small amount of attributes to your warrior, then you are thrust upon a small conflict in a town near Poland. You are given a sword as a number of ragabonds began to attack you from all sides. This is the first instance of Mount & Blade's combat system in practice. Basically, you click the left mouse button to draw your sword, then pull the mouse in a direction as to simulate winding up and swinging your weapon. The same motions are made to parry or block your opponent's attack, except the right mouse button is used instead. The combat is very much focused on proper timing (if you're familiar with the game Demon's Souls, the combat will feel natural to you) and it's both incredibly daunting and rewarding in equal measure. For example, it might be smart to parry your opponent's attack, leaving his torso open, then pulling your mouse back in a stabbing motion. If your opponent is blocking his right side, it might be wise to swing your sword to the left.
After this quick "training" session, you set off on your journey, riding your steed, visiting towns, taking on odd jobs, trading with the locals and creating your own army of loyal co-horts- all in a top-down perspective (which differs from the third-person "behind-the-back" viewpoint taken in battle). You click anywhere on the map and you'll travel there as other looters, soldiers and townfolk move about the land in real-time. There's a multitude of other seemingly "complex" decisions you can make as well. You can make rumors from random villagers, set up camp to boost team morale, sell prisoners you've taken hostage from battle, spar with drunkards in the local tavern, and even get married (if you'd be so inclined to do so). That barely scratches the surface of what you can do in Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword.
By far the biggest addition to With Fire & Sword has to be the use of guns in combat. Since the game takes place in the post-Medieval period, the game lets your warrior have access to a range of different pistols, rifles and explosive equipment in battle. Before hardcore Mount & Blade fans cry foul, hear me out. The use of guns are a smart addition to the series. While on the surface, they are used in a similar manner to the bow-and-arrow the previous games, the guns have a much different feel to them. First off, with the exception of the marksman rifle, the guns are largely inaccurate from a far distance. Second, it could take up to ten seconds to reload your weapon, while it might only take half as long to set up a bow-and-arrow.
However, unlike the bow-and-arrow, the pistol and the rifle are deadly up close, often resulting in a one-hit kill more often than not. It's very satisfying to pick off an attacker with a perfectly-timed head shot. I wasn't able to get my hands on any of the grenades available in the trial before I hit the level cap, but I'd imagine they'd work in the way that you'd expect. The only problem I might have with the guns in this game will be their use in the multiplayer setting (the trial version I played unfortunately had no multiplayer option just yet). It'd be a sad sight to see everyone choosing the rifleman character and just playing through a skirmish as if it was an extremely slow-paced, post-medieval take on the Counter-Strike formula. However, I for one, welcome this new weapon choice in the game with open arms.
With my time spent on Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword, I can see that it's more of an incremental upgrade to the tried-and-true formula that the series has nearly-perfected at this point. A lot of the menu options, graphical details, animations and dialogue choices are similar (if not the same) as in the last game. However, for myself (and for a multitude of Mount & Blade fans), "more of the same" is exactly what I want from the game. The addition of firearms is a smart gameplay decision, and the extra options you can take in the single-player game make this even more compelling than previous games. Overall, the game is shaping up quite nicely, and I'm looking forward to what very well could be my new Summer addiction.