Paradox returns with its latest iteration of the Mount & Blade franchise, but if you are looking for a revamped expansion that is going reinvent the Mount and Blade formula, then you might find yourself a little bit disappointed. “With Fire and Sword” keeps things familiar while adding enough (like the addition of firearms) to change the recipe up a bit.
If you are a newcomer to Mount & Blade, allow me to catch you up to speed. Mount & Blade is an open ended, action role playing game, set in medieval times. The game is very action oriented, and there is an emphasis on mounted combat. At the start of the single-player campaign you will find yourself dropped into a sandbox world map, and the sheer scope of the world and your ambiguous objectives can be rather daunting. The game keeps you on a loose leash and really allows you to pursue your own agenda, but the amount of freedom that Mount & Blade gives the player is a double edged sword.
You will still find yourself traveling from town to town on the world map, inquiring about possible quests from mayors and village elders. Not much has changed in terms of character progression. Your objective is to rise up from humble peasantry, and amass an army of your own. At the beginning of the game you will feel weak, and getting hounded by bandits continuously can be frustrating, but if you persevere through the tribulations of being poor and unskilled, you can ascend the ranks and become quite the force yourself. Mount & Blade requires a bit of mental resilience, but if you can see past a few surface flaws you’ll find a deep, enriched action RPG with a lot to offer for a meager $15.
As stated, Mount & Blade is very action oriented, but before you have a chance to lacerate the throat of your first bandit, you’ll have to play with a few sliders in the character creation menu. Surprisingly, the character creation tools are fairly deep and there’s enough there to really make your character authentic.
Past aesthetics, there is the deep RPG element of character progression. Through leveling up you’ll be able to allocate points into specific attributes. This is the first great thing about Mount & Blade; you get to choose the angle you take in combat. If you desire up close sword duels then you can skill in that direction, or if firing projectiles from horseback is more of your style than you can do that also, there’s a lot of variety in your approach to combat.
Once you’ve created a total badass, the game will run you through a short tutorial, teaching you the basics of combat, but it won’t be long before you are dropped into the open world and deprived of your training wheels.
So if I had to sum up the single-player experience, I’d say the majority of your gameplay will revolve around scavenging for quests from town to town to gain money and other resources. These quests will range from escorting cattle between cities, to slaying bandits that are harassing the perimeter of a town. The world map hosts a simplistic presentation, and when you engage in battles with other parties, you will be instanced to a battlefield. You are always informed of the quantity of enemies that awaits you, and in most cases, especially early on, you will be outmatched. A good way to balance the odds is to hire mercenaries in the taverns of towns to join your party. You’re aiming to slowly grow a large army and compete for territory on the map, and you’ll need currency to get this started.
My main gripe with the game is that you feel incredibly underpowered in the beginning because you lack the manpower to defend yourself against the hordes of bandits that ambush you on the world map. You need money to hire soldiers to fight by your side, but bandits take you prisoner when you lose a fight and steal your money. This alone makes the beginning of your journeys rather turbulent and frustrating. If you can grind your way past the newbie hardships, things even out and you eventually feel empowered as you lead armies into battle.
Combat in Mount & Blade is as engaging and rewarding as it’s always been. You will click the left mouse button to rear your sword back and release the button to strike. Respectively, you will be holding the right mouse button to block. Timing is still crucial to the combat in Mount & Blade, and the main addition to the combat in “With Fire and Sword” is firearms. I found the firearms to be unfavorable in most combat scenarios due to their realistic reload times. You’re looking at reloading for a solid six seconds in between shots, and you can only do that so many times before you feel the itch to whip out your sword and take care of business. Realistically, the combat is a bit sluggish and takes some time to get used to, but it is satisfying enough to never feel too repetitive.
Cranked up on the game’s highest settings, I would have to say it looks decent. Mount & Blade’s shortcomings in graphics are excused due to its deep RPG intricacies, but there isn’t the amount of visual detail I would have liked in a game like this. The textures aren’t of the highest resolution and there is a good deal of repetition from town to town with the infrastructure. Although, character models look ok and the fighting animations are fluid. Mount & Blade has its moments visually; just don’t expect the type of visuals you are used to on current generation consoles.
The game has a pretty straightforward score that follows the medieval theme, and it blends in well with the action. The music never becomes repetitive or annoying, and suits the game nicely. In combat, the sounds of gunfire, swords clashing, and grunting soldiers all sound great. Hearing the sounds of battle can be invigorating and Mount & Blade does a great job immersing you in the auditory sense.
The multiplayer of Mount & Blade can be its most exciting feature. If the frustrations of single player diplomacy turn you off, you can jump right into the action of multiplayer, which focuses entirely on combat. This can be a valued aside to the single player offerings, but unfortunately I failed to take the multiplayer too seriously due to balancing issues. Those who primarily focus on ranged combat with projectiles tend to have the upper hand. It’s hard to take down a guy shooting a rifle from a horse, when you are chasing him on foot with a short-sword.
Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword is a lot like its predecessors, and adds only mild improvements over Warband. You are still getting the same tried-and-true formula you’ve come to expect from Mount & Blade. If you enjoyed the previous installments, With Fire and Sword is worth the $15, or if you are new to Mount & Blade, this is a great place to start at a budget price. Where the game lacks in presentation it makes up for in gameplay. The combat and RPG elements of the game are deep enough to make you see past all of Mount & Blade’s flaws, and appreciate an ambitious game that has a lot to offer you at a reasonable price. You definitely get what you pay for in Mount & Blade, and I mean that in the best possible way.
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