Step Back to Reality
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the informal use of the word 'addict' as “an enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity.” By that definition, I am a Mount&Blade addict. Since 2005, Taleworlds have been working hard on their franchise and are soon to release the second addition to the series, entitled: Mount&Blade: With Fire and Sword. I have been playing the game for a while now and must say that I am enjoying it, but am at the same time worried that it may not be as accessible to newcomers as its predecessors were.
The game's predecessor, Mount&Blade: Warband, gave players the freedom to roam around the fantasy kingdom of Calradia, amass an army, marry into a noble family, swear allegiance to a king, manage a fiefdom, be a trader, a bounty hunter, or a vicious pillager. It was all up to you. The game gave you the freedom to play it exactly as you saw fit. That is still the case in With Fire and Sword, but the game does feel a bit more restricted to begin with. Set in the real world this time around, the game takes place in Eastern Europe in the 17th century and its setting is loosely based on the Polish historical novel: “Ogniem i mieczem” or “Fire and Sword”.
Steep Difficulty Curve
This game is hard, and it is therefore no surprise that Taleworlds have opted to add a difficulty setting this time around. Granted, you could customise the damage settings in the previous games as well, but in this one, the first option presented to you when starting a new game is the difficulty setting. To begin with, I though to myself: “I'm a Mount&Blade veteran. I'll set it to 'Hard'”. About five paces after completing the tutorial I encountered a group of bandits, consisting of 4 men. I thought to myself: “This will be like shooting fish in a barrel”. The first bullet fired was theirs and it knocked me unconscious. One bullet; that was the extent of that playthrough. 'Easy' proved to be the optimal choice for me, as it allowed me to finally get a group of men together and cause some serious damage.
No More Rambo
The graphics are very similar to Warband, which means that they are no eye candy, but they aren't trying to be either. The graphics serve well to immerse the player in the world presented, and nobody plays this game for its graphics. We play it for the highly immersive combat system. The guns do feel a bit over-powered at times, especially to begin with. Riding hard against a group of musketeers with a pistol in one hand while wearing a cotton suit is a very sure way of getting yourself killed. Whereas 'Ramboing it' in Warband proved not only successful, but a hell-of-a-lot of fun, in With Fire and Sword a bit more thought is needed when it comes to combat, as everyone and their grandmother appears to be packing heat.
The guns are, however, not the holy hand-grenade they appear to be at first glance. They are very inaccurate and have a dreadfully long reloading time. They are also more uncomfortable to use in long-range situations, as you can't use the first bullet to judge the rate of fall as you can with bows and arrows, making every shot a proverbial 'shot in the dark'. When that bullet finally hits however, a bandit, looter, or a low ranking soldier will go down in one shot. The higher levelled ones, wearing metal armour, will take a few more shots to take down. Too bad I never got to experience that for myself, as reaching level 6 triggered a message stating that if I wanted to advance further in the game, I would have to activate it. This made me realise that the 'preview' version distributed by Paradox was nothing more than a trial. Tsk-tsk Paradox. That is just lazy...
Another welcome addition in With Fire and Sword is the new army system. This time around, instead of recruiting peasants from villages and training them through battle, you hire professional mercenaries from mercenary camps and buy every piece of armour and weaponry they have through the camps. This allows the player full control of the outfitting of his army, but does mean that when a unit levels up, it will not automatically get better equipment. Having a well equipped and powerful army is an expensive undertaking, and amassing the funds needed to get there usually requires a well equipped and powerful army. You'll need to be smart about your finances if you want to keep a strong force in this game.
The Thinking Man's Addition
With Fire and Sword is a very enjoyable experience, but it is a thinking man's game. Those who loved to ride head first into a group of soldiers with a battle axe and a shield in Warband might want to stick with that. This time around, you'll need to manage your army, and yelling “CHARGE!!!” and forgetting about them will be tantamount to surrender. When the army has been amassed, however, and the musketeers lined up on the front line with the cavalry waiting behind them to charge forward once the order is given, every victory will prove that much more satisfying. This game introduces a new world to play through, a new level of micro management through the new army system, and a new level of tactical combat through the introduction of firearms. For the pure action seeking megalomaniac however, there is always Warband.