Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword Preview
With the market flooded with dragons, wizards, and elves, we sometimes forget that it’s possible to have fun in a medieval setting without introducing fantasy elements. Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword is a stand-alone sequel to the action RPG that had us battling through the Middle Ages with naught but a trusty steed and human determination.
With Fire & Sword maintains the core elements of its predecessor, letting you play the role of a mercenary who can align himself with one of five warring factions as he grows his army, gains notoriety, and eventually becomes a ruler that lays siege to enemy cities. This time, the setting is the 17th Century, when western Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries waged war across the lands of Sweden, Muscovy, the Polish Republic, the Zaporozhian Army, and the Crimean Khanate. The alliances you forge feel more meaningful than picking between Generic Fantasy Name A and Generic Fantasy Name B because you know that these are real, historical cultures whose legacies live on today.
New to the series is the titular “fire”–gunpowder. Guns are generally one shot, one kill weapons, but with a reload time of roughly six seconds, they are far from overpowered. The trusty bow remains a viable option because, although an arrow deals a fraction of the damage of a bullet, the increased rate of fire keeps it competitive.
When you start the singleplayer campaign, you’re prompted to customize your mercenary’s appearance, then taken to an in-depth character creation process reminiscent of old tabletop RPGs. A variety of build options adds replay value to the singleplayer campaign by allowing you to create multiple characters with different specialties. And not all choices boil down to combat options–yes, many are skills that directly or indirectly aid in battle, but you can also create a character skilled at trading, diplomacy, or tracking.
After a brief tutorial sequence that acquaints you with combat mechanics, you’re directed to a nearby settlement for your first quest. But the beauty of this game‘s open world is that you are not confined to a linear plotline–you can pick and choose your quests. Don’t like delivery quests? No problem! You can tell the quest-giver that such petty matters are beneath you. You can be a merchant that amasses wealth; you can be a diplomat that forges alliances; you can be a warrior that grows an army–or you can be all of the above. Regardless of the choices you make, villages are looted, cities are besieged, and the war rages on around you.
Apart from the single-player campaign, a custom battle mode lets you practice your combat skills and test out different army compositions, and a multiplayer option (which was sadly unavailable in this preview version of With Fire & Sword) lets you take on human opponents in a variety of game modes.
For an indie game, With Fire & Sword looks good. The graphics can’t rival those of AAA shooters, but the execution of the artistic style makes it work–it’s not about how many polygons you have; it’s about how you use them. The UI is somewhat lackluster, and the dialogue could be improved, but at the end of the day, this game is fun, and I’m excited about the multiplayer.
Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword is due for release on PC this spring.