Mount & Blade: With Fire And Sword Review

By Colin Tan on May 13, 2011

Those who have never experienced the Mount and Blade series before may be taken aback by quite a few aspects of the game. The graphics aren't quite top notch, and the general framework of the game can feel a little strange for those who aren't quite familiar with a similar series like Might and Magic. Similarly it's latest expansion With Fire and Sword can be equally hard to simply pick up if one is not accustomed to an older style of game design. But despite all these issues, Mount and Blade remains to be an extremely engrossing series, one which has an amazing amount of depth to offer players.

Much like typical RPGs of any style, players start off by choosing the typical character traits, facial features and hair color. Players also get to select an impressive string of statistics, all of which highlight attributes that will make a character more effective at various skills. Base stats can be levelled up and made more effective, which then increases the maximum level that trade/trait skills can be trained from in addition to providing players with more options for weapon skills. Keeping the three sets of statistics separate allows players to clearly see what impact they'll be having on the development of their character, which is quite handy as the variety in game can make things a bit daunting to start with. This isn't because some skills are naturally more complex than others, or because the game requires a certain level of skill to play, but because all the skills have a particular situational utility that makes them all valuable at one point or another.

For example, players can choose to specialize in various means of negotiation ranging from trade haggling to party building; and assuming that players have nothing they would like to invest in when it comes to these secondary skills, there are plenty of combat skills to invest points in as well. It's completely possible, as a result, to create a character tailor made to handle just about any kind of scenario. Couple this with a pretty large, although repetitive, amount of quests in game and players should find an extremely deep and engrossing experience that will vary greatly depending on what path an individual takes.

Set in the 17th century, With Fire and Sword gives players the opportunity to fight for control over Eastern Europe by allying themselves with one of the few local factions. Building a reputation by doing quests to help the locals, warding off bandits and generally just by making decisions will help players on their quest to unify the region. While none of these things are particularly new to the Mount and Blade series there are a few interesting additions that WFAS has to offer. First and foremost being the addition of guns, which replace bows as the ranged weapon of choice.

Priding itself as a fairly realistic combat simulator of the era, it's fair enough to say that the gun is slightly overpowered. Assuming it hits, it's an instant kill and rightfully so, considering how damaging a bullet can be, and though loading it can take a little while players will naturally find that success in the game really orients around how well one manages combat around the gunplay. Picking off enemies as they ride or run over to you is quite effective, but likewise the enemy will have no shame in firing on your position as often as possible, provided of course they have access to the weapon. Learning when to hold ground and fire, and when to actually charge the enemy defines victory in a series that previously allowed the use of both range and melee quite liberally, giving WFAS a very different feel.That being said, for as interesting the combat system is and for as detailed the game's story and RPG elements may be, WFAS is a game that is absolutely brutalized by its underdeveloped portions. The largest issue at hand would be the graphics, which are almost inexcusably poor. Character models are pretty underwhelming, and one would imagine that with such absolutely solid combat mechanics in play there would be more time and effort put into polishing the games overall look. It's quite the contrary, the visuals are so dated one almost has to wonder if this was done intentionally.

Combat suffers in quite a different way, as the melee and mounted are as solid as they ever were in the series. The addition of rifles, effectiveness of grenades, and general AI make things quite different, however, especially when one takes the ranged side of combat into consideration. Where staying in a group and charging heroically into combat would suffice in a world where the bow and arrow could only cause minimal damage, firearms are strong enough to discourage almost any kind of charge from the very beginning. The moment managing troops boils down to finding the best way to micromanage various weapon types to simply seeing how many enemies it's possible to kill before they even reach you is when it's clear that this expansion is taking quite a different leap away from the prior titles in the series. While this sort of combat is more or less realistic to the time period, it doesn't always make for fun gameplay.

Simply put, the gunplay makes the combat feel a bit boring. It's entertaining at first, but slowly starts to wear down on the player and considering how many various flaws exist in the title, having combat become monotonous on any level is bad news. Perhaps it would be a little more forgivable if the AI was tweaked in some way to make up for the general lack of strategy involved in using firearms. Having to shoot at an enemy that's slowly panning out to cut off escape, or using their own firearms to strategically fight back is one thing, but enemies simply grouping together for easy kiting makes scenarios that should normally be an adrenaline rush an absolute joke.

Multiplayer is still intact in the series, though how engaging it is remains to be pretty subjective. Players still engage one another in a relatively open environment, gain control of a small band of NPCs and are more than welcome to kill one another with reckless abandon. If you're the type of person to enjoy what generally winds up being a hectic free-for-all in a historically accurate time period, than it's hard to ask for much more as combat is really one of WFAS's strongest features, despite the flawed gunplay. With an obviously different range of issues than the single player campaign, the multiplayer at least exists as a fun alternative for those who have bested some of the offline modes more difficult trials. If nothing else, the sheer number of players that can participate in a fight (up to 64) is impressive on its own. Having a variety of game types is just another
bonus.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this latest expansion still falls prey to quite a few issues on its own. The graphics are poor, gameplay a little unbalanced, the AI is underdeveloped, and various bugs sprinkled throughout the entire experience make the overall experience lacking in quite a few areas. But all that aside, there's something pretty charming about the game. Perhaps it's the genuine attempt at some kind of historical accuracy, or maybe it's the general development of the world that catches one's attention. It could also be the fact that combat, outside of the guns themselves, is actually quite fun. Either way you look at it, Mount and Blade: For Fire and Sword can have quite a lasting appeal. It's just a shame to have to look past so many flaws to really appreciate it.

Solid combat mechanics.
Character progression is a rather deep affair.
The setting is still one of the more charming aspects of the series.
Gunplay can get rather boring.
The graphics are terrible.
Underdeveloped AI.
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