Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword (PC)




Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Complex, rewarding game
Cons: Fairly steep learning curve, terrible audio

Introduction

Always on the lookout for new games, I stumbled upon a YouTube video featuring a game called Mount & Blade: Warband. I had never heard of this game before, but it looked pretty interesting so I picked it up and boy was I glad I did. I played the heck out of Warband, and I liked it so much that I picked up the stand-alone expansion, Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword. Mount & Blade: Warband is itself a stand-alone sequel to the original Mount & Blade, but I do not have the first one. While I don't enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed Warband, With Fire and Sword is still a terrific game and definitely worth playing. Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword is developed by TaleWorlds and published by Paradox Interactive, who also published Majesty 2.

Gameplay

Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword is predominately an action role playing game and takes place during 17th century Eastern Europe. Like Total War: Shogun 2 however, there are two pretty distinct game modes built into one game. First of all, there's a world map overview where you move your character with his army around, visiting villages and castles, fighting other units, escorting caravans or hunting down bandits. There's a day/night cycle, and units travel slower at night as well as having the distance at which they can see other units decreased. All units on the map move simultaneously, and when you stop moving the game automatically pauses and the world stops.

Then when you enter any type of battle, the other game mode kicks in. This is a third person (toggleable to first person) mode where you control your main character and use whatever weapons, armor and horse you may have equipped to engage in an epic battle with sometimes hundreds of opponents. This can take place anywhere on the map, and the terrain in different areas really effects the outcome. If you have a lot of cavalry troops, you're going to have a rough time in a hilly area because your horses move really slowly while moving up and down hills. Archers standing on top of a hill have a distinct advantage firing arrows down, etc. The battles can also take place in castles, whether you're sieging the castle to take it for yourself or whether you're defending it from an opponent.

There are 5 different factions, and you can join any or none of them, or even start your own. You can accept quests from village elders or castle lords to gain reputation with them and their factions or can send out caravans to earn money. Kill roaming bandits for experience and loot they equipment they drop, use some of it, sell the rest to markets. Characters level up and can improve their base stats of strength, agility, intelligence and charisma. They can also learn and improve a variety skills such as Trade, Shooting from Horseback, Prisoner Management, or use of a Shield. You gain proficiency with different weapons as you use them, allowing you to become better with them. You can also spend proficiency points with every level up to make them go up even faster.

You can recruit basic troops in towns, or go to mercenary camps to recruit better troops. They gain experience as they level, and advance from recruits to veteran troops, etc. You can equip them with better weapons, armor, horses, etc at the camps as well. You must pay your troops wages every week out of your available gold, and more experienced and more useful troops cost more money. You can issues orders to your troops via the function keys, telling them to charge or to hold this position, spread out, follow you, etc. You can give these orders to only certain groups of troops so your archers hold position on top of a hill, your cavalry try to flank the enemy and your infantry charge up the middle, etc. It takes some getting used to as the interface is a lot of text-based commands with different function keys, but if you can get the hang of it, it works well enough.

There's a pretty steep learning curve, and the addition of firearms to With Fire and Sword (they weren't present in Warband) makes the beginning a little tougher. In Warband, a well equipped player could charge into a group of enemies and dispatch many of them single-handedly. With the firearms in With Fire and Sword, I found myself often getting one-shot by an enemy gunman and losing the battle right away. Even if you have a good sized army, when you die and your troops fight without you they kind of suck and never do well at all against superior numbers. In Warband, I often took 30 or 40 heavy cavalry troops with me and took on armies 200 strong and usually suffered only 1 or 2 casualties. This game is quite a bit more difficult, but in a way it makes the game a little more realistic and requires more strategy to do well.

One game I started, I had only recruited 10 troops so far and I was attacked by 40 bandits. They immediately killed me and my troops and took me prisoner. They wandered the map for a while with me in town, until I "found a chance to slip away" but I lost some gold and my horse in the process apparently. I was stuck alone with no troops, and there were more bandits in the area whom immediately recaptured me and wandered the map for a while again. My character's map travel speed was slower than the bandits, so I could do nothing to get away. Finally after 4 sets of bandits captured me, I was able to make it to a town and slowly start working my way back to a playable state.

A lot of people really like the multiplayer mode, where you can have epic battles between hundreds of players, but it's just not for me. It only uses the action battle portion of the game, and lets players hack it out amongst themselves without all of the army building, reputation gaining part. Multiplayer features a number of different game modes, including Captain, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Conquest, Capture the Flag, Battle and Siege.

Graphics & Sound

The graphics look a little dated, some things being worse than others. Character models look great, and the textures on them are outstanding, but the animations look a bit clunky. Whatever equipment your character and troops are wearing is visible in the battles, and even a group of all the same troops may be wearing different gear for some variety. Towns and castles have decent textures, but the buildings look like they have a polygon count of about 5.

I was hoping With Fire and Sword would have an improved graphics engine over the previous Warband game, but alas it's the exact same. Not to say that's an entirely bad thing, as Warband was a really great game, but With Fire and Sword would have truly benefited from updated graphics and a better user interface.

The sound is a bit worse, feeling cheap and dirty across the board. Sound effects like swords clanging or hitting, guns firing and powder exploding are all the most generic things you've ever heard. Background music is way too short and if it wasn't so annoying that it was ground into your brain it would be utterly forgettable.

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 7/Vista/XP/ME/2000
Processor: 2.1GHz or higher
Video Card: 128 MB+
Memory: 1 GB
Hard Drive: 900 MB
Sound: DirectX-compatible sound card
Other: DirectX 9c, 3 button mouse, keyboard and speakers
Internet: Required for multiplayer and online activation

Final Thoughts

Despite it's flaws, With Fire and Sword is a fun game. If you can get past the steep learning curve and the terrible all-around audio, there's a complex but truly great game underneath.

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