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Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword

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With Fire & Sword is the latest standalone expansion released in the Mount & Blade series. First thing is first: You don’t need Mount & Blade to play WFaS as the game will work regardless of if you have the original installed. Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword is a sandbox action game with an overhead campaign map, similar to that of the Civilization series, only in real time instead of turn-based.

When starting WFaS, you are prompted to create a character. However, unlike the previous games in the series, there is no way for you to really change anything about your character apart from stats. In both vanilla Mount & Blade and Warband (the game’s original expansion), you were able to change your characters’ gender and give them a unique back story, which allowed the narrative to come mostly from your own imagination. This is not the case in WFaS which instead has a more focused narrative due to being based on a book.

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The game takes place in Eastern Europe and Russia, though these places never feel important to the narrative, which could work if the game was basically set anywhere. The actual plot itself feels a little redundant. The best stories from people playing Warband are the ones people make themselves by fighting epic battles, whereas the story in WFaS never really captures that feel. You can still have epic battles, of course, but only really if you ignore the narrative itself; if you do decide to follow the narrative, you’ll find it is mostly a long stretch of fetch quests or simple “go here, kill him” style quests with a loose story trying to pull things together. It’s possible to not even realise that the quest you are on has anything to do with the main plot, as the story seems so poorly presented. And when you have something like thirty lords in the game with fairly long and similar names, it can get confusing trying to remember which one you are supposed to be finding.

What makes the Mount & Blade series so popular is that the style of the overall game cannot really be found anywhere else at this level of quality. It offers the experience of fighting large battles as a single person with a whole army ready to back you up that you yourself have created, along with an ever-changing sandbox landscape. The premise of WFaS is excellent and the combat is pretty good considering the game’s scope and atmosphere, and the fact that it wasn’t created on an incredibly large budget.

However, WFaS doesn’t really add a whole lot to that Mount & Blade formula despite its solid premise, which is the main problem with the game. Even at only $10, it just doesn’t feel different enough from Warband. Sure, the addition of firearms is nice, but they can easily be added through mods in Warband which contain just as much depth as WFaS.

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Even though I enjoyed some of the new types of missions available, it still fell into a sort of plateau in the middle of the game. My army was so large that bandits would run away but too small to siege towns and capture my own territory. This is a drawback to all Mount & Blade games, and WFaS is unfortunately no different in this respect.

[pullquote_right]… if you’ve already played the other games in the series, With Fire & Sword probably isn’t really worth the money unless you’re already burnt out on all that Warband and its mods have to offer.[/pullquote_right]WFaS does offer some worthwhile changes, though. While many fans have complained about the fact that troops now have to be hired in taverns and mercenary camps rather than bought in towns, I actually rather like this change. It makes choosing your men more important, as you can’t afford to simply buy hundreds of them very quickly. This adds some depth as to how you want to build your army.

Also, multiplayer is certainly better in WFaS than in previous installments, and despite it not going into great depth, it’s still an enjoyable experience, particularly with the new captain mode. The additions you are able to get for your character may be what keeps you coming back, but overall, it’s just a lot of fun to play with friends while fighting the epic battles together.

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The game’s presentation is certainly a mixed bag. Quite a lot of music is reused from the other Mount & Blade titles which strikes me as a bit lazy, though the music itself is still good. But when it does occur, the new music added to the game is excellent and definitely adds a sense of atmosphere whilst you look through menus and quests. Unfortunately, the small amount of voice acting present in the game isn’t as fantastic.

The new presentation of the quests is much better, allowing you to see more clearly what you have to do for quests and where you have to go, though it can still be annoying to find a king who has just rode to the other side of the map.

The graphics aren’t too bad during the close-up battles. But on the campaign map, they are horrible, reused textures that basically fill the entire map and make it look a dim green colour everywhere. However, skyboxes and water effects are superb. I will say this for WFaS: I have not seen better skyboxes since probably the original Halo. Sunsets light up the world with a warm orange glow and night time reveals a pitch black sky punctured with light from stars.

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As far as glitches go, I suffered maybe three crashes to desktop, and maybe two graphical errors that quickly sorted themselves out. Overall, the glitches will probably be patched soon and don’t really detract from the game too much.

If you’ve never played a Mount & Blade game before, this one is a good entry to the series for a low price without having to spend the full $20 on Warband. However, if you’ve already played the other games in the series, WFaS probably isn’t really worth the money unless you’re already burnt out on all that Warband and its mods have to offer. It isn’t a bad game, it’s just difficult to justify the price when so many great mods exist for Warband. Also, if you’ve never liked any Mount & Blade game before, this one won’t really change your mind enough to sway your opinion. Regardless, the potential for this series is nearly infinite. With maybe a slightly longer development time, a new engine and a larger budget, the next title in the Mount & Blade series could be ground-breaking.

The Good

Classic Mount & Blade sandbox feel intact | New hiring system adds depth | Improved multiplayer

The Bad

Most features already found in mods for Warband expansion | Limited character customization | Dated visuals | Poor story presentation

2.5/5

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