Mount and Blade: we’re not in Calradia anymore

, | Game diaries

Mount and Blade is the latest open-world, medieval action RPG by Turkish developer Taleworlds Interactive. What started out as a small independent project eventually swelled into a retail release; and then a pseudo-sequel subtitled Warband; and now With Fire and Sword. a reimagining of the Mount and Blade formula in a largely historical version of Eastern Europe in the mid-1600s. Upon hearing about With Fire and Sword, I prepared to dive into this new world by reinstalling Warband and logging a dozen hours over the last few weeks.

With Fire and Sword adds gunpowder weaponry as a departure from the franchise’s stereotypical medieval warfare. So I created a combat-oriented character, Johann Bodewig, and decked him out in some rather fashionable musketeer attire as seen above. I then launched myself into a changed world.

The question, however, is if this change is good.

After the jump, fire can’t solve every problem

Let me describe part of the appeal of this franchise. In the Mount and Blade games, you are cast as an outsider. Nobody in the world knows your name or cares about you at all. The game is about making a name for yourself, whether by slaughtering bandits, lending a hand to villagers in need, doing the bidding of local lords, or becoming a mercenary leader. You’ll eventual take sides in the conflicts to shape the very borders of the world. This progression is never the same twice and each time you experience it you are defining your character. Peaceful trading magnate, bloodthirsty barbarian pillager, and anything in between are completely viable. You start from nothing and build yourself into a juggernaut.

In the previous games, you built up an army by visiting villages, recruiting random villagers off the street, and hardening their useless farming selves into machines of medieval death. This progression took an exceedingly long time and got you attached to your most elite soldiers. Since the attrition rate for peasants against anything stronger than a wet sponge was so high, those who survived to become mounted knights or armored pikemen were a special breed. With Fire and Sword changes this system by having you recruit most of your new soldiers from mercenary camps, fully trained and ready to go.

This should be fine. This would be fine. If it worked, which it unfortunately doesn’t. In what I can only describe as a gross oversight by the developers, the forces you recruit never gain experience points. Whenever they kill someone in battle, they are supposed to gain experience, along with taking some from a collective pool awarded to you after every fight. Furthermore, there is a skill for your character to train any members of your army who are lower level than you. I put a sizeable portion of my points into this skill, but it’s rendered effectively useless. Your redshirt armies of recruit musketmen are stuck as disposable cannon fodder, replaceable at any nearby mercenary camp for the same price as five loaves of bread.

That is not how the game is meant to be played. Sure, people will die, but those that survive are supposed to become my crack unit of elites. They are my forces that I can depend on in the direst of situations. I should feel their loss most keenly. While this oversight might appear to be trivial to some, I would classify is a game breaker. I’m a little shocked that nobody testing the game caught this. Mount and Blade has always had its share of rough edges, but this is a core game function, and to have it completely inoperable on day one is unacceptable.

I hope to revisit With Fire and Sword in the future, and perhaps pick up the adventures of Johann in the vast expanse of Eastern Europe. I hope to chronicle his adventures and pursuit of meaning in his life. For the moment, until some of these particularly egregious issues are corrected, the honeymoon is over before it’s even begun. Hopefully, they will get around to fixing the game. In the meantime, I’ll be playing a game that actually works.

(This is part 1 in what was supposed to be a 10-part series but turned into a 1-part series.)

Otagan, known to some as Jared, hails from the frozen wastelands of North Dakota. He is temporarily based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works for a major banking institution that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.