Mount and Blade: with ire and boredom

, | Game diaries

After laying into With Fire & Sword yesterday, I found myself contemplating why I did not want to continue with the game. It’s Mount & Blade with guns. The gimmick works for Bethesda, so why doesn’t it work for Taleworlds? Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than simply having a bunch of good ideas to make a good game. You need to actually execute on those ideas and make them work within the framework you have set for yourself.

After the jump, one pace forward, ten paces back.

It’s not all so bad. Fire & Sword provides an excellent setting for the game based on a series of novels by Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz. There is a nice semi-story that you are introduced to through the tutorial level and can continue at your choice. The user interface is much improved in certain ways, reducing the annoyance of riding around cities and villages to meet with specific people. Being able to click a button to talk to the village elder instead of being forced to ride through town every single time is invaluable. Another thing I cannot fault the game for is its art. The models are quite nice, the clothing is relatively detailed and varied, and the architecture is more intricate than the blocky buildings of the series’ medieval predecessors. The elite cavalry in particular stand out as being extremely detailed, which is very reassuring as they are bearing down on your pitiful line of musketmen with spears at the ready. The visual spectacle is still very much there, true to the form of the series.

From there, things start to fall flat. So many features of Warband are simply not available in the game. The ability to send caravans around the map to carry trade goods and earn you money is excellent and something I wish I could see in Warband, but this feature comes at the cost of being able to establish enterprises in towns (like ironworks and cloth weaveries). Mercenary camps are an interesting way of recruiting trained and relatively experienced troops directly into your party, but the fact that you can recruit as many soldiers as you want at any time removes an important imperative from the base game. If your army is wiped out in Warband, there are no mercenary camps to pull from. You either have to recruit mercs from taverns, which have a randomized selection and are very expensive, or recruit scads of cannon fodder from small towns all over the map, and the number of peasants that will join you from any given town is dependent on your relationship with the town. Doing favors for a select few towns will give you an advantage in recruitment from those towns. Furthermore, the culture/faction of the town you are recruiting from determines what those troops will eventually be good at. That entire aspect of the game, which is a building block of the franchise’s gameplay, is absent here in favor of letting you buy yourself as large an army as you can support at your will.

There are no tournaments or equivalent, which were a great way of earning skill, renown and money. There is no character creation worth noting, where the base game has far more customization possible. You cannot play as a female. There is only one type of terrain (grassland) where the previous games have entire regions defined by being grassland, mountainous, coastal, snowy, barren or desert. All (or the vast majority, if I missed one or two unique ones) of the quests available are directly copied and pasted from vanilla Mount & Blade, so there is nothing new to offer there outside of the initial story quests.

As a fan of the series, it pains me to say I can’t recommend With Fire & Sword. The addition of guns does little to shake up the game compared to what is sacrificed in order to get them. It’s as though the developers ignored the last few years of development on the series and completely branched off on its own, and the results are decidedly not stellar. While it is my understanding that there is a fair amount of content added that enhances the end-game experience, I cannot help but be reminded of the criticism that has hit titles like Final Fantasy XIII: what good is end-game content when the rest is so boring as to be not worth playing? Again, my hope is to one day play With Fire & Sword and enjoy it, though it may take a Warband-level expandalone to do that at this point. But for now, all this negativity needs to be replaced with a little sunshine. Things are about to much more interesting.

Next time: We ride at dawn.
Click here for the previous Mount and Blade entry.

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.