Mount & Blade - With Fire and Sword is the third title in the award-winning Mount & Blade series, known for its unique blend of first/third-person hack-and-slash sword-fighting action with strategy, character development and resource management.
For those who haven't played any of the games in the series, Mount & Blade offers a brilliant medieval fighting simulation, including mounted combat - something even advanced RPGs like the famed Elder Scrolls series hasn't achieved - without and magical elements. No healing potions, no protection spells, once you're hit, you lose health until you go down. Various weapons, limited only by the models and scripts in the game, are available, including bows and arrows, crossbows, thrown weapons, one and two handed weapons, spears and polearms, and lances for use from horseback. You can even use missile weapons from horseback with its own skill to track your ability at this uniquely-difficult combat discipline. Armour and shields of various types are all available.
This third title in the series moves away from the original concept a little, having a historical setting and real-world map. In this case, it's eastern Europe in the 17th century, the so-called pike-and-shot period. Gone are crossbows and replaced with early firearms. Pistols, carbines and muskets. Gone, also, are the thrown javelins and axes of earlier times, replaced with crude hand grenades, devastating area-effect weapons. Retained, of course, is the unique mix of foot and mounted combat with a variety of equipment. From dashing Three Musketeers-style characters with foppish outfits to the heaviest troops of the time, plate-armoured Reiters, you'll see men (and women sometimes) with all manner of gear and fighting styles.
The gameplay, though. With Fire and Sword is really just a mod for the original Mount & Blade. It was originally developed by some eastern European company and released in Poland and other eastern nations. It's since been polished and ported to Warband, but many of Warband's features are still absent. Gone is the weekly balance sheet, the ability to invest in a business in a city, marriage and feasts and all the political options Warband had. You're back to collecting your mercenary wages in person and your rent from any fief you own in person as well. New features, though, are mercenary camps featuring customisable troops for hire. You can hire troops from these camps and then, through a dialogue menu, change their equipment to suit your personal style. At a price, of course. Other new feaures are a story-driven quest series for three of the major factions - the Muscovite Tsardom, the Cossack Confederation and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - based on the novel of the same title as the game. You can also sponsor a caravan of goods to trade across the map, and this is really the only way to make real money. All equipment is insanely expensive and your rewards for fighting and taking prisoners are no greater than in the other games in the series. You'll make long thousands from trading, though, and this has attracted a lot of criticism.
Firearms are well-implemented, with some very nasty damage potential, but you'll either need a lot of practice or to be pretty close to hit your target. Some well-armoured men can take more than one bullet, as well, so be careful when taking on heavy Reiters with your pistol. Only pistols and carbines can be fire from horseback and use the mounted shooting skill. Muskets can only be fired on foot, but do the most damage. A line of musketeers can mow down most infantry opponents, and in good defensive terrain can even stop a cavalry charge. Backed with halberdiers and pikemen they're war-winning.
Also still available is the bow, and you can do well if you specialise in this. Only the Crimean Khanate faction uses bowmen in this setting, but stay friendly with them and you can hire hordes of horse archers for your army.
Another handy new feature is forming a wagon-circle. This makes it hard for cavalry attackers to get to your men, and your musketeers can then pick them off as they mill around the wagons. Provided you plug the entrance with pikemen, that is.
Village attacks are much harder now that even basic villagers own guns. Crude matchlocks may be near useless in open war, but two dozen determined Russian farmers using them can see off your elite Reiters if you're not careful.
All things considered, With Fire and Sword is a welcome break from the earlier times of Warband and the first Mount & Blade, but I'm not sure it warrants its price-tag for what you get. There are mods out there you can get for free that do much the same as this. Maybe something to use your Blue Coins on?