Mount & Blade: Warband was not the perfect RPG. But for everything it tried to be and what it succeeded in achieving, you should be looking forward to Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword. And I mean really, really looking forward to it.
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Just looking at Mount & Blade: Warband by itself for a moment; the game was a genuine breath of fresh air in the RPG space. It was a sandbox RPG that was very different to Elder Scrolls games. It was an epic RPG that didn’t focus in on a small group of heroes, or an individual. Success in Mount & Blade was reliant on having an army, and for that it was almost unique. And for all its faults, Mount & Blade was a massively addictive experience.
It started conventionally enough. You’d create a character by answering a few questions, adding a few extra status points, and tweaking that character’s aesthetic appearance. Then you’d be off, essentially free to explore a massive world, make alliances with entire kingdoms and become a warlord in your own right.
It was a game different to others in the genre that, despite that conventional start, you weren’t actually the focus of your game. While your hero would gain levels of experience and participate in battles personally, the bulk of the fighting would be done by your warband. Every time you came across a new village, you’d have the opportunity to recruit additional soldiers. Assuming they survive their first few battles, they’d level up and you, as the commander, could dictate what they specialised in.
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Those warbands would grow to be very large in size – to the point where you’d feel like your presence on the battlefield was very minor. Where the thrill of this game hid was in carefully building a warband that could handle any situation. Being slaughtered by an enemy with numerical disadvantages was embarrassing. Beating a larger force was a true highlight.
So Mount & Blade: Warband was in many ways more strategy game than RPG. And for the first time you play the game, that sandbox impression is increased tenfold by the ability to choose from a wide range of different starting locations, a massive overworld to explore, and complete freedom to develop your character.
That initial impression of freedom is quickly quenched – the game plays out much the same regardless of which territory you choose to begin in, and quests are much the same from region to region, so that, despite the massive raw landmass, the experience itself was actually very familiar.
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Which is exactly why you should be looking forward to Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword. It legitimately gives players an entirely new experience within the same awesome scope that the original offered. For starters, you’re getting a new kick-start campaign – this game is set some years after the original, and access to firearms presents a campaign of a very different flavour.
In addition, the game is infinitely more welcoming to newcomers. There’s an option for different difficulty levels, for one thing – something the original game desperately needed. And in many other areas, the interface has been refined in favour of playability. For instance, exploring towns is made slightly easier – one of my complaints with the Mount & Blade: Warband was the fact I had to hunt down each and every village elder (the one who doled out quests) in each and every town. There’s a menu to access that elder now - part of the reason this is a much more streamlined experience this time.
Visually, Fire and Sword maintains the high quality of its predecessor, which means that, in buying it, you get an entirely new twist on the original formula. Which, incidentally, is all the original really needed to be a must have.