This isn’t the first time Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword has been released. It actually started off as a free mod for the original Mount and Blade. In this unofficial form it gathered such popularity that it was eventually swooped up, given a spit-shine, ported across to the newer Warband engine and released as a Polish-only standalone. Now, that version has been cleaned up once more and delivered to English-speaking audiences.
It’s a convoluted and protracted development history; one which has caused more than a handful of issues for Fire and Sword when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the gameplay mechanics.
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Before you get that far, however, it’s hard not to sigh with disappointment at the continued inelegance of Mount and Blade’s UI and tutorial systems – a complaint that’s been levelled at every title in the franchise. The ugliness and unwieldiness of the UI was something that we were happy to dismiss in the earlier iterations of Mount and Blade – it's a hardcore title from a small developer, after all. Now that the series has broken through to the third iteration and has proven popularity with its niche, we’re less inclined to turn a blind eye.
Some of the faults are purely cosmetic, such as when it comes to the still-boxy inventory screens, but other remaining issues have an impact on the functionality too. The character creation screen, for example, lets you add points to skills, but not remove them – if you change your mind half-way through the process then you’ll have to hit Reset and start over again. That’s exactly the kind of oversight that, while tolerable in a fan-made mod, mars even a budget release.
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Basing Fire and Sword around the Warband engine doesn’t seem to have gone smoothly either, and while some of the expansions Warband made have been carried over, there are some exceptions. There’s no option to build your own kingdom, for example, as the singleplayer end-game has been boiled back to that of the original Mount and Blade.
The multiplayer improvements have been carried over, at least, with players able to involve themselves in brutal sieges and CTF matches where a single hit is usually enough to knock you out of the battle. There’s a new multiplayer mode too; Captain, where up to 16 players are divided into teams and put in charge of AI bots who further increase the scale of the conflict.
AI isn’t one of Fire and Sword’s strengths, however, and multiplayer matches are still best enjoyed with purely human opponents. Singleplayer battles suffer from poor AI too, especially when you’re on horseback and against low-level foot-soldiers. Frankly, it’s just far too easy to circle round them, filling them with lead.