In addition to sounding like an awesome heavy-metal rock band, With Fire & Sword is an extremely open-ended, medieval combat game. Its battlefields involve hundreds of troops engaged in massive sieges or skirmishes, along with the unintended hilarity you get with hundreds of players running around at once. One moment, you may find yourself locked in an epic duel with an opponent, but before you know it, he gets blindsided by a runaway horse. We caught up with Mikail Yazbeck, designer and producer on With Fire & Sword, to talk about how the next entry in the Mount & Blade series is coming along.
GameSpot: From what we've seen, With Fire & Sword will have some truly huge multiplayer matches with hundreds of individual fighters on the field, hacking away at each other. Why make the game this big? How will the game keep battles of this size manageable?
Mikail Yazbeck: The immediate response would be, "Why not?" But in all actuality, we have large-scale multiplayer battles because we want to capture the feeling of warfare. We don't just want to ship another 32-player online deathmatch and call it a day. If the single-player is about large-scale battles, then why can't the multiplayer be as well? It only adds to the experience. Each player will be in charge of commanding his or her own squad, and squad commands are carried out the same way as in single-player. If players just want to fight, they can simply order the charge command, and the army will take care of itself.
GS: We understand that With Fire & Sword will have a new multiplayer mode, Captain mode, which will let players command a small battalion of soldiers. How does this mode work in practice? How does it work in multiplayer?
MY: As mentioned above, the player will command his or her own army the same way as in single-player mode. That means using the F keys to choose orders from a pop-up menu or holding down F1 and dragging a movement flag over the terrain for troop placement. Players can command three to 24 soldiers(depending on the dedicated server setting), with a recommended 16-player count (but more powerful servers could certainly host more players and more bots). Soldiers are purchased through the equipment screen, and players will have to decide on spending money on their own equipment or buying a more powerful set of troops.
GS: We also understand that With Fire & Sword will offer extensive customization options that will let players play as a great variety of different warriors, or as a merchant. Tell us about some of the customization options available both for individual characters and for armies.
MY: The Mount & Blade series has always been about player-created play styles and customization. With Fire & Sword, [this] is no different and will continue the tradition of our classless character development system. There are four base stats that drive over 20 skills, in addition to the weapon proficiencies that improve with point investment and usage. You can make all sorts of combos from a calculated mounted spear-wielding pistoleer to a grenade-lobbing claymore-carrying full-plate-wearing crazy man. Or you could forgo combat skills in pursuit of trade or command skills and focus on building an unstoppable fully decked-out force (Note: players buy every piece of equipment for their armies).
GS: The new game will introduce firearms to Mount & Blade for the first time. But surely, they won't be the absolute best weapon on the battlefield, will they? How are these weapons being balanced against conventional medieval weaponry like swords, bows, siege weapons, and cavalry lances?
MY: Firearms essentially provide more ways to play Mount & Blade. Guns do kill people, but so do swords, axes, bows, spears, pikes, clubs, etc. If the player can handle the aiming difficultly and slow reload speed of a firearm, he or she will be rewarded with powerful results. On the other hand, we still have "old reliable" to fall back on; the bow and arrow are still something to be feared as they are faster and more accurate. The balance is such that it will come down to player preference. Having said that, though, the single-player battlefield has become a significantly more dangerous place as there are a lot more dangerous projectiles flying through the air for players to maneuver around. In With Fire & Sword, players will have to be a fair bit more tactical compared to Warband's medieval battlefield; be sure to put on some plate before you go out for your daily Rambo session.
GS: We understand that there are new systems and strategies planned for With Fire & Sword's combat system. What are some of the new systems and tricks of the trade that players will want to know about, beyond carrying two shields into battle to protect their own backs?
MY: Tread softly and carry explosives…um…I mean players can blow holes in castle walls to make sieges a whole lot easier. You'll need a fair bit of points invested into the engineering and tactics skill lines to pull this off, but it's well worth it. Also, I recommend utilizing the new wagon fort system when traveling through enemy territory. If you are attacked, you'll start the battle encircled by the comfort of your supply carts, which will act as a barrier between you and your attackers. Think of these like mini-sieges, but without men falling off of ladders or other siege-related tomfoolery.
GS: While the previous Mount & Blade games were intended to be period pieces set in medieval Europe, With Fire & Sword is based on a historical novel. Why choose a work of fiction as your basis for the new game? Will there be a larger story behind the gameplay?
MY: Delving into a real historical setting is something our fans have been clamoring for since the release of the original Mount & Blade. In fact, our fans even modded in some sort of firearms into the original Mount & Blade. We also wanted to have a unique atypical setting that stood apart from things like samurais, Romans, etc, so for us, the choice was clear. And we decided that 17th-century Eastern Europe gave us the exotic and interesting backdrop we were looking for. As for story, there are several optional storyline quests that players can pick while they play if they want a more directed experience beyond simple rescue-the-girl quests.
GS: Aside from the game's many new features, are there any other additions or fixes being added to the game to specifically address requests from the Mount & Blade fan community? Give us some examples.
MY: Well, in fact, so much of the content--like the new fully customizable armies and Captain Mode--in With Fire & Sword is what our fans are looking for. Aside from the plethora of new features, there isn't anything else I can mention.
GS: Are there any other points you'd like to highlight about With Fire & Sword?
MY: If you have ever had an itch to get lost in a foreign land full of strange knights with wings, pistoleers with funny mustaches, or bitter royalty bent on European domination, then the tumultuous 17th-century land of With Fire & Sword is the place to be.
GS: Thank you for your time.