The original Mount & Blade was an open-ended third-person action role-playing game with a lot of great ideas but not a lot of polish. Its sequel, With Fire and Sword, is based on the novel of the same name released in 1884 by Noble Prize-winning author Henry Sienkiewicz. It expands on Mount & Blade: Warband's combat and extensive choose-your-own-adventure-style gameplay. During our hands-off demo at this year's GDC, we got the chance to see some of these new additions in action. While Fire and Sword may not be the prettiest game, it has a lot to offer for those willing to give it a chance.
When you start the game, you're at the very bottom: a man with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Your playground is medieval Europe, which is locked in a five-way battle between Russia, the Ukraine, and three factions. You may choose to ally yourself with one of these factions or start your own; your destiny is in your hands, and the game wants you to play it the way you want. There are missions, and even a storyline, if you want them. If not, that's fine too. The game's world will keep on turning without you. The conflict will always be there, and it's up to you to decide your level of input.
The backbone to all of this is the character customization. Your character is broken down into four stats--strength, agility, intelligence, and charisma--as well as numerous skills and the items he has equipped. If you like crunching numbers instead of people's heads, then drop a few points in the trade skill. Soon you'll be sweet-talking your way from one trade caravan to the next. There's even an extensive banking system where you can invest your hard-earned money and make it work for you.
If you like being on the battlefield and get your kicks from being a leader of men, you're going to want to rank up the leadership skill instead to inspire your troops to greatness. During our demonstration, the main character rode out onto the battlefield and began issuing orders to his troops. By marking different areas with flags, his troops knew where and in what formation to set up. Then, to buy a little time, our fearless commander ran a few circles around the advancing enemies and fired his rifle wildly into the bunch. With enough planning, you could conceivably win a battle without ever drawing your sword.
However, this is often not the case. Combat in With Fire and Sword is skill based and in real time. When an enemy attacks, you must read and block his strike in one of four directions, and if you're really quick, you can parry his hit and go for a quick counterattack. To help demonstrate the combat, our guide loaded up a 200-bot skirmish, and we watched the chaos unfold. What we quickly found were the same hilarious antics you might see in a Battlefield game. Sometimes an archer would pull off a clean kill only to get immediately blindsided by a horse, or a rifleman who had run out of ammo would try to bludgeon his foes to death with his gun.
Our demonstration came to a close with a quick look at the new Captain multiplayer mode. In this mode, each player is given a squad of around 20 troops, which they can customize with different weapons and armor. Once the match started, our character had to quickly decide if he wanted to go on the offensive and send his men out to battle, or get into a defensive position and wait for the inevitable counterattack. Fire and Sword is showing a lot of potential and is one to look out for on the PC later this year.