The Mount & Blade series is a medieval open-ended action roleplaying game with hints of real-time strategy thrown in, and like the description suggests it is a chaotic yet completely unique experience and there really is not much to compare it too. The game is developed by a small independent studio and unfortunately this does create a lasting impression on the game that you will no doubt feel upon playing, that gives a sometimes unfinished sense about it. If you have played either of the previous games in this series you will know exactly what I mean by this feeling of low budget production, however as most people who have played the series before will also agree, it is a fantastically gripping and time consuming game that can lead to hours and hours disappearing before you even realise, and the same can definitely be said for the latest offering from the series.
To those of you who are new to the franchise you should be warned that there is a very marmite-esque feeling towards it; you will either love it or hate it. On one hand you have a game that creates a generally poor first impression with lacklustre graphics, a poor tutorial and no real aim or goals to set out for upon entering the world of Mount & Blade for the first time. However on the other hand you have a game that offers a whole world to explore, that starts with you in control of a lone peasant that can eventually lead to you being a king of the land, and during your rise to power you can use trade, battles, sieges and politics to help you get to the top.
Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword is the latest offering from the series and as the name suggests, the most noticeable difference from its predecessor is the new technology that the new setting offers; guns and grenades. This feature takes time to get used to and will drastically change your battles, playing style and focus if you have played either of the previous games; it's a game changer to say the least. Be prepared for large amounts of frustration early on as you get used to the risk of being instantly killed from a sometimes considerable distance - if you stay stationary for too long you will almost certainly be killed. This is great for those who love realism but not so great for those who do not, even on the easiest settings this will still often happen so you will always need to keep an eye on it and it always needs to be on your mind to avoid a swift and brutal death. This new found difficulty will definitely throw seasoned players and may appear daunting to the new players; however it is something that with time you will begin to appreciate and base your strategies around (and in my opinion adds to the sense of chaos and brutality during battles).
The new setting (Eastern Europe in the 17th century) allows for a different experience compared to the fictional worlds the last two games were based in, you will recognise some city and faction names and it's more story driven - allowing for even easier immersion into this world. Although there are not a huge amount of changes from the last game (for example the graphics don't seem to have been improved in the slightest), there are some nice new features that will help make the game easier to get started and stay focused on. New trading options allow you to make huge amounts of money from buying and selling goods, along with the option to deposit money that offers substantial interest rates in return. The more advanced customisation of your mercenary troops allows you to kit them out with the most useful and fashionable armour and weaponry (for a heavy price) that can often be the crucial difference between winning and losing in many close battles. Multiplayer is as strong as ever and now a new mode has been added that I feel fans of the series will be playing a lot of, this is the new Captain mode. This mode allows you to select a squad of troops to spawn and command, allowing you to choose from various troop types and then go into battle against other players and their squads. This new mode is a lot of fun and can create some absolutely crazy and chaotic battles with huge numbers of troops being involved; something that should definitely be considered one of the strong new additions this game brings to the table.
There are of course a few negative issues associated with this latest offering that should be addressed, which are primarily the still lacklustre graphics engine that is used to power the game. There are no differences at all compared to the past offering, which even upon its own release was an out-dated engine. This means that the main map view (that you spend most of your time using) is still as ugly as ever and even a small upgrade would do wonders for the game and help bring it out of the indie developer look that the series seems to be stuck with. The A.I. is definitely not something to write home about and it is especially noticeable during sieges when troops will often get stuck under ladders rather than using them, although this issue is definitely not game breaking from my experience. The quest interface is still primarily text based and really could use some more variation now and again instead of the same handful of quests that involve doing the same few tasks over and over again to improve relations with factions and important nobles (although the repetition is less than in Warband).
Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword offers another unrivalled and unique experience that given enough patience will shine just as strongly (if not stronger) as its predecessor Warband did. If you are new to the series you will need to invest some time into the game before you will really feel rewarded, and if you are a seasoned veteran you will be able to jump right in to the more structured and quest-based world that Mound & Blade now is. You will need to have an open mind regarding the issues that will present themselves during your copious amounts of time immersed in the world (the graphics, A.I and strong difficulty spring to mind) and if you can see past these issues and are a fan of a medieval setting, you should think about buying this one now and you will not be disappointed if you do.