This Early Access FPS mixes Mount & Blade with modern combat, plus a bit of RTS

I know Mount & Blade fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival (and even the announcement of the date of the arrival) of Bannerlord, and probably entertaining thoughts of Kingdom Come: Deliverance in the meantime. But for another quick fix, you may want to keep your eye on Freeman: Guerrilla Warfare, now in Early Access on Steam. While it's a modern combat game with guns and grenades instead of horses and swords, it's still extremely Mount & Bladey. It's, like, waaaaay Mount & Bladey.

Having played a lot of M&B myself, Freeman feels immediately familiar. When I begin playing, the simple world map shows towns and roads, and I wander around represented by a single soldier with a little number next to me displaying the size of my hired forces (currently 10, made up of two squads). Other factions, plus groups of bandits and looters, stroll around the map too, though not entirely in real time: when I stop moving, they stop as well. As in M&B, you can visit towns to trade, recruit, rest (in this case, by visiting a hospital to heal), or to attempt a hostile takeover.

I start by allocating my starting skill points into abilities like leadership, accuracy, weapon expertise, and first aid (this is the RPG part of the game). A quick scan of the map shows no bandit gangs that look small enough for me to tackle with my small band of fighters, so I avoid conflict while shuffling back and forth between towns, having found a merchant that will overpay for tea and another that will pay a lot for 'garbage.'

I don't know why this merchant wants garbage so badly that he'll pay extra for it (or even pay anything for it, since it's garbage), but I buy some garbage for cheap and sell it for a profit. Yes, my adventure is off to a stirring and heroic start.

Eventually I've made enough money selling trash to hire a third squad, so with 15 mercs now following me I go out looking for trouble. Getting into combat is similar to M&B, too: just walk up to another force and tell them you're going to kill them. It even has that same semi-weird element from Mount & Blade, where you apparently have a face-to-face conversation with an enemy, and once you've both agreed to kill each other on the overworld map you are suddenly miles apart on the combat map.

When it comes to the first-person combat, for me at least, Freeman immediately turns into a game of PUBG.

In Freeman's combat, you've got a bit of real-time strategy, too. You begin by deploying your squads on a 2D version of the map, and at any point during the first-person combat you can visit this map to direct your squads in real time. It's done very simply, by selecting a squad and setting up a waypoint by double clicking a spot on the map. You can easily drag waypoints around, add additional ones, and quickly remove them if your plans have changed. When you close the map you're running around in first-person mode again. You can issue orders to follow, proceed with caution, charge, and retreat as well.

When it comes to the first-person combat, for me at least, Freeman immediately turns into a game of PUBG. People with better weapons than I have are shooting at me from way across the map and I can barely see them. Luckily, my own squads have the same sharp AI vision and I can just sort of look where they're aiming until I spot the enemy. The game is also very good at helping you know where your shots are going with little dirt-puffs visible even from quite a long distance. My main issue currently is I don't have a scoped weapon, and they're very expensive in the shops. I will have to haul so much garbage before I can afford one.

I manage to win a couple of early battles against bandit gangs that are about my size. When the battle is over, I collect a random smattering of loot—food, linen, grenades, ammo, and other odds and ends that can be collected and sold—though unfortunately no guns. I hire yet another small group of mercs, bringing my squad count up to four, though I only have enough skill points to command three squads at a time. They can come with me, but can't actually do any fighting until I level myself up or one of my other squads gets wiped out.

We keep winning our battles, though I'm not really doing much to help besides directing traffic, and each fight costs me a few men (they can be replaced with money) and I need to heal (more money) and buy more ammo and food (money). As a result, I'm just kind of treading water when it comes to proving myself a capable warlord. There don't seem to be proper missions in the game yet: the goal is to capture and hold ten towns, but each time I run into a friendly faction and ask them for some task to do, they just sort of shrug. I will keep selling garbage and spending my trashbucks on more men, then.

Eventually, the thing that always happens to me in M&B happens to me in Freeman: I get overtaken by a massively tough patrol on the overland map, I don't have enough cash to bribe them to leave me alone, and in combat all my men get brutally slaughtered. I escape—even if you're shot down in combat, you never really die—but I have no money, no recruits, and little recourse but to start at the bottom rung of the warlord ladder again, meekly buying and selling garbage and tea.

Freeman, according to its Steam page, will spend most of the year in Early Access. I'm having a good time with it, though without missions it feels barebones and without smaller groups of bandits to feed on in the early game the odds are stacked against the player. The fact that it mimics Mount & Blade in so many respects is a big plus for me personally, though honestly after playing Freeman, the thing I want to do more than anything at the moment is go play Mount & Blade again instead.