Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord Aims To Be Friendlier

This is an embarrassing admission: when I first played the original Mount & Blade I spent twenty minutes walking around trying to find other players and confused by the mostly empty villages I found instead. I had thought it was an MMO.

This makes me the person in the world best equipped to write about its sequel, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord [official site], which is aiming to make many of the series’ systems easier to grasp for idiots like me.

One thing I can confirm: its villages would no longer feel empty, even if you’re still not going to find other players inside. Mount & Blade 2 is running on a whole new engine that is far higher detail than its predecessor. This is demonstrated when developer touring us around the world visits a tavern and there two-dozen people inside, drinking, eating, serving behind the bar, or sat in the middle, as one man is, playing a lute.

The greater amount of detail is apparent everywhere. The new character creator allows you to form people that look like people, instead of gurning smudges. There are sliders for changing hair and adding facial asymmetry and face paint and switching up body shape on your soon-to-be-heroic-or-dead man or woman. The developer from TaleWorlds further highlights its flexibility with the by now obligatory recreations of famous faces, so I can confirm that it produces a pretty convincing Arnold Schwarzenegger, Benedict Cumberbatch and Albert Einstein.

There’s also now scenery that changes with the seasons, including grass that’s more than a green texture stretched unconvincingly across a vast plain, and six different cultures to visit, each with its own unique boardgame. Yes, you heard: that’s six times more boardgames than The Witcher 3 and its monoboardgame world of Gwent.

This is likely of interest if you’re a seasoned Mount & Blade player, ready to Captain Smith yourself across a fancier world. It’s likely less enticing if you, like many, arrived at a village in Mount & Blade or any of its spin-offs, were presented with a menu containing precisely ten different options, and thought, “Oh shit, I thought this would be like Skyrim.”

TaleWorlds are aware of that problem. A lot of what they talk about are minor tweaks to existing menus – making negotiations and diplomacy happen on a single, robust and clearly explained screen, for example. These things look nice, and TaleWorlds say that they’ve been designed so that every time they add a new feature they can plug it into the same menu system. The example they give is that, if they add a system whereby you can marry a lord’s daughter, then you can barter for their daughter via this same screen as you’d use to end a war or buy bread. Grim – but functionally convenient.

The biggest addition for new players however is that there’s now a proper storyline and quest system designed to introduce players to Mount & Blade’s systems.

In the quest example we’re shown, the developer meets a man in the pub who has just had his horse stolen. He’d be grateful if you helped him get it back. If you agree, he leads you off to the people responsible elsewhere in town, giving you the opportunity to talk to their leader and compel them to return your new friend’s horse. When they refuse, you fight one of their heavies in sword combat in order to teach them a lesson. It’s an opportunity to teach the player a lesson too, letting them get used to conversation and combat systems in an environment less intimidating than the wilderness.

Suitably impressed, the horseless bar friend joins up to your squad of merry men, which comes in handy not long after when – in the wilderness – we meet more horse bandits. We get a greater glimpse at the combat here, as a dozen or so people on the battlefield manouver around, stabbing and swinging, while the developer moves among them on horseback. Combat is meant to be deeper than previous iterations of the game, taking into account timing and previous attacks, but it’s more about subtle differences than a total overhaul. TaleWorlds say they want it to “still be very accessible and intuitive.”

As per previous games in the series, the aim is still to amass power and wealth by capturing or otherwise coming to rule towns. You have new methods of doing so. For starters, there’s a new weapon crafting system which physically simulates the weapons you make in an effort to mimic how they would function in real life. That means that change to the appearance of a sword changes its balance and speed, and produces slight changes to its user’s swing. Beyond that, there’s the addition of siege weaponry, which look like they might be impressive when finished. We’re shown catapults launching boulders as well as siege towers and battering rams, and we’re told that everything is usable by players, but we never actually see a boulder strike anything to find out what kind of effect it creates.

If the battle you have does end up being particularly impressive to watch, the game will now ship with a replay editor in which you can move the camera and add post-processing effects to commemorate your greatest victories or most embarrassing defeats. It’s a nice extra feature.

The Mount & Blade games have found an audience despite their fiddlyness by offering a historical fantasy in which you have a lot of control over your role and objectives within the world. Mount & Blade 2 looks to be a richer, more accessible take on the same ideas. And I can confirm: it’s still not an MMO.

44 Comments

  1. sendmark says:

    As interesting as the main game sounds, it’s the mod scene which is going to be really fascinating for this. There have been some great ones on the original, and can see all the new features in the main game being used for some spectactular stuff. Game of Thrones alone is enough for an epic mod.

  2. abHowitzer says:

    I’ve played thousands of hours of M&B over the past 5-6 years. Game is incredibly clunky and fiddly and obtuse. But somehow, the gameplay is all worth it.

    I’m just hoping for Warband², without the clunkiness and whatnot, but with even deeper gameplay.

    • cpeninja says:

      M&B is a bell curve of fun – at first it is annoying, as you lack any weapons or armor or skills to survive. Then it gets fun when you start to get some troops and gear. Then it gets annoying again when you have so many troops and so much gear to buy that it gets too pricey to maintain your army and you are forced to siege a town.

      THEN things get dicey, because now you’ve pissed off a lord. And his army is bigger than yours. And doesn’t require upkeep for some reason.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      If they only fix one thing, ONE THING, they just need to fix the “everybody run in a straight line towards this heavily armored man who has killed hundreds of our comrades and continually chop until he’s dead or we all are” AI behavior.

      Somehow the game was still playable, even with that terrible, terrible AI. Terrible. Even mods couldn’t fix it, tho they tried. If they can fix that one thing, and don’t bother touching anything else, this game will probably be in my top 3 for the year.

  3. hpstg says:

    There are a multitude of releases ahead, but this along with Stellaris are my definitive wait-for games.

  4. Xzi says:

    This looks like something I’d gladly invest time in. As opposed to the other M&B games which I bought at obscenely low prices, played for maybe two hours between them, said, “well that’s pretty neat,” and never touched again. They seem like fairly deep games, but lacked polish and completeness of the experience. They also looked quite dated for the time of their release, as mentioned in the article. M&B2 seems like it intends to remedy all of these things, so I’ll definitely be giving it a fair shot.

  5. Koshelkin says:

    Reeeally stoked for this. I was late for the original Mount&Blade train but this could turn out really nice.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Sounds amazing, basically the same sort of game but expanded in various ways. Hopefully it will be as mod-friendly as well, Warband with the Floris mod-pack has taken up many hours of my life.

  7. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Warband (and cRPG): what a treasure. Hopefully this is more of the same, updated and expanded, with more tools for the genius mod-makers.

  8. dsch says:

    Spending a bit of time mastering the lance and then making kebabs of your enemies is incredibly rewarding. Hope it’s still possible to take on fifty men by yourself on horseback.

  9. namad says:

    I’m not sure the perspective of someone who accidentally bought mount and blade many years after it was released and didn’t know what kind of game it was…. is the ideal preview perspective.

    Mount and blade is quite a lot older and more historically important to the development of it’s mechanics which have spread across the genre than say the super popular “skyrim”.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Oh god, I wish more games had learned from Mount and Blade. As it is, I struggle to even name one that realised that direct control and an emphasis on enjoyable freeform combat is so much more enjoyable than “welp, that’s 6 levels above me, so I’ll lose”.

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        Yeah. Precisely this. Are there other games that borrowed from MnB? Someone please tell me about them. The only one that comes to mind is Kenshi.

        • king0zymandias says:

          There was that online only shameless Mount and Blade clone. Called chivalry or some shit.

          • Spider Jerusalem says:

            Hmmm. I could see that. I played it for a bit, was mindless fun. Missed the mark on the free-flowing affair that MnB hits, though.

          • Grey_Ghost says:

            Hmm, I thought War of the Roses was the first one.

          • cshralla says:

            You mean that game Chivalry that was nothing like Mount and Blade at all, because at no point was it ever trying to be anything like Mount and Blade?

          • cshralla says:

            Also, you mean that Chivalry game that was a full game spun off of Age of Chivalry, a mod that came out a full year before the first Mount and Blade?

            But clearly Chivalry was a “shameless clone,” right?

          • hungrycookpot says:

            Chivalry was really fun imo. It was not much like Mountain Blade at all, but it was a really fun chop-em-up game.

    • Phier says:

      Funny thing about Skyrim was just how bad the horses and horse combat was. I was thinking couldn’t they just copy basically what M&B did years before? M&B is the only game that seems to “get” horses, the rest seem to treat them like clunky bicycles.

    • king0zymandias says:

      Interesting thing is that I had the exact opposite reaction. When I first played Skyrim, I was like, that’s it? I should go back to playing some Mount and Blade mod.

      All this talk of emergent narrative in Skyrim/Oblivion tends to come from people who seem to have not played with properly designed sandbox games like Mount and Blade, Crusader Kings and such. Anything emergent that happens in the Elder Scroll games is always an accident. Whereas in Mount and Blade the system is designed in a way to create little rivalries, little stories, little events, little surprises, little successes, little failures that all coalesce into a grand narrative which ends up being very meaningful and important on a personal level.

      • abHowitzer says:

        Many developers see “emergent story” as a hotchpotch of random events. But it’s not, it’s random events closely linked in an encompassing system. The events about your recently born child maybe not being yours in CK2 is terribly important because lineage is central to the game, and those events are linked to specific traits your wife may have (lustful, hedonistic, deceitful, …).

        So you get a story based on a situation (you having a lustful wife, you being away waging war, you getting a kid, 1+1=..) and not just *some* random thing happening.

  10. Om says:

    I would gladly trade every single new feature above (especially boardgames) for a new set of mechanics that makes founding your own kingdom manageable. Trying to do everything via dialogue options was just… painful.

    • king0zymandias says:

      I never found my kingdom but I remember how frustrating it was trying to be an effective marshall of a faction. You gather a bunch of lords and their armies and herd them like a bunch of mindless cattle, which in itself is difficult enough. Then maybe manage to take a castle after a pitched battle, and now you think this is the best time to push home the advantage and conquer some more territory. But no, all the lords are so elated with that single victory that they will immediately call for a feast and drink themselves into a stupor. Meanwhile the opposition takes back what little land you conquered. The only consolation for me was going to the feast and beating up all those lazy lords in the tourney.

      • cpt_freakout says:

        Come on, that’s historical accuracy at its finest! ;P

  11. Universal Quitter says:

    I can already see the double-edged sword that is M&Bs modding community being an issue.

    I want the base game to be solid this time. Modding is a wonderful cherry on top, and it’s great when it’s planned from the start, but it can’t be the focus of a good game or it’s not the actual game that’s going to be good.

    • Phier says:

      In that case shall I call Elder Scrolls games “bad games”? Modding has been key for them, especially after Morrowind where they abandoned PC focus on Oblivion.

      • lordcooper says:

        Well, they are pretty bad.

      • king0zymandias says:

        No bad is an understatement. Horrible is more like it.

      • Troubletcat says:

        Yes you shall! Morrowind’s a great cRPG, but Skyrim and Oblivion are both a bit crap in my opinion, and I find the continued success of the series a little confusing. I mean I understand that people like the mod potential, but that that’s enough to put up with such a bland core experience… It feels wrong somehow.

        • eljueta says:

          I thought I was the only one to think that. I also struggle to understand how Skyrim or Oblivion get that much Attention given that their main Feature is a huge open world with nothing of interest to do.

      • Replikant says:

        Yeah, pretty much. I found Oblivion and Skyrim to be really pretty (especially with mods) and incredibly boring (even with mods) and virtually unplayable without a mod to remove level scaling (which removes any sense of progress).

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I thoroughly enjoyed vanilla Warband for quite a while before realizing there was a huge modding community, and I’d say the base game is quite solid in the sense that it’s a solid building base. After having played it more than any other game in my life I truly believe that something like M&B doesn’t really need to be a solid game by itself, it needs to be a great basis for others to build upon. That’s why it’s the PC game: versatility and flexibility as a setup for enthusiasts yields amazing things like Gekokujo (medieval Japan mod), Warsword (Warhammer), A Clash of Kings (GoT), Nova Aetas (Renaissance-like stuff), that old LotR mod, and even crazy goofball mods like the Old West one full of spaghetti western movie music, the Star Wars multiplayer mod (which is being revived as I type this!), and whatnot. I’d never go back to playing vanilla, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not solid, or at least that’s what I think.

  12. Fishpig says:

    It’s funny how little it gets mentioned (or I never notice anyone mention) that the original Mount and Blade was one of the very earliest early access games, with a free demo you could play to a certain level, then if you liked it you could support continued development of the incomplete full game for €10 in… (checks email history)…2006, in my case, perhaps earlier.
    My hopes for this one have been mentioned by others; that the combat remains accessible but reasonably deep and the power-building and kingdom-grabbing is made more manageable – not easier, but more transparent.
    There are few things more satisfying in gaming than sending an arrow arcing over the battlefield to knock a galloping foe clean off his horse.

    • Troubletcat says:

      What you said about early access is something that I think about a lot as well. I bought M&B when it was version 0.632, can’t remember what year…

      At the time some of my friends said that it was stupid paying for a game that was still in early beta and that the game would never actually be finished and the devs would just abandon it. The exact same concerns people still have about early access, basically, but M&B was actually a successful example – I still play Warband every now and then nearly 10 years later, and I’m looking forward to the full sequel.

  13. Replikant says:

    When I first picked up M&B I did the tutorial, started the initial quest to help the merchant, recruited a few followers, got into a fight, and saw all my men run off and engage the enemy while I didn’t even know where the enemy was, couldn’t remember how to fight and mostly rode in confused circles around the melee.
    It took half a year and an enthusiastic review to get me to try again. I am incredibly glad that I did. Since then I have conquered Calradia and Pendor (though not Brytenwalda) and spent way too much time within that game. Sieges were a bit silly, mind you.

  14. tonicer says:

    I hope the first person view is still as immersive as it is in M&B:WB all i see from M&B2:BL are third person screenshots. I hope they don’t screw up by making a console version. This franchise has to stay PC only.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Time for some tru fax: Until last night, I didn’t know Warband has a first-person view! I was in multiplayer, doing a siege of some sandpeople’s castle or whatever, desperately trying to reload my crossbow by pressing “R” and finding myself looking alongside my bow! Bricks were shat, for sure.

      ok thats all the truth im ready to lay on you fools but maybe more in the future kthxby

  15. haarp says:

    I was an M&B adventurer like you once, then I took an arrow to the knee.

    • LuizPSC says:

      That happened because you dind´t have Jeremus or Yldia to cure you with herbs and horse manure, or whatever they use in those medicine skills.

  16. karnak says:

    There’s still one thing I didn’t catch (hope someone can elighten me).
    Will the game be complete sandbox (like M&B:Warband) or will it have a main quest (like M&B: With Fire and Sword)?

  17. Viggo says:

    No height option? :D

    Perhaps that would inconveniently exponentiate development time :P

  18. Borsook says:

    That’s all fine and dandy but is there an alternative control scheme? I could not abide the way the melee combat worked in MB.