One Gamescom tradition is that a lucky few get to play a new Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord preview build, then developers TaleWorlds lock up their medieval warfare sandbox fight-o-RPG for another year with nary a word of when the rest of us might get to play it. Well, Gamescom is here again, we have another appointment to play a preview build there, and... wait! Surprise! TaleWorlds have at long last announced that we'll get to play Bannerlord in March 2020, when the long-awaited prequel enters early access. So we still don't know quite when it'll be finished. But hey, here, watch the new Gamescom trailer.
March 2020 it is. I've coloured the whole month with a thick red marker on my calendar.
Why early access? TaleWorlds say "it is only possible to test [the sandbox's] limits by making it available to players," that they want to gather buckets of feedback, and that they could also use the extra time to work on making the world's many cities more distinct. In its early access launch state, they say it will offer "the true, unique experience of Mount & Blade" in both singleplayer and multiplayer. Given that the original Mount & Blade didn't truly shine until it got a standalone expansion, Warband, early access doesn't sound so bad.
The Steam page is already up, though not with any more early access details yet.