Mount And Blade 2: Bannerlord Is Looking Smooth As Butter

Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord is set for release in 2018.
Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord is set for release in 2018. TaleWorlds

The Mount and Blade franchise remains in my all-time favorite gaming surprises. In 2014 I got myself a beefy gaming PC and began exploring for games. I stumbled upon Mount and Blade: Warband during a Steam sale and after perusing a pile of positive reviews from players who had logged 500+ hours I decided it was worth $7.99.

If you’re unfamiliar, it's a combination of first person medieval combat and battlefield strategy. Imagine playing Skyrim but you're in a 75 v 75 battle and ordering troop formations around the battlefield while also fighting 1 on 1 in real time. There's a whole layer of factions and political intrigue too, and the game is a never-ending cycle of conquests and peace and ambition and betrayal. A bare bones story let's you project a lot of your own narrative onto things too, and when a loyal baron betrays you without notice you feel it as deeply as you would if it came with a cutscene monologue attached.

Three years and 200 hours later I'm a Mount and Blade guy, and was hyped to learn about Mount and Blade 2:Bannerlord last year at E3. This year, I got to play it and I'm even more excited.

Horseys! TaleWorlds

The E3 2017 hands on for mount and blade bannerlord included four scenarios: one in the arena and three on the battlefield. As someone accustomed to playing a much older franchise entry I was of course drooling over the graphical improvements. The game looks great, bit isn't exactly eye candy compared to some of the medieval RPG stuff put there. The horsepower is under the hood, in running the massive battles and intricate political reputation system. Still, it's the best looking Mount and Blade game yet and that's always something to be excited about.

More exciting is the combat. I spent a lot of time (unsuccessfully) trying to win the Arena. I felt a little out of my element playing without the crosshairs enabled, but instantly felt all the thrills of a mount and blade arena match. My weapons would break or get knocked away and I'd scramble to loot something off a fallen foe as new enemies kept popping up. The various weapons all feel distinct in their physics and performance: two handed axes wind up slow but connect with satisfying thuds, swords feel fast and light and spears keep aggressors at bay. It provided a good warm up for the battlefield scenarios.

Unfortunately my demo didn't include the castle sieges that are, in my opinion, the biggest addition coming to Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord. But the three battlefield scenarios on offer did include enough of a glimpse into some overhauled UI and tactical options. The demo also had me in control of mounted cavalry only, not the infantry and archers too. I'm glad the focus was a bit more narrow because it was a relief to only worry about controlling the unit that's the most fun to control anyway.

Basically, the strategy remains the same as it's been for all battlefield combat that involved swords and bows and beasts. I led my squad around and around for flank charges, cutting down soldiers myself as we ripped through the lines. Despite the chaos of the battlefield the new overlays in the UI made it easier to visualize how my squad would collide against enemy lines.

I won the first two scenarios but was knocked out of battle during the third. However, this revealed to me my favorite improvement over Mount and Blade: Warband. In that game, if you get locked out during battle it's an immediate loss, despite the numbers or advantages on the battlefield. In Bannerlord, the battle continues without you. I sat and watched the stats screen display mounting losses for the enemy side until we had our victory. It's a great feature in that the game no longer penalizes you for aggressive play, and is more logical too.

Of course, a game that can draw you into hundreds and hundreds of hours of gameplay is hard to understand with a 30 minute demo. But as someone familiar with the franchise I was able to detect most of the things I liked, and didn't see any big changes that would make the experience too different to enjoy. I look forward to spending way, way too much time with Mount and Blade2 : Bannerlord when it releases in 2018.

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