Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord – The horns sound, the ravens gather. An empire is torn by civil war. Beyond its borders, new kingdoms rise. Gird on your sword, don your armour, summon your followers and ride forth to win glory on the battlefields of Calradia. Establish your hegemony and create a new world out of the ashes of the old.
Riding across the dunes of a vast desert with a detachment of mounted archers at my back, I had a singular goal passed down from my commander: Lead your units to the enemy to keep them off our infantry. Calling for my troops to follow my lead, I crested a large dune and saw the ranks and formations of our enemy, and began picking off their infantry while strafing the group of soldiers. A large dust cloud kicked up around our horses, and it was only as my troops quickly spun around that I realized the hazy cloud was hiding the enemy’s cavalry – who crashed into our own mounted team while killing dozens of my archers. Ordering a quick retreat, my battered followers raced ahead while the cavalry followed in hot pursuit – right into my team’s bowmen group that had stopped at the top of a dune to rain death on the forces we lured into them.
What transpired was just a fraction of the entire battle, but developer TaleWorlds has expertly crafted these large skirmishes (with armies numbering in the hundreds) to allow players to take command in a way of their choosing. Those who love to micromanage on the battlefield can issue orders to individual sections of your army, while those preferring freedom can delegate other leaders to deploy troops in smart ways that took terrain, enemy placement, and their own personalities into account.
Like previous Mount and Blade titles, Bannerlord’s campaign will have you traversing the world to make a name for yourself – impressing lords of one of the many factions, or choosing to grow your own independent army. Depending on your standing within those factions – you might be the one taking orders, and following them helps the overall army function smoothly. Become a lord with titles and land, and you’ll have the freedom to take command of more battalions – or call all the shots you want.
CEO and Founder of TaleWorlds, Armağan Yavuz, revealed that some lords tend to act very cautiously – preferring to harass with mounted units and wear down an army before going in for the kill – while others may be more reckless, merciful, or even bloodthirsty – chasing down every fleeing soldier they could. Getting to know a lord can go a long way into finding out what makes them tick – and how to best them in battle.
With new additions to how battlefield skirmishes work, the interface is clean and nearly non-existent, as large shield icons for different troop placements will appear on the horizon and fade the closer you get, and a small meter at the top notes the overall strength of the opposing armies – and how many each side has lost. At one point, my army was slowing getting destroyed as I saw the meter slowly dropping. The visual representation gave me just enough time to spot the source of the problem – a large battalion of archers pinning my army down – and by sending my cavalry to flank them, I was able to turn the tide of battle in my favor. Your troops aren’t mindless either: They’ll follow tasks you assign, but can also break off to help those in need, and fight back or chase down targets you might otherwise miss.
Unlike Mount and Blade: Warband, Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord doesn’t have the ability to toggle a map overview (it can get easy to get lost when chasing stragglers down sometimes), but Yavuz said they were still toying with the idea of bringing it back – or keeping it out in favor of a more realistic sense of what an actual commander could see in real life.
Skirmishes aren’t the only thing that got an overhaul – as individual combat is more fluid than ever. When trying out an arena demo, I found that in addition to Mount and Blade’s directional combat, shields could also be angled to deflect from the sides, or even raised to protect from above – perfect for siege battles. There’s also better options for breaking the guard of opponents using kicks and shield bashes to find new openings. Slicing and striking from different angles looks better than ever, as motions look less stiff than in Warband, and momentum allows for quick-follow up attacks that take position and speed into account, letting you hit faster and harder than in previous titles. For those who value every advantage, there’s a lot of hidden factors that play into every attack, and knowing how and when to strike can give you a major advantage.
Bannerlord has also enjoyed a fresh coat of paint – and while it may not be up to par with other games in its age, it’s sacrificed just enough to allow truly gigantic battles that look as pretty as they are deadly. Seeing the plumes of my helmet flutter in the wind along with my horse’s mane was a great touch – and clouds of dusts kicked up from the infantry became thick where the fighting was the fiercest.
I wasn’t able to take part in a siege during my hands-on time, but if the giant armies clashing among the dunes or grasslands looked this spectacular, I’ll be looking forward to leading that charge when the full game is released – which Yavuz stated will be “ready when it’s ready – but hopefully sometime soon.”.