Despite relatively low media visibility, Mount & Blade has been very successful, both critically and commercially. Its developers – the TaleWorlds Turks – first set out to offer a more advanced version of their game with Warband distributed in 2010. Today, they are taking advantage of Gamescom 2015 to turn the spotlight on the continuation of this project. Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlords is now a reality and as we will see, TaleWorlds has been working hard!
While a game like Ubisoft’s For Honor focuses solely on the stabbing simulation aspect of combat, Mount & Blade has always had the ambition to go further. Of course we are talking about going into big battles and swordplay with ugly people, but it goes much further than that. Elements of role-playing in the management of the main character and other elements of strategy in the management of the kingdom are there to vary the pleasures. In reality, Mount & Blade is a title that can be described as a “sandbox” in which the player does a little bit what he wants when he wants. This attitude is largely encouraged by the developers who put many tools at our disposal and who have chosen to further strengthen this aspect with Mount & Blade 2 : Bannerlords.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlords retains the same universe as the previous two opus, but takes place 200 years before the events we already know. The idea is to propose some elements of comparison with the fall of the Roman Empire: here, the Empire is Caldarian, but its inevitable decline is quite similar and weapons, equipment or game architectures are close to what could be found in Europe from 600 to 1200 AD. Of course, the heart of the game will again be its “sandbox” orientation: the player controls a banner, so the goal is to become more powerful than his neighbors. An objective that can be achieved in different ways without any of them being really imposed on us… hence the sandbox aspect, of course.
At the beginning of the game, the player must first create his character and at this level, TaleWorlds has mainly focused on making things much more customizable, visually speaking. It is thus possible to incarnate a man or a woman, but above all to change his or her physiognomy by manipulating an impressive shadow of options. If the body already offers a few rulers to play with, the face becomes extremely complex. The goal of the developers is simple: to make it virtually impossible for two players to create the same hero. On a more technical level, this phase of creation is above all the opportunity to admire the graphic improvements of the game which benefits from a much larger budget than the previous Mount & Blade. Skin texture, level of detail and animations are much richer.
Then the player lands on the campaign map and can move his new best friend to discover the surroundings, but also and above all to visit the different towns and villages. He can seek to enlist more troops for his army, manage the towns under his control and meet with the other bannerlords in the area to discuss, negotiate different arrangements or simply… to get in his face! We will have the opportunity to come back (summarily on the fighting), but first let us evoke the management aspect of the towns and villages. Any settlement can produce resources, and if it exploits, for example, horses, the inhabitants will then go to sell them in the nearest town, allowing their suburbs to reap more wealth.
In fact, it is quite possible to spend most of your time on the management aspect to become the perfect small administrator or to focus on the business alone. Many buildings can be built to strengthen the production of this or that village, but also to change the register: for example, one can replace the horse farms by sheep… or something completely different. Keep in mind, however, that the economy has a real importance in the game and that all villages in the same region have no interest in starting up the same industries. In a slightly different vein, protective buildings can also be built and if the danger becomes more pressing, it is possible to speed up production or enlist part of the population in the local militia. Be careful, however, these last two options tend to reduce the morale of the rabble.
From what we have seen, this morale management serves mainly to materialize the support of the inhabitants. When morale is too low for too long, rebellions are likely to erupt with the attendant need for troops to be subdued in order to regain control of the situation. By extension, our morale and the way we handle things also has an impact on the reputation of our hero, who is then perceived as a lenient overlord or a bloodthirsty tyrant. A reputation that sticks to him and also seems to have an impact on the perception we have of us banners managed by artificial intelligence. It is interesting to note that AI also works on the same model: all the characters it manages have different personalities. Their decisions follow a certain logic and some of them behave like real warriors!
This brings us to the subject of combat, a major component of Mount & Blade 2. It is at this level of the game that the aesthetic changes are the most impressive: the level of detail of the battlefield or the different units is finally up to the gameplay of the game. We were also able to discover some siege weapons in action and the assaults finally take on an epic dimension! The animations of the different ones are not to be outdone and count a lot in this good overall impression. Better still, artificial intelligence has also undergone profound changes and the developers have made it understand the basic principles of military tactics by adding the ability to bypass the enemy, retreat to a safer position, or pinch an overly strong opponent in the front line.
There would still be a lot to say about this Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlords , which gave us full assurance of TaleWorlds’ intentions. It’s never easy to give a real follow-up to a young team’s first project, but the Turkish developers are currently on the right track. The modifications and additions should considerably enrich an already very interesting gameplay and we obviously hope that the fights will benefit from this new ambition of the studio. An ambition that seems to remain reasonable, however: TaleWorlds has already confirmed that units and sea battles are not for this time. Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlords is scheduled for release in 2016, but the studio is careful not to advance any date at this time.