I can’t even count how many hours I have spent with Mount & Blade and Warband, as well as all the spin-offs and mods to these game. TaleWorlds’ decision to create a game that’s basically a “medieval lord simulator” hit the sweet spot, all the more so because the game is engaging, unpredictable and believable at the same time. Not everything was flawless, however, since the game was made by a small developer with a limited budget. Either way, the ambitions of the Turkish developer aren’t getting any smaller – their newest game, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, is supposed to be a huge step forward. During E3 the developers were not yet ready to let us play Bannerlord, but they showed off a pretty extensive gameplay. Having seen the presentation we can confirm that TaleWords is preparing quite a siege, although its main target is the community gathered around the game. Will they be able to crush the walls of anxiety, scale the extremely high expectations and storm right into the hearts of gamers?
It’s either Siege or Starvation
What TaleWorlds mostly had to show us, was the system of conquering strongholds, although they did not shy from commenting on other aspects of the game as well. If you want to take on a certain fortress, you need to get close to it and prepare for laying siege – and that takes a lot of time and funds, especially if you want to use the huge siege engines. Straight on the campaign map, you can get general information regarding the place, including the ruler’s portrait, morale of the army and the stronghold’s current level of food supplies. Food supplies are obviously important if you want to settle for starving your enemy to death, but doing that is not easy and it can actually backfire. A stronghold that is locked away from the rest of the world by our armies is certainly not getting any food or other supplies, but at the same time it’s not sending its wares anywhere. Depending on how economically important a certain fortress is to the region, a military blockade may have an impact on the economy of the whole area.
In the short demo, the creators decided to attack the local fortress, where one of the hero’s companions was held captive. Here’s when something interesting came up – the game now shows you more graphically what happens during the siege. On the campaign map you can see catapults attacking the walls, but it’s not only a visual add-on. Such animation informs us that an initial attack has commenced, and it can result in making a breach in the walls, that will make it easier for our troops to get inside and deal with the defenders. The developers promise that there will be a variety of strongholds we can encounter, and the one you could see on E3 gameplay video is certainly not the biggest one in the game. I asked the developers whether there will be any way to modify the visual side of our castles. The response was that there will be certain elements that can be changed, but we can’t expect a complex system like in Stronghold. Bigger fortresses are supposed to have more entrances, gates and defensive positions, which will give both the attackers and the defenders more tactical options.
Mount & Blade II will bring lots of upgrades and novelties within battles themselves. Let’s start with the ability to position our troops within a certain area before the skirmish commences. In case of sieges, we will be able to position war machines as well, but you won’t be able to relocate them later. Siege equipment will have a certain number of available slots, and they will depend on the size of the castle you’re about to attack. Attacking most of the castles by night will not be a wise thing to do, as the enemies might have a moat ready for you, gates will be heavily guarded and you can get rocks thrown and hot oil poured down on you when trying to storm them. The attackers will use ladders, battering rams, ballistas, catapults and siege towers. We will be able to choose between regular ammo and fireballs with hot oil – these will be especially deadly, but very costly at the same time. New possibilities are supposed to result in one thing – the developers wanted to create a system, in which our attack on the stronghold can take place in multiple places at the same time. According to them, it’s going to increase the feeling of taking part in a real, huge battle, and I must admit, that it looked really impressive during the presentation.
The essence of Mount & Blade series, apart from gathering an army and getting into medieval politics, lies in taking sword in your hand and spilling the blood of your enemies. TaleWorlds is going to make our leadership skills better, and as a result our orders will be more clearly divided – you can give orders in regard to movement, width or density of the formation, or even their behavior in battle. We’ve also noticed a certain option that will be responsible for getting into some kind of a commander mode, in which we will probably give more detailed orders, just like in classic RTS games. Moreover, our troops will decide on their own what is the best approach to take if you don feel like ordering them around. For example, if a battering ram manages to get through the outer gate, the closest troops will immediately head there to try to destroy the inner gate that leads straight to the courtyard. Similarly, the defenders will act according to the situation on the battlefield and they will prioritize their defenses, moving their forces to the most critical areas if necessary. Such things will be possible thanks to AI scripts that underwent a lot of tweaking.
Siege just got real
TaleWorlds put a lot of work into improving animations and physics to make the gameplay much more realistic. Now, the unit placement will be much more important; for example, archers that are positioned higher than their opponents will deal more damage. More work on the engine made it possible to have such little things as arrows bouncing off the walls. We could also see a situation when a defender with a bowl of oil was shot by an arrow, and fell down while still holding it. You can also see more realism in how the bodies of fataly wounded knights fall to do ground, or the sound that your weapons make when hitting various surfaces. Although fighting still has its roots in the old combat system, in which we need to block and attack from different angles, the developers promise that fighting feels much better now. We can’t really say if that is true, because we weren’t able to test the game ourselves, and it’s hard to tell only by what we could see on the screen. Animations are much prettier (the characters even have facial expressions now!), the scale of the game is still impressive, and chaos that is a part of every skirmish looks very believable – that much we can say for sure.
Just like before, we can control all machines ourselves, so it’s possible to tear down the battlements with a catapult, and then finish your work by picking off the exposed archers. What about the destruction system? Even though it’s possible to breach the wall on the campaign map, during the battle itself you can only destroy certain parts of the stronghold, like gates or upper parts of a tower. The developers explained that this decision was made, because it would be really hard to implement the ability to level everything, and that it could spoil the fun. TaleWorlds came to a consclusion that every siege in Mount & Blade II is supposed to offer lots of fun and be a kind of a challenge. On one hand it’s too bad that they limit destruction, but we understand that decision and the reasons behind it. The system allowing for full destruction of strongholds not only could easily be abused, but it would also require a lot of work on the technology that the game uses. But maybe that’s when we can count for the modders, who will have TaleWorlds’ full support.
And once the battle is won…
… there comes a moment when your troops celebrate, just like in previous Mount & Blade games. However, there is a new thing as well – a summary of the battle. The developers admitted that fans often requested such a feature, and so it is making its way to the second installment in the series. A special screen will tell us everything about casualties, effectiveness of our troops, etc. We also noticed that there was a feature called tactical map and a “play” button, which might mean that there will be some kind of replay feature that will allow you to analize the whole battle.
Let’s go back to the consequences of a successful siege, though. Winning the battle showed during the presentation meant that we saved the companion that could now go back to the player’s army. Our hero could also talk to the stronghold’s ruler and later decide what to do with her. There are several options here, because having such an important person in captivity means that we can begin negotiations with local castles, or demand ransom and make some good money off it. The political game is supposed to be of even greater importance than ever. You can also imprison all the captured soldiers or try to convince them to join your cause.
While speaking of sieges, the developers of Mount & Blade II mentioned a few other aspects of the game that will most probably be of interest to the fans of the series. First of all, the map will be bigger than the one in Warband and we’ll encounter 8 different factions while traveling the land – three of them came to existance as a result of one of the kingdoms’ fall. The campaign map had some new icons, apart from the usual markings for cities and castles. The creators explained that these are special places that can play various roles, but they didn’t want to get into any detail at the moment. In the video itself we could see one of the Northern peoples in action; known as the Sturgians, they are well known for their fierce infantry that prefers using swords and axes. Their armies, equipped with helmets covering whole face and eyes, will be especially useful during sieges. It’s also worth mentioning that the user interface got much better as well. Although TaleWords kept that characteristic font and the looks of certain screens, lots of details were modified. Thanks to this, it’s much easier to move around your inventory, arm your character or manage the army.
The castle has been taken, my lord!
It’s difficult to try to rate the game in any way, especially after only a short presentation and a conversation with the developers. On one hand, the game looks really promising, but at the same time it didn’t change as much as many fanes had hoped. The idea of medieval battles, knights and conquering castles came back recently thanks to titles like For Honor or Kingdom Come, with the latter actually being closer to a fantasy rather than a playable game. Recently we could also see a trailer from Of Kings and Men that actually reuses some of the motifs present in Mount & Blade. How do you compete with such spectacular visions that are backed by a superior technology to boot? TaleWorlds actually seems to know the answer to that question. You need to stay true to the initial idea and do your best to keep it intact, while paying attention to the details that you can improve. Bannerlord looks and works like a Mount & Blade game, but it’s better, more complex and definitely much more polished.
While I was watching the siege of the castle and listening to the developers’ commentary, I only had one question in my head: when will I be able to actually play this beauty? While they couldn’t, unfortunately, present us with a specific date, the creators promised that a kind of a closed beta will take place later this year. I really hope all goes according to TaleWorlds’ plans, because other competing studios are definitely not asleep and they are already well on the way to make their own “medieval lord simulators”.
Hed | Gamepressure.com