Greetings warriors of Calradia!
It seems hard to believe, but a whole year has passed since Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord was released in Early Access. And such a challenging year it has been, for everyone. We hope you are staying safe and healthy, and that the game was able to serve as an enjoyable distraction for you during these difficult times. We also want to express our gratitude to everyone that has supported us since the early access launch and provided us with many great suggestions and ideas that have helped us tremendously with the development of the game!
With that in mind, this first anniversary seems like the perfect occasion to take another look at the path we’re walking together. Initially, we had estimated that the early access period would last for about a year. And while we are happy with the progress that has been made so far, we feel that the game isn’t quite ready for its full release just yet. As such, our tentative estimate for the release is Q4 2021, however, development will continue for as long as necessary as we take the time to ensure that the game is fun and enjoyable.
On a connected note, many of you have been inquiring about the game coming to consoles. As we’ve always said, our focus right now is on finishing the PC version. Consoles will come later on – but they will come! When we have more information to share about that, you’ll be the first to know, so stay tuned to our website, forums, and social media channels.
With that cleared up, let’s move on to discuss what has happened with the game over the past year!
When Bannerlord first released, we were humbled by the sheer amount of players that chose to support us in early access. And while many of you were able to play the game without any major issues, there were those of you that experienced bugs, crashes and performance challenges.
This is something that we have worked hard to address, especially in the early weeks and months. To help in those efforts, we introduced a separate beta branch for the game which, thanks to some supportive (and patient!) players, has since helped to highlight and resolve many issues before they could make their way to the live version of the game.
Naturally, there still remains work to be done, but to date, the performance and stability of the game have improved by leaps and bounds. For instance, a recent internal profiling of a 1000 unit field battle played on a GTX 1660ti and i7 8700k averages around 27-30 fps (36 ms) on the EA release build and sits at 47-50 fps (21 ms) on the latest patch. Similarly, when it comes to the campaign map, a setup that we use for continuous testing (GTX 1080 and i7 8700k) experienced an increase from 80 to 90 fps in fast forward.
Average performance in field battles in e1.0.10 compared to e.1.5.8
Other technical areas have also seen much progress over this past year. Many spikes that caused stutters in gameplay were resolved, scene loading times were greatly reduced, DLSS was added, savegame compression was improved by around 80%, and the optimisation of texture streaming reduced pop-in and sliced roughly 10GB off the game size!
In the same spirit, we’ve made many improvements since launch to ensure that the basic gameplay is smooth and enjoyable. By utilising your feedback, we've been able to make some welcome changes on this front, with additions like quick map conversations, and the overhauled hideout troop selection window. This continued throughout the year with small, but impactful tweaks, such as; expanding quick conversations to settlements; the ability to categorise save files; and the addition of a range of menu shortcuts that, among other things, allow you to quickly switch tabs or move/upgrade/etc. entire stacks of items.
You can now initiate conversations on the campaign map
Another important area that we’ve made efforts to improve on is how the game communicates with you. Quite early on, a new visual system was implemented to display map events like raids, battles, and sieges on the UI instead of with 3D icons, in order to improve overall visibility. And in a similar vein, we later added mobile party trackers that allow players to better understand where their clan parties and kingdom armies are. It was also crucial to make the world more accessible by adding events like tournaments and quests to settlement nameplates, improving the various management screens, and introducing a number of new notifications and tooltips. Now, you are notified about things like threats against your fiefs or nobles resolving issues, and generally have more information about the world, as well as, your own actions.
A number of UI improvements have been made to display events clearly
Of course, it’s not all been quality of life updates. As early access has progressed, other content and features have been added and adjusted as well. This includes some subtle, but substantial things like balancing the prices, production, and availability of items and equipment in the market; reworking troop trees; introducing new item modifiers, including the lame horse feature; expanding conversations; and so on... At the same time, it also encompasses some more overt changes, like the many new quests or the overhaul of the prisoner recruitment system - which not only offers more interesting choices to you and ties them to the character system but also taught NPCs to do the same. Additionally, more recently we have seen the introduction of Sandbox mode and prison break, which offer new avenues for you to explore. And let’s not forget photo mode, which allows you to immortalise your epic (and silly) moments in Bannerlord!
Photo mode allows you to capture and enhance moments from your adventures
Moving on, we want to discuss a topic that many of you care deeply about: the character development system. When the game first launched, we were faced with some difficult choices. Perks were incomplete, but we were also not entirely happy with their design at that point either. Initially, each perk had just a single effect, which made them interesting and useful for either the player character or for companions and AI nobles… but not both. In the end, we decided to revisit the design by reworking many of the existing effects, and added a second effect to most of the 300+ perks in the game, giving you more freedom and options when developing your characters and making it much less likely for any perks to go to waste. This decision didn’t come easy as it prolonged the time required to fill in missing content, but we believe it was the right choice as it made the game better in the long run.
There are now over 300 perks in the game!
Character progression and skills also saw some fairly substantial changes. Initially, character levels would grow based on skill levels, but this led to situations where you could harm your own progression unintentionally by focusing on just a few skills that would take longer and longer to develop. To solve this, the system was changed to be based on raw experience instead, which means that characters can grow even if their skill levels don’t increase. Alongside this, we expanded the ways in which you can gain experience, whether it be Combat in the arena, Charm in barters, or Roguery for robbing peasants. Having said that, we hear you and we agree that this should receive more attention still.
Beyond that, we also want to provide you with a greater number of customisation options, which so far have included additional colours for skin, hair, and eyes; a number of new hairstyles, with a barber to change them at; as well as, a much-requested option to control your character’s weight and build.
A number of Character Customisation additions have been added to the game
However, It wasn’t just heroes that needed some additional care! With the combat system and battle simulation generally favouring strong fighters, a situation arose whereby, unbeknownst to us, the development of troops in parties was skewed. Thankfully, you stepped in to let us know that it could be overly difficult to raise recruits to a higher level and, in response to this, we introduced a shared experience system that ensures that combat experience is more evenly distributed among your troops.
Finally, the interplay between the combat and character systems was revised. Originally, the combat AI level was derived from the NPC’s character level. However, that meant that any high-level character, whether it was a merchant or a warrior, would be a proficient fighter. This was changed to take into account the character’s skill level for their wielded weapon instead. It required some additional work with balancing troop stats and equipment, but, much like with Perks, it has improved the game in the long run!
Characters now take their weapon skill level into account for their wielded weapon
A related area of the game that has seen quite a bit of development since launch is the Clan & Family system. In the past year, we created a healthier population with many new lords and ladies added, taught them to intermingle and marry, improved the coming of age for their offspring, and enabled natural death (along with a way to disable it, as requested by our Warband veterans!).
New options for clan leaders were also added. For one, you can now develop the skills of your offspring through the education feature as they grow older. Adult clan members, in turn, have become more useful, with expanded Captain, Party Leader, and Governor Perk effects. And even if you prefer to keep them safe, they can develop relations with locals when you leave them in a settlement. Or if you wish to arrange a marriage for one of your clan members - you can now do so!
You can now influence the development of your offspring at key moments throughout their childhood
Finally, AI decision making was worked on as well, leading to better target selection for parties and financial management for clan leaders, alongside various tweaks to deal with starvation and the ability to recruit from and trade with neutral, rather than just allied, settlements. Still, mismanagement and poor luck remain possible for both players and AI nobles and have been made much more impactful with the introduction of rebellions.
Unhappy citizens can now take up arms and seize control of their settlement
Of course, you may aspire to greater things than being just the head of your household, such as serving or leading a kingdom through the maelstrom of Calradian power struggles! The latter, in particular, is something that we wanted to enable early on with the introduction of the sandbox kingdom creation, as well as, the ability to hire mercenary clans to support your realm and a kingdom decision to handle succession.
However, whether you are a king or not, you should be able to influence major political and military actions which is why the war and peace barter was converted to a kingdom decision that vassals and rulers can both partake in.
Clan leaders now play a bigger role in kingdom diplomacy
Diplomacy, in general, has been a hot topic throughout development, with many ideas put forward. Our focus here has been to improve the decision making on the part of vassals and kings so that they act in interesting but also reasonable ways. Thanks to some pretty elaborate playtesting and feedback, they have improved quite a bit when it comes to self-preservation in war and peace decisions as well as when it comes to making more reliable, personality and relation-based defections, or rejections thereof.
Naturally, not all diplomacy takes place in such a courteous fashion. And so, army AI received much of the same attention that clan parties did. Leaders are now much less likely to pursue faraway targets and favour attacking holdings of people they dislike over those that they like. And to make things more interesting, a new decision was added to sieges as well! Pillaging allows conquerors to devastate, pillage, or show mercy to a settlement, which AI lords do based on their personality, available influence, and morale. This feature further adds to the dynamic of the world with settlement projects now on the line to be destroyed.
Conquerors can now pillage, devastate, or show mercy to their new subjects
One of the staples of the Mount & Blade series is the combat system, and there’s no question that we want to continue to use the early access period to further improve it with your input. There have already been a number of notable additions since the start of early access, such as autoblock, cheering, target locking, an additional radial order wheel, and the ability to wield (some) crossbows on horseback. And, as other systems like perks have made progress, complimentary mechanics, such as the ability to assign captains to formations, have been introduced to make use of them.
You can now celebrate your victories alongside your troops!
At the same time, we have received a lot of feedback about field battles and siege missions, and we have used this to address many issues and improve the behaviour of agents and formations. The overhaul to formation and tactics AI, for one, introduced new unit categories like skirmishers to better handle troops with throwing weapons. It also taught mixed formations to shuffle their shield bearers to the front in a shield wall, and improved the tactical response to things like chokepoints, ranged fire, and the composition of enemy forces. Similarly, the weapon selection of agents is smarter and their understanding of weapon length and positioning was improved. Having said that, sieges, in particular, remain an active part of development and will continue to see improvements.
Formation and tactics AI have been overhauled
The skill-based directional combat system wasn’t forgotten either, and, with the help of collaborative play-testing and suggestions from the community, has seen significant improvements to attacking, blocking, animations, and movement. The readying and aiming durations of ranged weapons like bows, crossbows and throwing weapons were also reworked and tied to weapon speeds, adding more variety between ranged weapons of the same kind. Together these changes make for a more fluid and challenging experience in both singleplayer and multiplayer.
The importance of multiplayer to the game cannot be stressed enough, and we showed that to be the case when we first introduced you to Bannerlord with a closed beta before the early access launch. Using player feedback and bug reports, we were able to improve many aspects of the game in preparation for EA, and since then multiplayer has gone through quite a few changes. While we worked on combat, class, and game mode balance, 3 new Captain, Skirmish, and Siege scenes, as well as, 2 new Team Deathmatch maps were added.
New scenes have been added to all multiplayer game modes
These changes were accompanied by a number of UI improvements, which can be seen in places like the map loading screens and additional HUD elements. Additionally, new and impactful gameplay features, such as spear bracing and sound occlusion, were also implemented.
Spear bracing allows you to dispatch enemy horses with ease!
Alongside these additions to the game, a number of social features were added to support the community. On the one hand, we enabled Anti-cheat, introduced penalties for quitting matches too often, and added a global mute, as well as, an in-game reporting system with detailed game and chat logs to help maintain a healthy and fair environment.
And on the other hand, we introduced mechanics like the match history that enables you to find information about your recent matches, which not only provides match details but allows you to keep track of people you have played with and increase your circle of friends. This was complemented by the introduction of the clan system which lets you band together with your friends for some casual play, or compete in competitive clan matches against other teams through a dedicated clan match system. And thanks to an in-game clan roster, it’s easy to keep track of and manage members, or transfer leadership of the clan. Finally, the clan leaderboard allows you to track your clan’s overall competitive performance in clan matches.
The clan leaderboard tracks each clan’s wins and losses in competitive clan matches
Since the start of EA, we’ve been adding and improving content to make the game more engaging and alive. To this end, over 20 new settlement scenes have been added for you to bring into your domain, with many, many more in the pipeline. In addition to this, 26 new battle terrains have been introduced in preparation for the upcoming battle terrain system that was recently announced. At the same time, all of the game’s existing scenes, and, in particular, the campaign map, have received a lot of TLC in the form of fixes and tweaks, alongside other improvements, like new icons and models.
There’s a number of new settlements for you to conquer and explore
But of course, you need to be able to look and act the part when you are out on your adventures, which is why we continued to add to the already extensive selection of clothing, armours, weapons, and crafting pieces with the addition of many new items.
The game’s armoury has been expanded with the addition of many new armours
Our efforts to further immerse you have extended to other visual aspects of the game too, such as with the various new and improved animations and the many new faction and event themed artworks that have been added to settlement menus.
New faction and event themed artwork have been added to settlement menus
Next, we want to move on to discuss something that is just as important at drawing you into the world as the sights, which is the sounds. In the effort to improve Calradia’s soundscape, numerous new ambiences were added, while existing ones were further detailed. In addition to this, a number of new music tracks were added across the game.
Alongside these, a broader range of selectable voice types was made available for your characters, and missing shouts for charges and retreats were added. Similarly, to further improve the feel of battle, a number of additional shouted warnings were introduced. And for multiplayer, alongside the addition of sound occlusion that we mentioned above, most of the sounds’ audibility has been thoroughly overhauled. Beyond these, there are countless minor revisions all around the game’s audible world.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the modding tools.
Modders have always played a key role for the Mount & Blade franchise and provide a great deal of joy and inspiration to players and developers alike. Even within the first few days of Bannerlord’s Early Access, you were hard at work to bring your creations to players. And despite not having any tools, you were able to push Bannerlord to one of the top games in terms of mods created and downloaded.
So we were really quite excited to release our initial set of modding tools into early access after the closed testing, workshops, and discussions with a number of you ended. The current kit includes a powerful scene editor with many tools and a range of resource editors. Together they allow for the creation of many of the same assets that are part of the game - as well as entirely new ones!
Scene Editor Toolset
And what better way to celebrate the occasion than with our first big creative contest? There were certainly some challenges with the tools being fresh out of the oven, but you didn’t let that stop you, and even helped to improve the editor - all while creating some truly amazing scenes!
However, with all that being said, there’s still much to be done with the tools, API, and general documentation. We want to assure you that this remains one of our goals and that we will increase our efforts in this regard.
Whew, well that was certainly a lot to get through, even after all the cuts! If we missed out any changes or additions to the game that you personally enjoyed, please make sure to leave a reply in the comment section below to let us know what it was!
And finally, we have a message for those of you that have been following development a little more avidly throughout early access and are more interested in where the game is heading rather than the path it has taken. We felt that trying to squeeze such a big discussion into this particular post would have detracted from both topics, and ultimately, we wouldn’t have been able to give it the attention and respect that it deserves. As such, we decided that we would discuss some of the future plans for the game in a follow-up post in the near future.
Until then, we want to thank you once again for your amazing support throughout early access, and we wish you the best of health.