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Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord has bigger, more beautiful battles

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Leading a squadron of deadly horse archers into battle is as much fun as it sounds

Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord, the sequel to the cult classic Mount and Blade: Warband, returned to E3 this year with a playable demo. It featured a new and improved combat system, Norman knights, nimble horse archers and not even the slightest hint of a release window.

This was the first time that TaleWorlds Entertainment allowed people outside the company lay hands on the game’s battle mode, which pits up to 500 warriors against one another on an open plain. I was given access to two different scenarios, the first with a Norman-inspired faction of European warriors and later with a squadron of Turkish-themed horse archers.

The biggest improvement to my eye were the environmental touches, like the dirt kicked up by the horses or the clouds of dust that rolled over the sand dunes. Seeing a line of cavalry advancing through a distant haze was beautiful and intimidating. The combat was also much improved over the previous game. TaleWorlds has added directional blocking, meaning that the better you are at predicting the area that your opponent will strike the longer your shield will last before breaking.

Command and control has also been revamped. The new Sergeant System allows commanders to give orders to subordinate leaders, including the player character. Issuing commands has also been simplified. I was able to order my troops to rally or to attack while still keeping control of my own horse.

My favorite part of the entire half-hour demo was getting to play as the leader of a small squadron of Turkish horse archers. The tactic that I was taught was to circle enemy infantry in a counter-clockwise motion, firing arrows to my left at the massed troops and whittling them down. But I couldn’t hold my arrow notched for very long, so it became a kind of rhythmic motion of drawing, aiming and firing before my arm tired.

Unfortunately, when pressed about the status of the game and a release date, TaleWorlds declined to comment. For a game that’s been in development for nearly five years already, that’s a troubling response. It should be understood that the game itself is a massive undertaking, and includes a multiplayer arena mode, sieges, role-playing and a vast strategic layer that takes place on an overworld map. But to go so long and not yet have an end in sight is worrying.

Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord is being built for Windows PC and will be available on Steam.