EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Thomas Mikkelsen
previewed on PC
A Diamond or a Lump of Coal?
Early Access has always been a mixed bag of experiences. With some, it’s like getting in on a gold mine just as surveyors discover diamonds directly below it. With others, it’s like taking your crispy $20 bill to forensic scientists and having them reveal where it’s been. Just to clear here, the former is fantastic and the latter shows you the filthy, broken endeavor that is game development. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord has been in development for – let’s face it – way too long. Announced in September 2012, it’s left the phrase ‘development hell’ permanently branded on fans’ lips. The developer’s promise to release the game “when it’s ready” didn’t bode well to those familiar with the saying “a game is never finished, it’s just released.”
Now, over seven years after announcement, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is playable on Steam’s Early Access. It feels fresh, yet familiar and, despite a few bugs here and there, looks remarkably finished. With an Early Access title, even one as anticipated as M&B2:B, we think to ourselves: “will this be worth my investment eventually?” That is to say, will this game at some point be worth the money I used to supported it or the investment of my time? As Early Access players, we are essentially paying for the right to be guinea pigs for developers as they fix and adjust their game. We’re paying to do work publishers used to pay QA testers for. So what is the answer in M&B2:B’s case?
My first impression was “this is just Warband with a fresh coat of paint” when faced with a very similar character creation and tutorial section as featured in the game’s predecessors. That, however, is an impression you’ll soon have slapped out of your head as you progress from being a nameless caravan guard to playing the political game, because that is where a lot of the game’s added content is. While combat feels familiar, it’s improved in every way from animations to weapon selection, and the UI is a lot less “dated” than the original’s and Warband’s were when they arrived on the market. Let’s be honest here, aesthetics and UI design have never been TaleWorlds’ strengths. Bannerlord, however, feels a lot more like a modern RPG in everything from town menus, skill trees, world map, and equipment screens; and access to important content makes a lot more sense here.
For example, Warband had you walk around villages trying to find the village elder before you could talk to him about potentially going on a quest. Often, you’d find out they didn’t need anything and the whole endeavor would be wasted time. Bannerlord has a list of important people present in the town displayed at the top of the town menu as soon as you arrive, and those that have something for you to do have an exclamation point next to their portrait. You can even initiate a conversation with them from there, so no more walking through town trying to find one guy in a sea of generic-looking NPCs. The same goes for traveling lords you may meet when exploring the map. The ones who have something for you to do will have the same exclamation mark, so you won’t have to randomly bother everyone you meet in an attempt to find something valuable to do. Every city now has a ransom broker and you don’t even have to go into the tavern to find them. There’s a menu item in the “tavern district” that allows you to sell all your prisoners with one click.
Emergent Narrative at Its Finest
Honestly, there’s not a single gripe I had with Warband that hasn’t been addressed in one way or another in Bannerlord. It still looks like a game released a decade ago, but the amount of content this sandbox allows for is simply staggering. The map may not be the biggest and there are still some balancing issues, but you can spend all your time fighting looters, if that’s what you want to do. You can start a caravan, buy a workshop, build a monopoly, become a filthy rich, disgustingly corrupt businessman, you can start a family, join a royal house, or become a brigand and a raider yourself. Your actions will affect your reputation, the local economy, world politics, and the daily lives of the NPCs that populate the areas in which you operate. Bannerlord is an amazing game, and I don’t see myself stopping my reign of terror in it any time soon.
Sure, it’s a work in progress. Of course, there are some rough edges. Naturally, there are some balancing issues. And certainly, there are some weird behaviors and systems you can manipulate to your advantage, but you, dear reader, should definitely get in on this gold mine as soon as possible. Diamonds will be arriving very soon.
There are no guarantees - but we'd bet our own money on this one. If you're going to take a chance with yours, odds are good this one will deliver.