I won't lie: I felt unbridled joy the first time I stabbed a rival infantryman to death on horseback. Before this point, I'd suffered defeat on two occasions in Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord's Captain Mode—as a sharpshooting bowman and Longsword-sporting soldier respectively—thus lancing this poor bastard from atop my mount marked the beginning of my sweet retribution.
I'd killed before during my Gamescom demonstration of the game's multiplayer setting, but this particular instance was the first of my squad's first victory. Split down the middle, our room of six players was broken into two teams of three and, before we were allowed to select our preferred classes, a TaleWorlds employee told us that communication is the key to success in Bannerlord's multiplayer.
This was sound advice, we'd quickly discover, because failing to heed this instruction led us to a swift and decidedly brutal death.
In Bannerlord's multiplayer mode, you control your own character and have the ability to direct your troops around the battlefield as you see fit. A flag system allows you to fine-tune their behaviour which is especially handy towards the end of bouts when your squads have been depleted. Victory is hinged on one of two outcomes: killing your enemy outright, or capturing three flags that constantly switch position so as to encourage movement around the map.
I initially assumed the role of a Ranged Sharpshooter whose special traits were Toughness and Better Swords—a combination I convinced myself would help me when I inevitably abandoned long range sniping and went head-on with my aggressors. Needless to say, it didn't. Other classes—which at present also includes Infantry's Footmen, Sergeants and Swordsmen; and Cavarly's Men at Arms and Knights—house a number of different traits that you'll want to align with the tactics you employ.
As in Warband before it, combat in Bannerlord has players attacking with the left mouse button, blocking with the right and toggling weapons by scrolling up, but improved AI introduces tougher enemies who are less prone to making rash decisions. Directional blocking now means those adept in fencing can circumvent defensive players with critical blows, while those who fall into the latter camp can no longer permanently duck behind their shields. Trust me, I tried.
Chain attacks provide an extra layer of depth to combat, which I found particularly helpful during my second round as a Longsword-wielding Infantryman. After being pinned into a corner by two enemy soldiers, I leveraged a combo that left one foe with a slit throat and another face down in the mud on the outskirts of the medieval castle setting. A few seconds later and I was struck with a volley of arrows. In a flash, I joined my fallen enemies on the dirt as a result of some awfully misguided strategy.
Going it alone clearly wasn't working for my team and I, so we put our heads together ahead of round three and came up with a sort-of working plan. We split the classes as a means of covering all bases and I took on the role of mounted Knights. With a wee bit of on-the-fly coaching from a TaleWorlds team member, I was advised to charge the middle, with my friends setting up shop on the adjacent elevations either side of the central thoroughfare. I immediately took down a handful of foot soldiers—the first kill the sweetest, of course—forcing the rest to withdraw.
I then sent two horsemen up ahead to disperse a group of flanking bowmen, and pulled my remaining troops together by manually drawing a tight, bespoke formation onto the battlefield that had at least one horse facing in every direction. With my two roaming horses now under arrow attack, we marched forward holding the same shape and deflecting any advances levied in our direction.
I hit F3 to recall the remote fighters and despite losing one on his way back, we'd made it far enough behind enemy lines to storm our first flag of the round. In the meantime our Infantry unit had cornered the opposing team's last remaining mount and suddenly we'd won.
Crude as it was, I was impressed by the difference linking up with my team made to our overall performance—something which will be crucial in Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord's five team-supporting Captain Mode upon full release. Of course, it sounds simple when written down, but resisting the urge to act rashly and break rank in the heat of battle is clearly the difference between winning and losing here.
And the less said about our fourth and final round when I returned to the field as a Crossbowman the better. Rome wasn't built in a day, right?
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord's launch date wasn't revealed at this year's Gamescom, and is as yet to be confirmed.