Mount & Blade II Bannerlord to claim PS5 strategy fans for new kingdom

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

Mount & Blade II Bannerlord is coming to PS5 and PS4 on October 25th, 2022 and we spent some time exploring the massive strategy game hit for a preview while speaking to Falk Engel, producer at TaleWorlds Entertainment.

Mount & Blade II Bannerlord is making a strategy kingdom on PS5 and PS4 on October 25th, 2022 and there is nothing you can do to stop it. At Gamescom 2022 we got to play the PC behemoth on PS5 and speak to producer Falk Engel from developer TaleWorlds Entertainment.

Mount & Blade BannerlordMount & Blade Bannerlord is coming to PS5 and PS4 in October, 2022

Popular strategy game Mount & Blade finally returns to PS4 and PS5

We needn't belabour just how popular Mount & Blade has become on PC over the years. "The franchise actually started in 2000, maybe as early as like 2001," says Engel to me. "If I remember correctly, Mount & Blade proper came out around 2008. I came into this whole franchise as a fan in 2010."

Now, in 2022, we are seeing the release of Mount & Blade II Bannerlord, but the console had been a target audience for TaleWorlds for some time. "[Bannerlord] isn't the first title that came to console, the franchise has been there before and it was actually quite well received." He is talking about the rather stripped-back Mount & Blade – Warband having already appeared on PS4 in 2016. "I think that [Bannnerlord] is offering content that you don't usually find on the console."

There is no doubt that that is the case. Bannerlord is a strategy game with role-playing components mixed in, a unique selection of genres that must be very tricky to blend for the Turkish developers. Your wars and kingdom expansion take place in the fictional Calradia; however, think of this as a narrative device to ensure that medieval Europe and the Middle East can do battle without armchair historians yelling about incongruities in the background. There is a whole history here, but I don't want to do it a disservice — so be assured it is as deep as you make it.
If you aren't familiar with Mount & Blade, gameplay features several plains of action. There is a zoomed-out view for your more tactical play like in a Civilization game — you move troops around to various cities and villages, manage any conquests, see enemy positions, take up some quests, and more.

Then you have the focussed third-person combat and exploration. You could just be wondering about a village you enter asking after someone you are hunting down in the quest for expansion, or you could be in a siege on a castle watching the men put up ladders while you hover with the archers (not unlike a more tactical Chivalry II or Mordhau). Then you have the menu-based operations for loot, selecting leaders, and the like.

Making this work in tandem, then, is a tricky task. "Of course, it is hard content [to present]: there's lots of menus and lots of stuff that is not optimized to work for everyone. However, it's something that does seem to appeal to a large group of players who are really excited and happy. It's a deep game." From our 45-minute hands-on, it manages to balance presentation and console controls without losing any of its uniqueness.

Mount & Blade BannerlordOne of the many fights you will pray your characters survive

Jumping in with no experience is a tricky task, but none more than for the developers who must have to show it off to journalists who have no idea what they are doing (hello!). However, with a little team spirit, two developers and I began an end-game conquest. The target was to capture a massive fortress, guide my troops accordingly, and try and stay alive. Seeing hoards of your men plough towards the high stone walls is quite unlike much I've played before — as is trying to direct the intimacies of combat. Instead, I stay back and use a bow and arrow to pick off men on the walls, before going over the top.

Not long in, I was slicing down armed combatants with my sword while defending a keep for my men. I think it's fair to say it isn't a complex 1v1 combat experience, but mixed in with the complexities of managing your troops, tactics, and where the enemies are coming from, this is no doubt an engaging affair. It took a little while to get used to the controls, but it seems like the team has negotiated the transition to console well. Moreover, the transition from the keyboard to the controller is better than most tactical games that have tried to crush all the button prompts onto the limitations of the trusty Dualshocks of the past.

Mount & Blade BannerlordMount & Blade Bannerlord players will not want to be the man on the ground here

"I don't think it's a step-down," Engel says about the console port of the PC game. "I think the game is very much alike [on PC and console]. We are, of course, looking at challenges [where we must] consider consoles [as something] that might require some unique solution. If you look at the UI, it has nice functionality that kind of grabs onto the different UI elements even if you're using the joystick.

"We have a thing you can check out on the menu options," Engel continues. "You can have an optional sort of alternative way to fight battles. If they're taking too long for you, for instance, you can limit the number of reinforcement waves and what that does — after three reinforcements or whatever you set it to — the mission ends, and go back to the main map, and then you can choose to go back to the mission or find an alternate solution." Battles can take a while, something that many hardcore players will revel in as they finally get to slug it out on the field without interruptions.

Mount & Blade BannerlordMount & Blade Bannerlord has more variety than ever before

However, some might have less time to play, "[The option] allows players [to think] 'this is a bit too long.' Some battles can take up to 10-15 minutes, as you might have noticed." I did, nodding at an open-field encounter I had just had that lasted about ten minutes with me launching spiral attacks on horseback — a method otherwise referred to as 'idiot pokes at enemies without any backup and nearly loses his life.'

"It allows [players] to still play the battle to some degree and then decide, 'Okay, I've given them a good beating and now's the time to switch [tact] and offer a solution.' We can have the rest of the fight take place — abstractly — in one to two seconds. I wouldn't say there's a step-down, there are some custom solutions that we don't force, and people can still choose between different options."

Mount & Blade BannerlordMount & Blade Bannerlord has
plenty of factions to scrap with

I think, even in my limited hands-on time, it was clear Mount & Blade has no direct peer when it comes to the specific action, strategy, and RPG combo on offer. "I think to some degree we have the benefits of the existing franchise," says Engel when I ask how they balance the three aspects of Bannerlord. "The [series has given] players this scale of progression and the sense of scale, as well. Because the cool thing is, with this mix of [tactical forms comes] a sense of the strategic. In the context of the strategic map, as well as the individual missions that are third person, you offer players an experience that scales really well.

"You walk around, and take some questions, and requests — which is more of a traditional action RPG experience. Then, as you progress in the game, as you gain access to more resources, as you establish yourself with various characters -— you get to more of a strategic layer. I think that combination works really well in our games." In 45 minutes I experienced all three and it works to great effect, really placing you in the heat of any given moment — though there is a possibility that some gameplay elements might come off as shallow individually. When it's working in tandem, there will be nothing quite like Bannerlord.

"How do [we] get there?" Engel responded when I asked how the team found the combination. "It's a good idea, a good portion of luck, and commitment, as well. Of course, you don't get everything right. I'm sure there are many things we can still do better, but it is an experience that you don't find that much, you know."

Mount & Blade 2: BannerlordMount & Blade II: Bannerlord has big battles, a plenty

The strategy game has long struggled to find the same welcoming home on console as PC in recent years. Mount & Blade commands quite the kingdom there — Bannerlord even launched to record Steam numbers when it first entered early access. The reaction of the console market was always going to be slightly different. "I think that's the point, to bring a different experience to these [places] and offer them something that they are not able to find elsewhere. I mean, the good thing is we know [the audience is there] from the previous games.

"So, from what we've seen there, [we know] this is a game that can work on multiple platforms and that it is enjoyable to a range of players," Engel says. "We hope that this will be a game that people will enjoy. I mean, of course, we want to get the game out to many players and so forth. At the same time, we want it to be fun because it's a developer-driven studio and the passion at the office is the product — that's nice."

The console port isn't really even acknowledged as something distinct by Engel. "To some degree, it's been part of the development from the start. Of course, there are certain forces that came into full force more in the later parts, but once there was an actual game to translate [it was easier]. I think that's one of the cool things, too.

Mount & Blade 2: BannerlordMount & Blade II: Bannerlord has you walking the streets of your subjugates

"When you look at a lot of the discourse that happens around consoles and the reports, it tends to be quite negative," Engel acknowledges. "That's not been our experience with it. We developed the PC game, we went into early access two years ago, and then we focused on continuing to build the game and our technical teams focused on making its performance stable and all of that."

"Of course, I mean — since we are coming out on PS4 and the Xbox One — it was a challenge. It was something that we had to work hard on. But it allowed us to make the game on PC better, as well. Better stability, better performance. I don't think you can really put a number on the amount of like the years that the console version has been worked on, other than the overall development as well."

Mount & Blade BannerlordMount & Blade II Bannerlord is also a tactical behemouth

Finally, I broach the question of PlayStation Plus and what the team at TaleWorlds thinks of it as a prospect for 'niche' games on the console — though that feels a little insulting to say about Mount & Blade. "I think it's great that these services exist," says Engel. "I think it's good for players to have different offerings, but I'm not sure what the full impact of it will be on the industry.

"I think that's a very difficult question to think about. Right now, I mean — in my personal circle of friends, as well — I guess it's something that we're being moved towards as a society. Whether this will be something that for this game is an interesting idea. I think we will think about it [as a studio] before we have anything concrete to discuss."

Mount & Blade 2: BannerlordClimbinb the walls in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord

I wrap up the game demo by diving into a bit of micromanagement — moving loot around after I won a battle, checking out the quests log I have open, managing finances, and playing around with the commanders under my control. It looks sufficiently deep, though I quickly realise that the only way to get a hang of this system will be to begin a kingdom of my own. My little in-game conquest of a fort and some surrounding villages pales compared to what Taleworlds has achieved in PC country, but the console lands will prove an interesting tactical puzzle to overcome. I'm interested to see how this kingdom grows and I will happily reside under its crown on release.

Thank you to producer Falk Engel for speaking to us. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is coming to PS5 and PS4 on October 25th, 2022. For more Gamescom coverage, check out the Hyenas preview, System Shock gameplay impressions, our Wanted Dead preview, and the three stories on The Callisto Protocol's DLC, PS5 audio, trophies, and its aversion to PS Plus, as well as the Tunic interview we had! Until then, see you in the comments!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Associate Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation news. He writes about upcoming exclusives like The Last of Us and God of War, PS Plus and PS Studios news, and his favourite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and The Outer Wilds — before an evening swim.