It feels as if we’ve been waiting for Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord for an age now, although TaleWorlds Entertainment looks to be comfortable taking its time in order to deliver on the hype. The latest update from the studio comes from lead programmer Murat Türe, who detailed the technical improvements and performance optimisation being lavished on Mount and Blade Bannerlord.
CPU usage is the biggest focus; by his own admission, Bannerlord will be heavily CPU dependent, capable of displaying as many as 800 characters on-screen at any point in time. Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord battle sizes will scale with CPU core count. The future-proofed system means new CPUs will allow for ever larger battles.
By default, the original Mount & Blade has a battle size limit of 150 that can be overcome with a mod of modding. Doing so comes at a cost though, and Warband begins to struggle on many systems with the higher NPC count.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord will feature hundreds of characters battling at a time, each with their own advanced animations, unique AI, formation AI to adhere to, combat calculations, Inverse Kinematics systems (character interactions with the terrain and each other) and more. All of these aspects will put a tremendous strain on your CPU rather than your GPU, forcing TaleWorlds to focus its optimisation efforts more heavily on the CPU side.
“We generally try to use Data Oriented Design, which enables us to achieve high amounts of parallelism and core usage,” explains Türe. “Currently, 60-70% of the frame is fully parallel, which means it can, and will, use all of the cores of current and next-gen CPUs for the foreseeable future, (the old engine generally used to use 1, or at most 2 cores.)”
What this means is that Bannerlord will scale with hardware going forward. As the core counts on our CPUs increase, Mount & Blade: Bannerlord will be able to display larger, denser battles. At launch, you'll need a very high-end CPU in order to display 800 characters on-screen at 60 frames per second.
This is an interesting and underexplored element of game design. Consoles are often criticised for holding the potential for PC gaming back and yet most developers are content to aim for the same core game with better visuals. There aren’t many looking to really tap into the capabilities of a CPU, no doubt because the Xbox One and PS4’s Jaguar CPUs mean a game such as Mount & Blade: Bannerlord will be heavily gimped on console. If a high-end CPU is required to simulate large battles it seems unfeasible a console port without severe compromises is even possible. Nevertheless, M&B: Bannerlord is also coming to PS4 and Xbox One. It'll be interesting to see just how scaled down the experience is.
The scale of battles on offer in games has seemed frozen in time for a long while. Even a pioneer on this stage like the Battlefield series has only succeeded in retaining its 64-player cap rather than expanding on the scale of its warfare.
There’s still no whisper of a release date for Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, increasingly looking as if it may be a 2018 release on PC.