Designing Bannerlord

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guiskj

Squire
The goal of this post is to provide constructive criticism to TaleWorlds as we analyse a game that we are all obviously failry invested in. Providing this feedback is the strength of early access.

I originally posted something similar as a response to another post but thought it deserved its own thread here.

Let's first separete the discussion of feature completeness to gameplay mechanic design. EA means incomplete features and I am not looking to discuss that. I want to talk about the design behind these features and where I see major issues and areas of improvement.

  1. Fighting (Hack/Slash play, multiplayer)
    • This is the crowning jewel of Bannerlord and its most (maybe only) intrinsically fun feature currently.
    • System is complete and its features are mostly complete as well. We are definitely in the balancing phase and I think it is mostly good here.
    • Whether intended or not, this is Bannerlord's CORE MECHANIC and the primary source of FUN. Fighting in the midst of a large skirmish is the Essence of Bannerlord currently. This is important and will be referenced several times in this post.
    • I'll anger some people here, but having a Core Mechanic with a very sharp learning curve is bad design. Bannerlord combat is very difficult to be OK at, let alone great at. This is NOT a call for simplifying it, instead I am asking TaleWorlds to look into ways to flatten the curve.
      • I think the auto-block feature is great for this. Not as a replacement for being good at combat but as a learning tool allowing the player to master directional attacks before he/she has to worry about directional blocking as well. Enhance this feature by allowing players to progress from full auto-blocking to manual blocking more organically.
      • Remenber, you want your ENTIRE community to be good at your game. What you have today is a fractioned community of hard-core players telling beginners to just "git gud noob".
  2. Tactical Warfare (Field/Siege battles, Rading, Blobbing in CK-terms)
    • Intended as the true Core Mechanic, a companion to the Fighting mechanic, and a cornerstone where all other mechanics in the game intersect.
    • The systems that drive this mechanic seem complete, though with missing/broken features.
    • All other mechanics in your game should FEED into this one but often do not. THIS is MEANT to be your Core Mechanic but it is not currently, Fighthing is. This is because Tactical Warfare, as a mechanic, is not fun! It is a repetitive chore with little depth and your biggest Skinner Box
    • War is CONSTANT and therefore, eventually, BORING. Allowing your Core Mechanic to become boring is a carnal sin of game design.
    • TaleWorlds need to dig deep into this, as I can only provide my perspective. Why? Because this is the potential glue for all the other mechanics in the game. If Tactical Warfare is not FUN, Bannerlord might as well have been a Multiplayer-only title.
  3. Kingdom Management (Diplomacy, Marriage, Succession, etc)
    • This is a large umbrella, with its internal system being almost discrete from each other.
    • Diplomacy, as a system, seems complete but very feature poor. The only link back to Tactical Warfare is the Influence gain from battles and that is not enough. As a successful Warlord I should have more say, but diplomacy is heavily weighted to Clan Rank which gates the player out until late game. We need more connections from/to Tactical Warfare.
    • Policies are 100% inconsequential. I have had playthroughs where my Kingdom has half of the Policies active and it feels 0% different to having none of them active. Focus on a mix of cheaper, small, Polcies that Rank 2-3 clans have more say on and a few large, Kingdom defining, policies that fundamentally change something about how the Kingdom Management system work and can add flavour to a Faction.
      • Considering how Tactical Warfare is meant to be your Core Mechanic, the fact that there are 0 policies concerning War Plans is dumbfounding. A simple Policy of "We will conquer areas surrounding Sargot" or "Retake orignal fiefs" is needed, something that allows the player more agency in how his faction's NPCs conducts war.
    • Marriage. Good god this is bad, your spouse is nothing more than a Companion that doubles as a baby making machine. This is FINE if the system makes this fun, but the mistake of making this a sudo-roleplaying feature devoid of any, well, roleplay is bad! I will talk more about how Bannerlord trying to be everything at once (Action Medieval Fighting game, Tactical Medieval Warfare Simulator, Medieval Roleplay game) is bad. Pick a Core and make sure that EVERYTHING else in your game supports your Core Mechanic.
    • Succession. Too soon to talk about this one as it has barely been added.
  4. Economy
    • Complex, check. Interesting, half-check. Fun, absolutely not.
    • Complex is not synonymous with fun or interesting. Bannerlord economy is complex, but fails to be really interesting (it is too obscure) and fails to be any fun (it is too passive and money is meaningless)
    • The player's first introduction to the Economy is with how to maintain their party wages. The answer is farming bandits and Issues, which is your second largest Skinner Box. Bad Design.
    • Mid game, the players interaction with the Economy is 100% passive. Caravans are managed by companions and are on auto-pilot, Workshops are even more passive as you can at least, seldomly, save your caravan from ambushes.
    • Its most problematic feature though, is that the Economy feels separate from the rest of the gameplay. Nothing really ties it back to the Core Mechanic of the game of Tactical Warfare. It doesn't even tie back to supporting mechanics such as Kingdom Management or Roleplay.
      • As a very successful merchant I should be able to influence Warfare (bankrolling lord armies) and Kingdoms (supporting/bribing lords to vote for policies you want)
    • So much time has been devoted to this feature by Devs that boggles my mind. Your Core Mechanic is not a Medieval Economic Simulator! Devs are spending a huge amount of time on a mechanic that is not even a source of fun for the player (as is). Games are about DOING fun things. Expectating a complex economy is not fun.
  5. Roleplay (Quests/Issues, Narrative, Telling a story, Leveling)
    • Oh boy, my dearest topic and a point of so much sorrow.
    • Village/Town Issues are terrible and allow for almost 0 roleplay due to quest structure (fixable though). Honestly they are in the same level of fetch quests in MMOs to me.
      • Look at Skyrim's radiant quests. They are as shallow as fetch quests or Village Issues, but they reinforce the game's core mechanic of exploration and, therefore, are actually meaningful.
      • I use that as an example to showcase that Village Issues add nothing to the game except yet another Skinner Box to fool the player into thinking the game has content.
    • The world does not tell a story. There is very little sense of history or the impact of the passage of time. This is different from having a Main Quest line. Games can tell a compelling story without having a predefined narrative, just look at CK2.
      • The only difference between day 1 and day 500 is that some towns/castles have changed hands...
    • Bannerlord is an Action game with RPG and Tactical features sprinkled in. @mexxico got a lot of flak for saying that but he is 100% correct. So let's talk about the RPG sprinkles.
    • Supporting mechanics are meant to, SUPPORT, your Core Mechanic. In Bannerlord that means Fighting and, more importantly, Tactical Warfare. The main RPG system in Bannerlord is Leveling and it is fairly problematic. Why? Because it supports Bannerlord's Core Mechanics passively.
      • Look at Perks (the only consequence of leveling). The vast majority are passive and do not unlock new gameplay features for either Fighting or Tactical Warfare. This is bad design and makes Leveling POINTLESS. Remove leveling from Bannerlord currently and you loose nothing, except Bannerlord's last Skinner Box trifecta to keep you playing and grinding.
      • I dislike the "everything has a price" perk for RP reasons, but at least it unlocks something, it adds new gameplay options to the Core Mechanic. We need more of these perks and less +5% Health perks.

Anyway, long contentious post that most people will not care for, but heck work was boring today.
 
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Zorion_no

Regular
This you post here is gold and something they "need to put high on their top of list to fix imo"
  • War is CONSTANT and therefore, eventually, BORING. Allowing your Core Mechanic to become boring is a carnal sin of game design.
  • TaleWorlds need to dig deep into this, as I can only provide my perspective. Why? Because this is the potential glue for all the other mechanics in the game. If Tactical Warfare is not FUN, Bannerlord might as well have been a Multiplayer-only title.
 

guiskj

Squire
I see a lot of critique, but no suggestions. No offense.

That is a fair point, but I would argue that is not my job or place to design their game for them. I can only point what I see is wrong and hope that it is taken as feedback for them to triage and decide whether to act on it or not.
 

ThePendulum

Recruit
That is a fair point, but I would argue that is not my job or place to design their game for them. I can only point what I see is wrong and hope that it is taken as feedback for them to triage and decide whether to act on it or not.

Tactical Warfare (Field/Siege battles, Rading, Blobbing in CK-terms)
  • Intended as the true Core Mechanic, a companion to the Fighting mechanic, and a cornerstone where all other mechanics in the game intersect.
  • The systems that drive this mechanic seem complete, though with missing/broken features.
  • All other mechanics in your game should FEED into this one but often do not. THIS is MEANT to be your Core Mechanic but it is not currently, Fighthing is. This is because Tactical Warfare, as a mechanic, is not fun! It is a repetitive chore with little depth and your biggest Skinner Box
  • War is CONSTANT and therefore, eventually, BORING. Allowing your Core Mechanic to become boring is a carnal sin of game design.
  • TaleWorlds need to dig deep into this, as I can only provide my perspective. Why? Because this is the potential glue for all the other mechanics in the game. If Tactical Warfare is not FUN, Bannerlord might as well have been a Multiplayer-only title.

"The world does not tell a story. There is very little sense of history or the impact of the passage of time. This is different from having a Main Quest line. Games can tell a compelling story without having a predefined narrative, just look at CK2"

How does CK2 do that? Also, not a great idea relying on someone else to have played the game to infer what you mean. The devs might not have played the game either, and thus have no idea how ck2 does this better.

Also, the point i was trying to get across in my initial reply to you was that you have many bullets explaining that a problem exists, without really addressing what the problem is.

You say that constant war is boring, but without specifically pointing out why. I can assure you, not being constantly at war, would be even more boring because then you would have little to do but attack looters/small bandit parties.
 
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Lorcalus

Recruit
1) I aggree that combat system still has some quirks but i think the core system is OK it just needs some balancing so hopefully it will be corrected soon.
2)I know what you mean. Game lacks some more endgame direction otherwise fighting milions of looters and so on starts becoming stale soon. If they made renown more complex in terms of that high renown unlocks some things than grinding small battles have meaning.
3, 4) Yes, in that regard game is severly lacking. Because of this, game becomes boring and repetitive quite fast (for sandbox game). Making this systems more complex would also solve some other problems if done right (snowballing. boring battles after time etc) I made a huge list of suggestions myself on these mechanics. Dont want to spam thread with links so if anyone wants to read them just look at my previous posts.
5)A lot of narrative problems could easily be solved by scattering neutral locations around map (like ruins, independant inns etc..) like some mods did. Linking quest to those locations or at least companions would give game oportunity to deepen the story.
 

guiskj

Squire
"The world does not tell a story. There is very little sense of history or the impact of the passage of time. This is different from having a Main Quest line. Games can tell a compelling story without having a predefined narrative, just look at CK2"

How does CK2 do that? Also, not a great idea relying on someone else to have played the game to infer what you mean. The devs might not have played the game either, and thus have no idea how ck2 does this better.

Also, the point i was trying to get across in my initial reply to you was that you have many bullets explaining that a problem exists, without really addressing what the problem is.

You say that constant war is boring, but without specifically pointing out why. I can assure you, not being constantly at war, would be even more boring because then you would have little to do but attack looters/small bandit parties.

Thank you for the feedback. I agree that some of my points have come across more as ranting than constructive. I'd be happy to provide further feedback to TaleWorlds if they asked, but since what I wrote is likely to not even have caught their eyes, I am not inclined to spend any more time on the subject for now.

If anything at all is to be gleamed from what I wrote is that:
1. The game's combat is REALLY fun. TW should capitalize on that by having its other systems feed into it (leveling, quests, endgame, etc).

2. The game has tactical warfare, but it fails now because it is too repetitive, becoming boring after a while. If tactical warfare is meant to be a core feature of the game as it seems, having it be not fun even at EA is a big, big problem.

3. Finally, it is fine to add supporting features to a game (i.e. non-core features), but they should as much as possible, tie back meaningfully to your core features. The economy, quests, diplomacy, kingdom, leveling etc are all supporting features but they seldom, if ever, tie back to Combat and/or Tactical Warfare in meaningful ways. This is really bad design but because these are supporting features, there is time still to fix this.


If I was TW, I would be happy with Combat and leave it be for now. Drop all work on supporting features for now as well and focus exclusively on making Tactical Warfare fun. Once you have your two core features solid, dedicate time to polishing support features even if it means post launch. At least I think this is the least of all evils now.

... and just like that I spent more time on this subject.
 
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Elbromas

Recruit
"The world does not tell a story. There is very little sense of history or the impact of the passage of time. This is different from having a Main Quest line. Games can tell a compelling story without having a predefined narrative, just look at CK2"

How does CK2 do that? Also, not a great idea relying on someone else to have played the game to infer what you mean. The devs might not have played the game either, and thus have no idea how ck2 does this better.

Also, the point i was trying to get across in my initial reply to you was that you have many bullets explaining that a problem exists, without really addressing what the problem is.

You say that constant war is boring, but without specifically pointing out why. I can assure you, not being constantly at war, would be even more boring because then you would have little to do but attack looters/small bandit parties.
How does CK2 do that? Its quite simple, but complex at the same time. I have played CK2 for a very short time, a very very short time but I could see a story beggining to flow just in 10 minutes of gameplay. The reason is: dynamic design, diverse characterization, an immense amount of opportunities and logic, basic logic.
Lets say you want to start a war in Bannerlord. Attack a caravan. Yeah thats it. War started. Lets say lords want to start a war in Bannerlord. They just vote for it. There is no reason, they vote for kt and thats it.
Now try to start a war in CK2. You need a reason, you have to use a tactic, you send a messenger that claims that land, that messenger is your chancelor and he might deflect your kingdom and become part of the other ruler, now you have to think on something else, now that is part of your story, thats awesome!
That is a very little example but it translates to everything Bannerlord does wrong. There are no traitors, there are no political intrigues, there are no asssasinations, you dont get sick, you dont worry about your kingdom you dont care about anything, you have no other objective that isnt conquering land. Its the only avaibavle opportunity in Bannerlord. Conquering land. Its the only thing to do. If you want to do anything else the game wont permit it, they say you can be a trader, a mercenary, a lord, a whatever, that is a blatant lie because all of it is dull and boring and repetitive and you cant expect anything new to happen in this game, they're all fantasies you must imagine yourself, and you will never feel accomplished unless your objective is conquer land destroy army conquer land.
The main quest is an attempt to fix this issue of having nothing to do but it's probably the worst way to do it in a game that is intended to be a sandbox with different playthroughs, it makes you think what the hell where they thinking on. Putting all their resources to build a main quests instead of making actual characters with life and breath.
Take a devious lord, how is he devious? Is he mean, is he treacherous? Traits only affect if a lord will burn a village or not and if what charisma check button you must press, and that's it, it's completely superficial, while in CK2 traits make a difference on wether you will convince a lord to do this or that or on what action will he make afterwards. Just check any youtube video on Bannerlord and any youtube video on CK2, you will see how stories confluacte on each other in CK2, and how every story in Bannerlord plays out the same with different colors. Bannerlord is not bad as a simulator made in 2008 but it hasn't advanced in term of features since then, it's the same premise that got completely washed out.
It's so afraid to take chances that every faction has almost the same amount of town and castles instead of making one live in actual hell and that one being the most difficult to play into.
 
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StewVader

Sergeant
How does CK2 do that? Its quite simple, but complex at the same time. I have played CK2 for a very short time, a very very short time but I could see a story beggining to flow just in 10 minutes of gameplay. The reason is: dynamic design, diverse characterization, an immense amount of opportunities and logic, basic logic.
Lets say you want to start a war in Bannerlord. Attack a caravan. Yeah thats it. War started. Lets say lords want to start a war in Bannerlord. They just vote for it. There is no reason, they vote for kt and thats it.
Now try to start a war in CK2. You need a reason, you have to use a tactic, you send a messenger that claims that land, that messenger is your chancelor and he might deflect your kingdom and become part of the other ruler, now you have to think on something else, now that is part of your story, thats awesome!
That is a very little example but it translates to everything Bannerlord does wrong. There are no traitors, there are no political intrigues, there are no asssasinations, you dont get sick, you dont worry about your kingdom you dont care about anything, you have no other objective that isnt conquering land. Its the only avaibavle opportunity in Bannerlord. Conquering land. Its the only thing to do. If you want to do anything else the game wont permit it, they say you can be a trader, a mercenary, a lord, a whatever, that is a blatant lie because all of it is dull and boring and repetitive and you cant expect anything new to happen in this game, they're all fantasies you must imagine yourself, and you will never feel accomplished unless your objective is conquer land destroy army conquer land.
The main quest is an attempt to fix this issue of having nothing to do but it's probably the worst way to do it in a game that is intended to be a sandbox with different playthroughs, it makes you what the hell where they thinking on. Putting all their resources to build a main quests instead of making actual characters with life and breath.
Take a devious lord, how is he devious? Is he mean, is he treacherous? Traits only affect if a lord will burn a village or not and if what charisma check button you must press, and that's it, it's completely superficial, while in CK2 traits make a difference on wether you will convince a lord to do this or that or on what action will he make afterwards. Just check any youtube video on Bannerlord and any youtube video on CK2, you will see how stories confluacte on each other in CK2, and how every story in Bannerlord plays out the same with different colors. Bannerlord is not bad as a simulator made in 2008 but it hasn't advanced in term of features since then, it's the same premise that got completely washed out.
It's so afraid to take chances that every faction has almost the same amount of town and castles instead of making one live in actual hell and that one being the most difficult to play into.

Well said. Couldn't agree more.
 

guiskj

Squire
I used CK2 as an example because I had seen it mentioned here in the community many times and thought it was more of a known comparison than it turned out to be. That's my fault.

The main thing I meant to say when it comes to a "the world does not tell a story" is that nothing changes between day 1 of a campaign and day 1000 except some fiefs have changed hands and some characters look older.

When I mention CK2, what I mean is that starting in 867 and seeing the world by 1200 is a really cool progress of the rise and fall of dynasties, kingdoms and empires with characters warring and plotting against each other. Culture drifts into new places and technology advances to unlock new features.

Now, the scope of Bannerlord is very different so I am not suggesting feature parity. I am just giving it as an example of how a 100% sandbox game with 0 quests is able to tell a compelling story and make the passage of time feel meaningful.

If Bannerlord did not have Succession of heirs I may not have cared about this topic, but something feels odd here when TW planos to have us play through generations but their systems can't keep me engaged long enough to see my first character hit his/her twilight years.
 

guiskj

Squire
Thanks @Sparticulous. The overuse of all-caps words and exclamation points came off rather self-important when they meant to highlight key concepts in my OP. I regret that in retrospect.

Hopefully future readers will look past that as I didn't mean to come off so holier-than-thou.
 

WarandPeace

Recruit
A lot of really good points here and much of it is still the same which is kind of why I'm not too excited about the full release of the game to be honest because I've already got most of the game figured out but, mind you, I'm at around 500 hours of play so I've been investing a lot in it including multiplayer.. The core mechanics are pretty good but get boring over time in single player which is why warband became a big hit; because of the rp multiplayer.

But I think i see what you're getting at. Everything basically feels rushed. Like, for example, the child education. Just like character creation, you pick a few choices for your child and that's it. There's no scene of each choice and there's no way for you to actually build a connection with your child. He/she is just this object mechanic to be used as your marriage candidate for another potential noble or to be your heir when it's time for them to be. Same with marriage candidates. It's just a bunch of persuasion checks. There's nothing to actually build a connection with them (although I fully understand why since there are A LOT of potential wives to choose from depending on how early start to look for one).

Any way just my two cents.
 
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