Mount & Blade as a franchise is one of the pillars of the medieval RPG genre and is billed as a strategic action RPG with deep kingdom management features. While creating a kingdom isn’t executed in an RTS resource or crafting way, it is done in more of a warfare and diplomacy fashion. As a prequel to the story in Mount & Blade: Warband, Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord is essentially Mount & Blade Warband in a shiny new engine. Let’s dig deeper into what Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord is and what it improves on.
As in Warband, you are dropped into Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord as a hopeful lord looking to either start their own kingdom or become the general within an existing one. The ultimate goal is to conquer the land as is in other strategic RPGs of this ilk. In other words, you are expected to unite the fractured kingdom by force!
You quickly learn how the action/melee combat works and are then thrown into a massive map of the fictional fallen empire named Calradia filled with towns, castles, and cities. Each is ruled by one of 8 different factions that are loosely represented by 8 different realistic cultures. Each of these factions, however, are deemed as having expert troops types that other cultures do not have.
As you travel the land of Calradia, you will see villagers, lords, trade caravans, mercs, and bandits all traveling to and fro. While to gamers this may initially look like fodder for your future army to dominate, these bands of traveling peeps are proof of Bannerlord’s impressive underlying framework. As you would imagine, the caravans hold trade goods that move from city to city. The villagers actually do the same from village to city. The mercs hunt down bandits and farm their talents out to warring factions. The lords build their armies from allied villages and attend various tournaments as well as patrol their lands.
All the while, your story is written within a sandbox of occasionally warring factions. It’s a story of a powerful banner that must be assembled. There’s also something that lurks in the shadows of your quest log as you figure out what your destiny is in the game. Do you help an existing faction unite the land or do you build your own as a king? Decisions, decisions!
Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord’s claim to fame is its impressively large and tactical battles. Whether it is a siege on a castle or the clash of hundreds of archers, cavalry, and footmen, Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord is one of the most impressive medieval battlefield games on the market.
Simply having numbers over your foes doesn’t always guarantee success. The quality of your army as well as how well you deploy orders to them will determine success or failure. There are formations, morale, and an actual threat to your own battlefield dominance at all times. While your character may be or become a whirlwind of death, there is always the chance you can get overwhelmed and damaged by a volley of arrows and axes or a well timed cavalry charge. Well armored cavalry will shred through inexperienced and lightly armored footmen. Well placed archers will thin the numbers of charging footmen and cavalry. Spearmen will withstand and halt the charge of cavalry. All the while, you can participate in the slaughter and target your foe’s leader. Just be careful of the friendly fire though!
Each time you win a battle, your entire army gains experience and you are given the chance to upgrade specific troops from lowly villagers to well armored knights. Each faction has their own infantry types as well as specialty. As you play against stronger and stronger armies, you learn the strengths and weaknesses of each faction’s army types.
While the beginnings of your career in Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord are dangerous, once you settle in with a decent army and money to spare, you’ll notice that Bannerlord plays out as more of a system RPG than a story RPG. Since there is so much going on with trade routes, faction wars, and relations between the lords, you’ll eventually settle into how your player survives.
Some dominate the various tournaments to gain fame and renown. Others patrol the land for bandits and bandit hideaways. Some will become masters of trade with caravans and workshops. Many will become a mixture of all of those while pledging allegiance to a faction hoping to boost their fortune early on.
In each of these avenues, Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord governs the player’s survival by giving experience for every action taken in a number of different skill categories. The more you use a category of weapon, the better you become. The higher your stat in a skill, the more perks you’ll earn. The more perks you have, the more passive bonuses you’ll have to make yourself, your army, and your governed fiefs stronger and more successful.
This process is what makes the game a methodical grind. This building of the character’s army and their stats is what will ultimately make or break the experience of the game for a player. Since the game doesn’t hold your hand and tell you what to do, you are constantly looking for ways to make money and improve your army.
While there is a way to build relations with other lords and artisans, the discussions and relationships are relatively hollow story-wise. Instead, relationships are built by completing quests most times. Only when courting a maiden are discussion options made to improve or worsen a relationship.
Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord even allows you to hire mercs to be heroes in your army. You listen to their story at a local inn, but that essentially describes what skills they have via a short backstory. Once you hire them, there are few times to build relationships with them aside from decisions to retreat from battle or lack of money. While you are able to equip them with better gear and change how they progress statistically, you don’t really have Dragon Age or Mass Effect styled interactions and missions with them. Here’s to hoping future updates flesh out these characters and how you interact socially with them a bit more.
Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord is a clear improvement over Warband. Graphical improvements as well as a well designed UI will impress former fans of the franchise. While Bannerlord is clearly a fully featured game that has a lot going on underneath the hood, newcomers to the sandbox style gameplay may find it difficult and tedious. The game is a well designed time suck that will easily have playthroughs that reach hundreds of hours.
With so much information to sift and read though on the way to mastery, action hungry players looking to just jump in and play massive battles will probably be turned off by the statistical grind. Though multiplayer is an option for those willing to try it, those battles are more for show than they are for any kind of Chivalry or Call of Duty styled multiplayer progression.
Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord is an action strategy player’s dream. This well balanced mixture of tactical warfare and action is an impressive sandbox playground for medieval fans to play in. Few games will insert the player into the role of warrior king like Bannerlord does, but becoming king takes time. Those patient enough for the journey will find Bannerlord to be a unique escape that few games can deliver!