Posted on 02 May 2020 by Jay Shaw

Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord

The Defence

Developer: TaleWorlds
Publisher: TaleWorlds
Genre: Action, Role Playing
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 30 Mar 2020

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.6 GHz
AMD Ryzen 3 3.4 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD 7850
Intel UHD 630
HDD: 60 GB
DirectX: 9
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Yes
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 9600K
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 1060
AMD Radeon RX 580
HDD: 60 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Yes
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

Fans of the Mount & Blade series have had to wait a long time for the Early Access release of Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord, a sequel to series highpoint Warband. The world is vast and full of opportunities, both for stabbing and for profit. But does Bannerlord measure up to the series high point? Absolutely.

To start with you’re thrown into a character creation system where you’ll not only choose your physical appearance but also various important points in your background as you grow up. These choices will affect which skills you become proficient in and you can either go all-in on being good at a couple or you can spread them out. These don’t actually give you skills in these areas but increase the rate, and to what extent, you can learn skills of that type. Once you’re done making your character you’re thrown into the tutorial, and start of the story.

From the outset you’re basically alone; raiders have killed or kidnapped your family and your father has buggered off to try and solve things on his own. This leaves you to also solve things on your own. In the Mount & Blade universe this means heading out to the nearest town to recruit whatever villagers are willing to fight for meals and a wage. It’s best to think of Bannerlord as a storytelling game rather than one you attempt to “win” because, while there is a win condition, you’re going to spend ninety-nine percent of your time dicking about.

Your path can lead down any one of many threads or mix and match depending on your tastes. You might hire a companion and set them to work managing a trade caravan to bring in profits, or you may just buy a workshop or ten and run your own business empire. Perhaps you’ll take on quests from the locals and solve their problems, seeking out runaway daughters and delivering cattle. Or perhaps you’ll hobnob with nobles and work your way into the ranks of nobility. That’s already an impressive array of options and there’s still other things you can do like building or joining armies, governing cities and implementing policies, partaking in sieges on castles and towns, or even marrying one of the game’s rulers to boost your standing.

How could I not join this monstrosity's army?

It’s a good job there’s such a wide array of things to do because if you really want to go for “beating” the game you’re in for quite the grind. Rewards from anything are absolutely miniscule and you’ll need to do hours of tasks to get enough renown or influence to do anything significant. It’s rare we mention mods in our previews, but there are mods that can alleviate this grind to some degree but even with its various boost options maxed out there’s still considerable grind. To alleviate concerns, we’ve played both with and without the mod for a considerable amount of time and not activated any mods or features that change the base gameplay experience. If modding and grinding aren’t your thing, Bannerlord is absolutely swarming with exploits to make easy progress. Some exploits have been patched after being made public by YouTubers while some still remain in the game.

However, taking a more relaxed approach to the game can lead to some interesting stories; you might become the business man (or woman) who comes to rule a town, loses it in a vicious siege by an enemy army, and flees for their lives with a band of trusted guards only to return weeks later after grouping up with the empress’ army to retake the town once more. Perhaps you become a travelling gladiator, moving from tournament to tournament to win money by betting on your own team and killing bandits between tourneys to make ends meet. Or maybe you’ll be like us and scam every noble you meet out of all their money and holdings because the AI is incredibly bad at making trades and will give you half a dozen towns for a mule. There’s plenty of routes your Bannerlord life can take and it’s entirely up to you where you end up.

Combat also plays a large part of any Mount & Blade game and comes in plenty of varieties; there’s the previously mentioned tourneys, duels, sieges, regular battles, and village/bandit camp raids. You have your pick of fighting styles too, weapons can be used either on foot or from your mount, though some individual weapons (like the longbow) may be unusable from horseback due to their size. We found two tactics to be utterly broken; When mounted a polearm gives you insane reach and power and when on foot against a single enemy, circle-strafing to the left while wildly swinging your sword to the right at head height can allow you to cheese the AI’s turn rate and essentially stun-lock them while you slap them in the face over and over until your inevitable easy victory. It’s not the most polished combat system but with all the skills and dozens of weapons available there’s plenty of variety and it certainly feels like an iteration on earlier Mount &Blade battles.

Sieges can result in some spectactular fights.

In terms of graphics and sound, we weren’t particularly impressed in any aspect. That’s not to say they’re bad, the size of the game world dictates some sacrifices have to be made just to make things viable, but textures often have a muddy look to them and some early access graphical clipping and jank are well on display. Sounds are similarly okay, at least on our headset the sound balance was pretty good and what little voice acting is in the game is also decent though it’d be nice if the soldier’s battle cries sounded more like they’re heading into a hellish melee and less like someone just offered to pay for pizza for everyone.

On the topic of food: Your army must be fed and paid for them to stay with you and you can’t just feed them grain and gold coins – if you want to keep morale up you’ll have to carry a variety of foods in your inventory and have the occasional scrap with bandits to keep them interested in working for you. You’ll be dipping in and out of your inventory and troop management menus fairly regularly to upgrade soldiers, change or give equipment to companions, and see what you’ve got to trade or smelt down at the blacksmith (another easy to exploit system.) The inventory does a good job of making it clear what items go where and what their stats are but the sheer number of items you can carry, or find in a shop, will often leave you reaching for the filter button to make things more managable.

If you’re an avid Mount & Blade fan then Bannerlord is probably a must-buy, it’s more of the same and then some. If earlier Mount & Blade titles put you off TaleWorlds style of sandbox then you’re unlikely to be convinced otherwise by Bannerlord. No matter which side of the fence you fall on, the grind is unlikely to be an enjoyable part of the experience but it’s almost worth putting up with for the fun empire-level drama your character can make or become embroiled in. There’s a lot to be confused by in Bannerlord and the in-game encyclopedia and help messages don’t always make it easy or clear to find what you want so a degree of patience is a requirement for giving the game a proper go.

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