Some games come with the most simple of premises. You need to get from A to B, collecting some coins. You can do it fast or slow; it doesn’t matter how, but you must succeed. But then there are other games which attempt much more complex ideas, almost like living a second life. You have to worry about food, raising an army, fighting off bandits, and dragging back those who are trying to flee your army because you can’t keep them fed. Oh, and you’ll get to explore a huge world surrounded by danger at the same time. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is an epic game with an epic story and an epic amount of stuff to do. But have you the time and energy to keep it going?
I never got round to playing the first game in the Mount & Blade series – that of Warband – but that only made me more excited to take in Bannerlord. That excitement rises upon firing the game up, as a dramatic cut scene plays out, before lore and fighting and an amazing voice-over puts you in the mood. From there, it’s all about customising your hero, working from scratch with the usual cosmetic appearance tools. But what the game does then is very clever, helping sort out your character’s abilities by asking several questions about their history and how they would respond to certain situations. When that’s done you start the tutorial.
There is the main story at play in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, one that involves gathering together under a mystical banner to unite an empire. Essentially though it’s an open-world game in which it is up to you to choose your path to power and glory. The game starts with an in-depth combat tutorial that tests your might, working different weapons from one-handed swords to fighting with a crossbow while riding a horse. Then you are off into the world as you enter a village on the map.
Rolling into a village will see you happening across choice; you can recruit soldiers from all different disciplines, buy food, grab new equipment, and other resources, walking about the village should you wish. Here you speak to people, like the headman of the village who might have a quest or assignment for you to complete. It’s all standard stuff, like going out and killing some bandits which might lead you to taking prisoners and gathering information about their hideout. Basically, in Bannerlord quests lead to quests, and to more quests as you progress. It’s a nice system and the game tries to ensure that each village feels slightly different in layout, even though the foundations are exactly the same.
When you go out into the main world you’ll stumble upon groups of bandits, trading caravans, villagers moving around, or soldiers whom you can approach. And it’s here where Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord shines, with the combat sections in particular where the true highlights lie.
You are presented with the battlefield, with your enemy rocking up on the other side. It’s then up to you to command your troops; attacking, charging, following or more, as you get the opportunity to work a number of options. In fact, it’s all pretty deep and there will be decisions to make – how do you lead each battle?; do you run at the troops as the born leader, or wait at the back and order your troops around, never getting your own hands dirty? It’s pretty much all up to you.
At the end of the battle – at least should you win out – you’ll get to take home some loot and also prisoners if you so wish. These battles and the combat sections of the game, from a small skirmish to a huge battle, are the best elements of Bannerlord, and each encounter feels fresh and intuitive, exciting every time.
The quests themselves are a means to an end and aren’t incredibly exciting or more diverse than you’d expect in any normal RPG. But Bannerlord does give a sense of a huge campaign that covers years. Yep, this game will eat into your life, hundreds of hours at a time. You build settlements, get married, have kids, and watch surrounding kingdoms rise and fall. It’s a life eater and once you get past the first few hours, it sinks its hooks into you. And once you’re in, the tricky control system all becomes second nature.
Away from the gameplay and Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord has a distinct number of visual styles. At times you’ll be faced with strategy game details, with loads of facts, inventory management and skill trees. Then there is an isometric view of the map as you travel around it and see the world move along. Then in battle and exploring it all swaps to the third person. The game handles all of these well without ever blowing your socks off and even though some of the characters you meet can feel fairly simple and basic, it is understandable enough; there are a hell of a lot of things that this game tries to cover.
The sound is fine as well, with some RPG-type music accompanied by the shouts, screams, and cries when in battle.
But there’s more than just the campaign mode and Bannerlord allows for a sandbox mode where you can work without the restraints of quest or story. Then there is multiplayer which pits you against others in battle skirmishes; it’s fine but nowhere near as good as the campaign.
For many though, it will be the ambition of taking a character from nothing before throwing them into a huge adventure, one full of heart and soul, which will be the key to Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord. The battle sequences with just a few soldiers working the woods, to loads of knights on a battlefield, is the most impressive part of the game and even though the quests aren’t as satisfying, the campaign has an addictive quality that will keep you going long into the winter nights.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is on the Xbox Store