Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (which I’m going to refer as Bannerlord from now on) is a vast, sandbox, medieval combat simulator and role-playing game. Starting as an adventurer without much money and no armies, you will slowly crawl your way out from leading a few looters and bandits to leading thousands of heavily-armoured troops, manage castles and towns, climb a siege ladder yourself, get married, and become the king of a faction if you want it to be.
All these options and possibilities are there and in fact, this game is pretty immersive in its medieval settings and executes them really well even while it’s still in Steam’s Early Access.
The highlight of Bannerlord is definitely its massive scale of battles with all the variety of troops: infantry, cavalry, archer, and siege engines. If you played one of the Total War series before, you can probably imagine what I was trying to say here.
However, rather than having a top down view to command your army, you are actually in the battlefield itself – like in real life. You will be issuing commands to each army type such as moving into a position, advancing, charging, holding fire, and more.
There are even formations that you can ask the armies to form so for example if you have those infantry types with big shields, you can ask them to form a shield wall and advance, while your other troops with those big axes (they pack a punch but have no protection against arrows) can follow closely behind. Or form a circle with your Pikemen and have your archers inside the circle, raining death from above while being protected from a cavalry charge.
It’s challenging and fun, but there is more. You are not there to just issuing commands but you can also join the fight yourself from the comfort of a war horse (or camel). But if someone manages to take you down, be prepared to fight on the ground too (or you can choose to get off your horse, or get on someone’s horse after its rider dies).
The combat system is using a skill-based directional combat system that is realistic and takes some time to get used to, e.g to do a left swing (and block a left swing attack), you first swipe your mouse to the left quickly and click (left click to attack, right click to block). This makes combat in Bannerlord fun, tough, challenging, and satisfying at the same time. Compared to many action-based combat where you can just spam left click to attack and right click to block, this is a huge leap forward to a one-on-one combat system.
To be honest, I was quite shocked and somewhat frustrated as I couldn’t even beat the trainer during the melee combat tutorials. However, after playing the game and learning the gist of the combat system in tournaments (like those gladiator games), I really enjoy the combat system and it’s satisfying when you have mastered it. It can still be challenging against trickier opponents who like to switch the direction of their attack at the last moment though, but it is definitely the best combat system I’ve ever experienced in a game.
During big battles of hundreds and thousands of troops, Bannerlord can still manage to render all the units on screen without noticing any lag or fps drop (I do have an RTX 3080 running on an AMD Ryzen 7 PC). Whenever I’m playing Bannerlord, my wife always thinks that I’m turning the heater on or there’s something wrong with my PC as the fans go crazy!
And oh, there are so many stories to tell once you’ve participated in these big battles as tactics go a long way here. And numbers. Mostly both.
While there are quests in the game, there are not that many yet and they do get repetitive at times. You only need to do them in the beginning to gain money and influence, but there are ways to gain them afterwards.
In Bannerlord, there are many ways to make money through forming a caravan, buying workshops in prosperous towns, ransoming prisoners, selling your spoils of war, crafting weapons and selling them, ransacking villages, or trading. The economy system is pretty realistic and massive. Prices go up when demands are high, food prices inflate after a war, or towns who live near the coastal area have the fish price low, etc.
There is a character creation on the start of the game, along with attributes and skills/perks you can level up in Bannerlord. You gain points by using the skill (so if you’ve been slicing and dicing with a two-handed sword, you eventually will gain a skill point there) and there are also progression branches to unlock. Thankfully, you don’t have to get them all because you can hire companions (like heroes) with their own skill sets.
The world map is pretty huge and has a lot of different towns and castles to explore, along with different factions that can be at war or peace with one another. As you gain influence within your faction, you can propose a war, peace, or a change of policy that benefit you.
You can also raid passing caravans (assuming your party speed is high enough chase them), trade commodities, chase looters and bandits, raid a bandit hideout, and more.
I have to say that Bannerlord is not an easy game to play and learn. The tutorials are pretty short and you basically have to find out how things work in the game on your own. It’s quite daunting for first timers or casual players, but those who stay and willing to explore will find Bannerlord extremely rewarding, even at this early stage.
I Googled and read discussion forums a lot to understand many concepts in the game that are unexplained while you play. They might be adding these later on as the game is unfinished at this stage, but know that the community is huge so you’ll always find great tips and guides for almost everything in this vast game.
It’ll be interesting to find out what else are they going to add into the game for the months to come! To find out more about the game, make sure to visit Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord on Steam. And oh, this game also supports mods heavily so it will have many potentials even in the years to come.
Disclosure: Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord review code was supplied for reviewing