Few games can go years after their original releases and have sequels as good as the first. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is one of them, developed and published by Turkish game developer TaleWorlds Entertainment. Best described as a strategic kingdom war simulation slash action role-playing game, Bannerlord is the sequel to the beloved PC game Mount & Blade: Warband which later came to Xbox One (and Game Pass, at some point). Players play as their own custom-made character to build an army, fight large scale battles, build your own kingdom, and so much more.
There’s a reason it popped up in my game of the year article. Bannerlord is a game that will keep you involved for hundreds of hours, especially if you like sandbox simulation games.
Picking up from where I left off, in Bannerlord players are responsible for their caravan. In the beginning you start off with a few pieces of gold and the stats you picked from the character creator, which builds a toon for you based on a questionnaire in conjunction with your starting location. From there, you build your own story: recruit troops, take on quests for villages and lords alike, and make a name for yourself in the world of Calradia, 210 years before the events of Warband take place. Of course, you’re not the only one running about—there are many, many other lords and armies that are running about and wreaking their own havoc on the place. The chaos caused by maintaining your reputation, fending off attacks from others, and so many other aspects always keep a playthrough interesting.
Bannerlord is played via a top-down open world map of Calradia, where players guide their armies around and about to their next destination (or chasing a band of looters for far too long). But when visiting settlements or in battle, gameplay switches to a third-person camera, setting the player in a large variety of maps that take in account of the player’s location, time of day, and weather. If you’re visiting, you can talk to the locals and make deals or take on quests. If you’re fighting, you’ll lead your army into fights against others. Fighting is simple yet very fun and there are many weapon types and fighting is dictated by the direction of your swing via your right joystick. Same with your blocking, although archery and throwable weapons are based more on stats and timing. Alongside you fight with a computer-controlled bots that aren’t the brightest but can hold their own in battle, and they can easily swarm you if given the chance.
This is where the game really shines. Those battles can have hundreds if not thousands of troops fighting against each other, multiple armies if the situation is calling for it. These fights are hectic as are sieges on castles and you don’t realise how much danger you’re truly in until arrows start flying towards you in the hundreds. Being able to set troop positions and delivering the right commands is key to making sure your best units don’t run in head-first and get slaughtered by tonnes of mooks. And although the game centers itself around battles, managing your resources and building towards your kingdom are ultimately some of the game’s end goals. There is a voiced campaign story about avenging your family but it’s not necessary in order to start a new save file.
The game also features a multiplayer mode specifically if you just want to run about and fight. But on PC it’s a bit hard to find a game much less on Xbox. Feelings amongst the Mount & Blade community have always seemed mixed on this mode, but it’s not the worst bout if you’re solely looking to fight. There are also custom battles against the AI, however, and I prefer to do just that.
Despite a fun gameplay loop, I have a few frustrations with Bannerlord. Namely, the UI on console isn’t all too intuitive on a controller. As a PC first game, that’s not all too surprising and there is mouse and keyboard support for those interested. With this final release I haven’t run into any big bugs (although tactics and sieges don’t fair too well), but I have had my fair share of crashes and, in turn, lost a good chunk of progress. And lastly, end game hasn’t really got much to do once you have your kingdom set up. At times I really felt like I was playing a higher definition, more streamlined Warband, which isn’t a bad thing per se but considering the development time of the game I would have liked to see more substantial content, such as naval battles or giving more functions to villages and lords.
Bannerlord, in spite of its shortcomings, is a great game to play for tactics enthusiasts and players that love huge battles. Its simulation style of gameplay is fairly unique and keeps me coming back. An easy recommendation to all that love their sandboxes.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
Xbox Series X*, Windows PC/Steam
- Fun gameplay systems revolving around large scale warfare.
- Early to midgame campaigns are fun and will easily absorb your free time.
- A nice visual style with plenty of map types that take into account your position on the map.
- Endgame can get rather boring with limited simulation options.
- A good chunk of bugs are present alongside crashes.
- Navigating the UI on controller can be cumbersome.