When you think of the Middle Ages, you quickly think of knights, castles, and local nobles and dukes following each other. All in all, a turbulent time can be dangerous and provide opportunities to earn money and fame.
Mount & Blade 2 is set in a fictional version of the early Middle Ages: the continent of Calradia is divided into eight kingdoms, each consisting of a capital and several villages under the influence of a local ruler. Each empire has its own atmosphere, based on its location, ranging from mountain landscapes to desert.
Not only does each faction have its own atmosphere, but there can also be significant political differences. One empire rests on a senate and emperor, another faction is ruled by a monarchy, while another faction lives as nomads with a tribal chief. These differences are also reflected in the battlefield, where one faction focuses primarily on shield and hand combat, while the other prefers knights with bows and arrows.
Against this background, which is constantly gradually changing, you are trying to find your way. You can take that literally. You start with almost nothing and you have to form your own clan. The game gives you almost no instructions for this. If you want to have a campaign, but it quickly turns into “You have three years to talk to all the leaders”.
Freedom, on the other hand, is great. Do you want to go from city to city as a merchant, buying and selling to amass your fortune? Fine. Would you rather work as a shepherd and hunt down and defeat the local thieves? Feel free to go ahead, all weapons and prisoners get a great reward.
Do you want to take the bad road on your own? Nothing can stop you, but keep in mind that you won’t make friends this way. We’ve known our gameplay since our first Elite game, but of course it’s been improved a lot here. For example, the game will give you an indication of whether the requested trade price is appropriate or not, where you can sell your goods well, there are local traders who invite you to do (side) quests and you can participate in tournaments, where you can spend your hard-earned money. You can bet on the outcome.
Bannerlord gives you a lot of freedom and possibilities. So you can visit each city and breathe in the atmosphere and visit the local bar or brewery. If you don’t want to roam, you can also choose the person or shop you are looking for in the list right away, and you will be instantly taken to that person. It is a pity that you can no longer taste the local atmosphere, but soon you will not want anything else.
Bring the mission here, the routing mission there…
Unfortunately, the side missions that you can accept in the villages are not very diverse. Merchants have a caravan that must be secured, and they require you to break up a cartel by delivering goods on the spot or seizing stolen goods, expelling a local gang or competition, or hiring new employees for the local gang. The guardian sometimes asks you to collect tokens in nearby villages or free a kidnapped family member, but that’s all.
Through all of your actions, you influence your environment and how you are perceived. If you help a trader, the competitor will look down on you. If you help a regent, his enemies will become your enemy. Meanwhile, your fame grows and with it the size of your clan. This affects what is required of you. Soon you will need additional income, which you can earn by taking on and creating local shops. The choices you make are important to the success of your store. Is a lot of grain grown in the area? Then the brewery will not be short of raw materials.
With the extra income this generates, you can expand your clan with additional troops, allowing you to fight bigger battles and eventually lay siege to castles. The combat is perhaps the most interesting part of the game. You can watch your men passively attacking the enemy, but of course the real leader rides his horse and leads his men.
Whip, whip, whip
You can use a variety of weapons, including swords, bows, arrows, spears, and more. Bannerlord tries to be realistic about this, but it’s somewhat frustrating. You can carry your shield, equip your weapon from wherever you want, and make a bang with your weapon, but before you actually shoot a bang, you have to time and aim properly. As a result, fights regularly end with illogical blows in the air, while your opponent(s) usually know how to strike in a targeted manner. Therefore, it is usually up to your men to win the battle.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord is a real PC game in many ways. The number of options is endless and you can easily fill the keyboard with all combinations and menu options. The really developer Taleworlds Entertainment did their best to translate all these possibilities to the console and in most cases it went well. However, the controls are still unfortunate, especially in the battles and in the various menus and screens. Schematically, there is also a great deal of criticism about the game. Although the larger battles are wonderfully chaotic to watch, the environments, UI, and 2D map feel like the last generation.
Medieval sandbox to play endlessly
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord does not have its graphic power or its story, both are completely behind in time or almost absent. Mount & Blade should have complete freedom of choice in what to do, in a world that also goes its own way without a player. No matter how you play the game and whatever your choices, this is a game that presents itself differently every time.
This is magic on the one hand, but also Bannerlord’s limitations on the other. Anyone who comes for a compact story will be disappointed. You have to craft this story yourself, but Mount & Blade gives you plenty of room for it.