Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord Early Access Review

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2020-03-31
  • Action,Role-Playing,Simulation,Strategy
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

When it comes to Bannerlord’s factions, three of them represent the remnants of a once grand empire, with a focus on tough as nails legionaries. Then, there’s a faction of knights and crossbows, a faction of horse nomads, a vaguely Celtic faction that has the most ridiculous archers, and a northern and southern factions that don’t really do anything particularly well. This last part leads us to the game’s biggest issue at the moment - faction identity.

Back in Warband, pretty much each faction had some defining unit or playstyle around which you would build your entire army. In Bannerlord, you have the Battanians with their machinegun bowmen and the Khuzaits with abundant cavalry and a focus on horse archers that play in a unique way. But all the other factions basically play the same. Sure, some factions are better at some things than at others, but the basic strategy remains. At least that’s the impression I got while playing Bannerlord. As such, I really would like it if the developers looked into faction balance and identity at some point.

Moving past factions, the game now also features a more engaged campaign where you gradually become the eponymous Bannerlord and either restore the old empire to its past glory or dismantle it into dust. At the moment, the campaign is fairly basic and starts some threads only to drop them later without ever mentioning again, but it already provides some direction for those of us who like to have an overarching goal. It can also be completely ignored if you prefer a true sandbox experience.

On top of the campaign mode, single-player also offers custom battles where you can fight the AI without the fear of being captured and losing your entire army. And on the multiplayer side of things, you have a total of four modes: Skirmish, Team Deathmatch, Siege, and Captain. While the first three are pretty self-explanatory, the Captain mode allows you to participate in multiplayer battles where each of the players commands an AI squad, and you have to work together with your teammates to outmaneuver your opponents instead of just trying to hit them with a large sword. It's a lot of fun and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.

Still, the single-player campaign mode is the game’s main attraction. And while playing it you will definitely notice plenty of similarities with the earlier Mount & Blade games, most of the systems have been greatly expanded since your last trip around Calradia.

Although at the moment though the game’s AI lords and NPCs in general have very little to say, already you have way more diplomatic options than before. This opens plenty of opportunities for emergent gameplay, where a combination of high social skills and some denars you put aside for bribes allows you to sow chaos across Calradia and then watch the map change colors as lords start backstabbing one another like there’s no tomorrow.

The game now also features a number of minor factions that essentially serve the same role as you - mercenaries that can join the bigger kingdoms and thus shift the balance of power.

And pretty much everything was redesigned with quality of life in mind. Instead of aimlessly wandering around towns and villages, you can now highlight important NPCs. Or better yet, just use a menu directly from the overworld map to talk to whoever you need. The UI is way better. It’s much easier now to manage your inventory, your companions and your troops. The game itself may be taking place further back in the past, but its design sensibilities are firmly rooted in the present.

Now, let’s move on to what is perhaps Bannerlord’s biggest new addition. The clan system. In its current early access state, it allows you to have a family, including heirs that grow up to become companions, governors, or even allied parties that can go around the map and do their own thing independently of you. And while not fully realized at the moment, later on the game will have your main character die of old age, or even in battle. So when you fall, it won’t be a game over, or a time-consuming trip around the map to some dungeon, but instead an opportunity to build a dynasty and pick up the torch with one of your heirs.