Reviews - Updated on November 7, 2022

The release of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord has been quiet, compared to when the project appeared in Steam Early Access two and a half years ago. Judge for yourself: then the average daily online was above 100 thousand people for almost a month, then it gained stability, having decreased by about five times, and now, at the release, it hardly got beyond 50 thousand – and it is still unknown in which direction the indicator will change further.

But why? Was the final version worse than the beta? No, the developers from the TaleWorlds studio kept their promises and tried to fix all the shortcomings of the early builds. Has a worthy alternative appeared, against the background of which the Turkish project has lost its freshness and does not look so advantageous? Also past – Bannerlord is still a unique game, and another one is unlikely to appear in the near future.

So what are the reasons? Well, let’s try to find them, and at the same time we will make the final verdict.

From bandit to king

Calradia is huge: from the sultry deserts to the northern fjords, from the endless steppes to the seas, its expanses stretch. The continent, despite its size, is densely populated, and life does not stop on it for a minute. Trade caravans travel along the roads, gangs of robbers hide in the forests, peasant carts regularly supply cities and castles with supplies, and flowering fields often become the scene of bloody battles in which hundreds and thousands are killed and wounded.

The best way to understand the scale of the continent is when you play a merchant - you often have to drive caravans from one side of the map to the other for the sake of maximum profit.

The best way to understand the scale of the continent is when you play a merchant – you often have to drive caravans from one side of the map to the other for the sake of maximum profit.

Whom to become in this world living according to its own laws? A mercenary who gathers a troop of fortune hunters and serves the highest bidder? Perhaps it will be possible to rise to the rank of nobility and swear allegiance to one of the powerful rulers? Or to take a swing at the throne yourself, having won the right to the crown and scepter? Or do you prefer the fate of a merchant who leads huge caravans with precious cargo through all of Calradia and whose wealth even kings envy? What is closer to you: knightly glory obtained in battles and tournaments, or the fear that covers anyone at the mere mention of your name – the name of a robber who collects tribute from half the country will not hesitate to attack a small army?

Another “sandbox” with a similar freedom of choice is unlikely to be found. I don’t want to get into specifics, listing dry facts: how many character upgrade branches are there, what types of weapons heroes can use, and why it’s better to build your own city this way and not otherwise. Bannerlord is good because it remains a medieval fairy tale, despite the abundance of interconnected mechanics.

On the other hand, these mechanics are so deep (and during early access they didn’t always work as they should) that without guides and bumps stuffed from their own experience, one can’t dream of dominating Calradia. Nevertheless, you can play without undue perseverance, on the principle of “how it goes.” Usually it turns out to be no less exciting adventure, albeit without achieving lofty goals.

And one more thing: there is not a drop of magic in this world – an important factor for those who want to immerse themselves in a medieval setting without a fantasy set on edge.

Participation in tournaments remains the easiest way to accumulate initial capital.  At the same time, combat skills can be improved.

Participation in tournaments remains the easiest way to accumulate initial capital. At the same time, combat skills can be improved.

Real Middle Ages

All the life paths of a character – from a bandit to a king – are available to anyone. The first layer of the gameplay is responsible for this, which unfolds on the global map, in dialogue scenes and in the character and clan management interface. Our hero travels around Calradia, recruits troops, trades, manages his own possessions, talks with other characters, gradually acquires friends and associates, and can even find a life partner (or partner).

But what is the Middle Ages without large-scale battles and knightly duels? Any fight – from a one-on-one duel to a huge battle with thousands of participants – is not just a confrontation of numbers reflecting the number of soldiers and the characteristics of weapons, but an impressive scene to match the best films about medieval battles. And the player is in the thick of the confrontation, almost the same warrior as the others: you can cut enemies with your own hands or shoot at them with a bow and crossbow. Sometimes you have to command – not like in strategies, from a distance and with a view from above, but sitting in the saddle with a sword at the ready.

In a big battle, you must not only fight yourself, but also control the troops.  There are enough orders - from the types of construction to the tactics of action.

In a big battle, you must not only fight yourself, but also control the troops. There are enough orders – from the types of construction to the tactics of action.

Immersion in the atmosphere of a medieval battle is complete. From the moments when the equestrian detachment at full gallop cuts into a dense infantry formation or “archers on command fire a volley of arrows, it takes your breath away.

One game studio

What is most interesting is that these two regimes, so different from each other, do not conflict. One does not seem like an appendage of the other, as is often the case with projects that aim at multi-genre gameplay. Experience affects – TaleWorlds, despite its almost 20-year history, did not do anything other than Mount & Blade. If she had created Bannerlord from scratch, she would hardly have been able to achieve such a thorough study and take into account all the little things. This is a consistent work that develops and complements the ideas of the debut part of the series.

Siege battles are a different story. The defense of your own possessions and the capture of the enemy is a step towards dominance over Calradia. And these fights are just epic.

But the authors have something to strive for – for example, in Calradia, no one has yet mastered shipbuilding. Sea and river travel and battles are the first candidate for the DLC, and, I would like to believe, there will definitely be supplements.

I will note the excellent work of the artists: the political structure of Calradia absorbed the main medieval images, and the design emphasizes these recognizable features. Take the same kingdoms and their population: in the south of the continent – typical Arabs riding camels and in turbans, in the east – nomads, in the north – Vikings … It turned out not to overdo it: despite the obvious anachronisms, such a combined hodgepodge looks authentic and contributes to immersion in the atmosphere Middle Ages. If you do not suffer from excessive craving for “rivets”, of course, a deaf knight’s helmet for the tournament still looks superfluous on a foot archer.

There are enough items of equipment and weapons - fans of dressing up the “doll” of their character will definitely not be disappointed.

There are enough items of equipment and weapons – fans of dressing up the “doll” of their character will definitely not be disappointed.

On the other hand, purely technologically, the graphics of stars from the sky are not enough. Yes, it adequately reflects the entire spectrum of medieval reality, but it is outdated even in early access. It is hardly worth reproaching the developers for this: first of all, this is an inevitable compromise between beauty and performance – do not forget about thousands of battles.

You quickly get used to the good

When talking about Mount & Blade II, it’s hard for me to keep an open mind. I know her too well: I spent many hours in Calradia, and my first acquaintance with the series took place more than 15 years ago. It should be understood that this project is not one of those that you can go through once and forget. No, you return to Calradia from time to time, try new character builds, experiment with the composition of the army and ways to achieve goals. Fortunately, the wealth of opportunities only contributes to such experiments.

The uniqueness of the game is no longer so impressive, besides, the series is developing linearly, without sharp bursts – of the major changes in its entire history, I can only remember the addition of multiplayer to Mount & Blade: Warband. Yes, and Bannerlord itself, if you think about it, is nothing more than a version of the same Warband brought to mind: not a remaster, of course, but the main innovations relate to the technical component and convenience.

One of the innovations of the release version is unit flags, which not only look beautiful, but also increase the characteristics of fighters. It is strange that in a game with such a name they appeared so late.

What’s more, the same story is repeated in miniature on Bannerlord’s journey from early access to release. What the patches for two and a half years included: bug fixes, balance changes, new locations, items and characters, plus features familiar from the previous parts of the series and modifications to them. Only the system of heirs and improvements in battles (you can arrange troops before the battle) are drawn to serious innovations, and even then with reservations – this was already in fashion.

By the way, it is worth talking about them separately. The early announcement of Bannerlord (it happened in 2012) played a cruel joke with the mods. No one wanted to make modifications for Warband: why, if a new part is about to be released (as it seemed then)? There, the tools are better, and there will be more prospects for amateur projects – at that time, Warband was technically outdated. However, time passed, and the developers were in no hurry to release the sequel – it happened only ten years after the announcement. Full support for modifications using the Steam Workshop has appeared quite recently.

The diplomatic system includes foreign and domestic policy.  The higher the influence of your clan, the more weighty your voice will be during the council of lords.

The diplomatic system includes foreign and domestic policy. The higher the influence of your clan, the more weighty your voice will be during the council of lords.

It is clear that this situation is far from the best way affected the quantity and quality of mods. How many of the promising projects have not seen the light – one can only guess. It’s not in vain that I pay so much attention to this: Mount & Blade mods have always been impressive – several full-fledged games have grown out of them, and the developers peeped the lion’s share of Bannerlord’s features from modders.

Of the modifications that have already been released, two are worth mentioning – CRPG and Bannerlord Online. The first is dedicated to online battles, in which the player earns gold and experience needed to buy equipment and upgrade skills. The second one is even more interesting: it transfers all aspects of the single-player campaign to multiplayer, retaining the features of the original, from traveling on a global map to large-scale battles – almost a real MMORPG. And the network mode in the “normal” Bannerlord has long been abandoned – this also affected the relatively low popularity for such a remarkable game.

The main reason for the cool reception of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (when compared to when the beta version was released) is not at all. It is banal: they are used to the game. We take for granted all the wealth of opportunities that this unparalleled project gives us, especially since it has been with us for more than 15 years, if we count from the release of the first part.

Only those who get acquainted with the series for the first time will be able to truly appreciate the uniqueness of the creation of TaleWorlds. Although the battles here are not as large-scale as in Total War, the graphics and dynamics of sword fights are worse than in Mordhau and Chivalry II, and the role-playing is hardly comparable to that in Crusader Kings III, but Mount & Blade is the only game that could combine all the features of an adventure in a medieval setting. Before us is a real masterpiece – perhaps without a big name and not so noticeable against the background of other hits, but he deserves his “raisins”.

Pros: large-scale battles; a world that lives independently of the player; Lots of roleplaying options for the medieval adventurer.

Cons: for a beginner who does not know all the subtleties and possibilities, the passage may seem monotonous.

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