First Impressions - Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord
As my army slowly advanced towards the enemy line, enemy archers opened fire. My men didn’t stop, but the horse that I’d been riding since the beginning of the game keeled over in pain. Without missing a step, I ordered my men to charge so that no more horses would get hurt unnecessarily. A moment later, two hundred men clashed into one another, swinging wildly at everything they could see. I too jumped into the fray, killing enemy after enemy with a sword that I’d made myself. Then, just as the enemy started to retreat, my game crashed. Mount & Blade is back, baby!
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is the newest entry in the long-running Mount & Blade franchise (the last instalment came out over ten years ago), and which can best be described as Total War from the perspective of a regular soldier. In Mount & Blade, players take control of an aspiring mercenary who slowly works their way up to becoming a general of a massive army, all while fighting in every battle their soldiers do and engaging in some light roleplay. It’s a stupidly addicting concept that can easily engage players for hundreds of hours. However, it’s also a concept that’s started to show its age recently which is where Bannerlord comes in.
The biggest way in which this entry helps to de-age the Mount & Blade franchise is with its graphics. Although graphics are rarely something to be noted in the age of the Unreal Engine, this series is infamous for its terrible visuals. Bannerlord looks far from amazing, but it’s also the first entry into the franchise where the aesthetic doesn’t distract from the gameplay. They're simply not bad enough to draw attention, which can only be a good thing.
This sentiment also applies to the game’s story. In Bannerlord, players are given the quest of talking to a bunch of nobles so that they can find their brother and rebuild their clan. It’s not exactly The Silmarillion, but seeing as previous entries into the franchise didn’t have a story to speak of, it’s a nice addition that gives players who are looking for some direction something to do. Towards the end, the story also ties in with the game’s kingdom mechanics, which is nice even if it’s not necessarily needed.
This attitude of “good enough” stops at the story, though. Almost everything else in Bannerlord is nothing short of spectacular, not least of which is the actual gameplay. Following in the footsteps of previous Mount and Blade titles, the core gameplay of this entry involves a lot of fighting. Battles are often quick, but they’re also brutal and satisfying. Every weapon in the game carries the perfect amount of weight, every armor piece slows the player down the right amount and every horse moves like it should. One-on-one combat in the game is some of the best that players can experience this side of Dark Souls.
Commanding battles, too, is a great experience. Players are able to precisely order troops around the battlefield and can use real-world tactics to outsmart their enemies. Both friendly and enemy troops move just fast enough to allow all of this to happen, which avoids the common problem of strategy games wherein cavalry units decimate everyone before a battle starts. This results in battles that are perfectly paced, and when combined with a player's agency in the fighting itself, means they're never a chore regardless of their frequency.
Battles are aided by the simple party management in between them. Almost everything that can be done to a player’s party is done within a single menu screen and most interactions only require one click to complete. Everything from executing prisoners to allocating perk points is all done within the party menu, which makes doing non-combat related tasks a breeze. This may seem like a minor point, but it makes the game hard to put down and allows it to flow better than other games in the genre.
The other thing that makes the game hard to put down is its sieges. Mount & Blade is known for its huge battles, but the sieges in Bannerlord are some of the coolest things players will ever experience in any game. They’re massive, twenty- minute long fights that involve battering rams and siege towers. Sieges put players’ armies to the test, and when completed, grant the best rewards in the game. As a result of the aforementioned enjoyable commanding mechanics, sieges never feel unfair but instead are always amazing spectacles. They’re easily the most enjoyable thing in what is an already stupidly enjoyable game.
These sieges, along with the rest of the game, run surprisingly well. Even on dated gaming computers, players can adjust their settings to get at least a playable frame rate. Occasionally the frame rate may drop into the single digits during huge battles, but outside of these, the game runs smoothly. The game also doesn’t have many bugs. Players may experience an infinite loading screen from time to time or see a weird face, but for a game in Early Access, these things are far from game breaking.
The game does have some things that players may find annoying outside of crashes, however. Bandit encampments often feel unbalanced, villages are annoying to navigate and it takes a long time for players to get their armies to the size that’s needed to start mounting sieges by themselves. None of these things come close to ruining the game, but they are minor annoyances that will hopefully get ironed out as time goes on.
It should go without saying, then, that the overall experience is nothing short of amazing. With fun one-on-one combat, engaging sieges and interesting party mechanics, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is borderline fantasy-fulfillment for those interested in the medieval time period. The story is lacking and there are occasional bugs to be contended with, but these are trivial when the game as a whole is one of the best ones strategy fans are likely to play this year.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is currently in Early Access. Check back on Jump Dash Roll for the full review later this year!
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