Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord by TaleWorlds Entertainment is the long-awaited sequel to Mount & Blade: Warband. Mount & Blade is a series of free-form sandbox RPGs where the player takes on the role of a mercenary in the wartorn land of Calradia.
Players start out with some Denars (the currency of Calradia), their starting equipment, and are thrust into the world to build their own army and kingdom.
As if celebrating its 10 year anniversary, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord released into Early Access a day early on March 30th, exactly 10 years after Mount & Blade: Warband was released.
As a sandbox game, it is fully playable despite being in Early Access. However TaleWorlds has noted that they will continue discovering and fixing bugs while adding features.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord will be familiar for those who played Mount & Blade: Warband, and the gameplay remains largely unchanged.
For those unfamiliar with the earlier Mount & Blade titles, players will guide their armies and amass wealth. It’s possible they become a key player in one of the existing factions, or become a self-made monarch at their leisure.
It’s entirely possible to play the game without becoming anything more noteworthy than a provincial merchant, buying oil in southern Calradia to trade at a profit for furs in northern Calradia, and back again. That’s what it means to be a sandbox, the goals and aspirations of the character are decided by the player.
The game begins however, with a story quest for players to follow. Your family has been slain by brigands save for your siblings, an elder brother who joins you on the first steps of your adventure (that is, through the tutorial), and younger siblings who have been kidnapped and sold.
After amassing a small warband and dispersing the hideout of the bandits who stole your younger siblings, your brother leaves you in order to track them down; Leaving you to your own devices in Calradia.
While tracking the bandits who kidnapped your family, you’ll rescue a local doctor carrying a mysterious treasure called Neretze’s Folly. Discovering its true worth will send you all around Calradia, speaking with lords and learning the history of the land. Neretze’s Folly in fact, was a large and glorious battle that happened years ago.
Ultimately it will be up to the player if they want to restore the Calradian Empire to its former glory, support one of the many warring nations, or forge their own path ahead.
Even with a story quest to follow, the Mount & Blade series has overwhelmingly been about the sandbox experience. I spent the first few hours building a small band of about 20 men, and traded oil and wine with the southern kingdoms.
Quests and notable people appear in a bar at the top whenever you visit a settlement, making the process of meeting people and finding quests much easier than it was in Mount & Blade: Warband.
Speaking of cities, they’re now easier to interact with, and have more to do in them. Aside from the arena and tavern making a return from Mount & Blade: Warband, you can hold the ALT key while exploring the city to see points of interest.
This includes workshops, which can be purchased for more passive income. There are also gang hangouts you can clear out to reduce crime, and make problems for local criminals.
Of particular note, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord introduces a new crafting system for weapons. Players develop their own smithing skill, and learn to create new weapon parts that can be mixed and matched for increased power, weight, and other features.
Materials can be refined, and weapons looted from enemies can be smelted into metal. With the right talents and trading, hardwood can be processed into more expensive charcoal for free.
I was able to turn three hardwood purchased for 10 Denar each, into two charcoal which sold for 67 Denar each. This new addition to the series is to encourage fans as it progresses through Early Access.
Much like the gameplay, the graphics have hardly changed from the prior game. After ten years, the graphical improvements here are a little disappointing.
It’s difficult to know if it’s a stylistic choice, a restriction of the engine, or something that will be improved in time. Randomly generated NPCs have a habit of looking terrifying, almost in a way that’s so bad it’s good. It’s easy to ignore when compared to Mount & Blade: Warband.
Music doesn’t appear to be a priority for Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord. None of the soundtrack was particularly noteworthy, though the droning drums of war are far preferable to uncanny silence when leading a massive battle.
During large-scale combats it can be hard to hear what’s happening around you, though rather than being a flaw this contributes to the immersion of war.
While the game may just be a more polished version of Mount & Blade: Warband, arguably that’s all fans of the series have been asking for. TaleWorlds Entertainment may have successfully reinvented the wheel with Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord was previewed on Windows PC using a personal copy obtained by the writer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.