Mount And Blade II: Bannerlord – Early Access Impressions
In these days of social distancing, there are quite a few games that have such depth and difficulty that they could entertain for YEARS to come. As a series that has literally done just that for at least a decade is Mount & Blade. Warband was a version of the series that even today would easily steal a full day of immersion without recognizing time has passed. Mount And Blade II: Bannerlord is the next iteration in the series, currently in early access, and is set to do just the same.
Nostalgia is a powerful phenomenon. Much like playing a remastered classic, hopping back into the saddle with Bannerlord was smooth as silk. The map, controls, and structure of the game felt so familiar that I often forgot I was playing the sequel. Still, it’s true that sometimes sequels try too hard to innovate and lose the magic. Other times sequels stay so close to the previous game, they don’t really offer enough that is new. So I dug deeper into Bannerlord to see if it can stand on it’s on.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is basically a medieval kingdom RPG simulator. You take your character from peasant to eventual King or Lord by using politics, diplomacy, and warfare. Of course, most of the time you are doing so using warfare. Raising and maintaining an army as either a Merc or as a Lord essentially dominates the gameplay. The endgame is basically conquering the map as either part of a nation or as the leader of your own.
Playing Bannerlord felt a lot like playing a graphically remastered version of Warband. The graphics are ‘better’ but not great. Almost every other aspect of the game from melee combat to AI to kingdom building to siege battles to xp grinding felt almost identical. Given I invested a ton of hours into building a few different characters in Warband, it is only natural to assume that the same will happen with Bannerlord. Still, you would think some aspect of the gameplay felt ‘evolved’ or ‘improved’, but bizarrely the game feels a lot like a buggy Warband.
Bannerlord has a great RPG style system for building your character into a skilled warrior king…kinda. The system is unique enough to keep you coming back but not really great enough to sing its praises on top of a mountain. Bannerlord’s framework of seeing that horse icon with the army size number attached to it is unique in that you know that it involves some sort of action when an enemy is encountered. The ‘action’, however is where the game stumbles a bit.
There are two parts of the ‘action’ of the game that, if perfected, could make Bannerlord one of the best games of all time. Those parts are the melee combat and the siege battles. Since the biggest calling card of the Mount & Blade series is leading a big army and taking part in huge battles, having these two parts of the gameplay work well is key. Unfortunately, they do not.
Melee combat in Bannerlord is kind of a spam fest. If you can swing your weapon the fastest, you’ll probably win. On top of that, you basically have to make certain you don’t get bunched up into a traffic jam of bodies where NO ONE can swing a sword as well. The system the devs married themselves to involves using the mouse direction to determine the type of swing and then clicking to execute. Think For Honor only using a mouse. The problem is that the combat in Bannerlord is nowhere near as skill based as For Honor. There are no combos. Blocks don’t stun the enemy enough. Essentially, there is NO skill or strategy in the melee combat. Personally, I wish For Honor would evolve into Mount & Blade, but that’s a whole different fever dream.
Siege battles are also an important part of a medieval kingdom sim. Siege engines and tactics should be key in figuring out how to take down a foe. Unfortunately neither really play out well in Mount & Blade Bannerlord. Once you take away the bugs (like armies getting stuck on siege ladders), you have an AI system that far too often devolves into a packed club event where no one can dance! Icons separating your army from the one you are attacking then obscure the view to the point where you don’t really see anything. Other times the enemy AI just completely forgets the player exists allowing you to attack (melee or ranged) with no retaliation.
Mount & Blade Bannerlord really misses the boat on making the action in the game fun. As a result, I crafted my first character into an archer in order to take advantage of the really good ranged combat system the game has. Of course, once your foes get close, all of that goes out of the window.
To say the least, these two aspects of the game feel bare bones bad. Either the melee system itself needs to be overhauled and refined or they just need to drop it all together. While the siege combat can get better with AI improvements, it just seems as if siege weapons like towers, catapults, rams, and ballista should feel more important and powerful.
In the end, Mount & Blade Bannerlord is a pretty average experience. Much like playing Warband, Bannerlord doesn’t really have enough ‘action’ to attract many fans outside of those that played the original. While this sequel does ‘satisfy’ my desire to play more Mount & Blade Warband, it doesn’t ‘excite’ me. Here’s to hoping it will soon.
Read more game review by BJ Brown, right here on ForAllNerds.com.