Throughout this review I will refer to Mount & Blade 2 Bannerlord as simply Bannerlord.
Bannerlord is an older game that came out in 2020. This review will look at the game in its current state as well as how it was on release. I will also delve into if the game is still worth playing. I will be focused 100% on the single player aspects of the game. There is a online part of Bannerlord but I have not played it enough to give an honest opinion of it.
Bannerlord Honest Review, What is Bannerlord?
Bannerlord is a truly amazing and unique game, I can honestly say I cannot think of another game like it. Or any that I have played anyway. It is groundbreaking and very enjoyable. TaleWorlds Entertainment still works on the game, releasing regular patches and updates even three years after its release.
This is a game I personally find hard to categorize, it has so many aspects and does not fit into one of the molds we come to expect from categories like Strategy or RPG or open world. If I was forced to give it a category I would say it is a Medieval, Open World Strategy game. I am sure others who play it might categorize it differently depending on their play style.
Bannerlord Unique Gameplay and World
When you begin Bannerlord you are just a single person at a training camp with your brother with no idea what is happening or what you are meant to do. As you do the tutorial you will learn how combat works, how to recruit and lead a party of soldiers and their requirements. Such as food and money. You will also glimpse the massive world of Bannerlord.
Once the tutorial is finished you are thrown out into the world of Calradia to create your own story. You rise to power or suffer a tragic downfall on your own choices and actions.
There is a campaign to follow but it always felt like a side story or optional, Bannerlord is more about the game play and creating your own story in my humble opinion.
From the start there are many, many ways you can play the game. You create your character and your backstory based on how you want to play. You can start out as a humble merchant who then becomes a merchant prince buying cities right out from under Kings and Queens. You can try your hand at becoming the sharpest blade in Calradia by fighting your way up the ranks in Tournaments. Be a bandit raiding villages and attacking peasants just trying to get by. Or a multitude of other things depending on how you wish to play.
Personally my favorite play style is becoming a Leader. Starting out doing simple quests for money and resources from villages to then becoming a mercenary for warring countries, to eventually becoming a lord/lady for a country or creating my own kingdom to unify or destroy all others.
The choice and world are yours, become who you want to, however you want to.
Getting Your Head Around the Combat in Bannerlord
Part of Bannerlord Honest Review will be looking at the combat in the game which we will do now.
The combat is extremely simple at the same time as being complicated and at times just downright annoying.
The simplicity of it depends on your weapon. If you are going with a ranged weapon it is very easy simply aim and shoot. If going with a one handed weapon and shield it is again very simple. One mouse button to hit with your weapon the other mouse button to block with your shield. The complexity comes when you are trying to only use a melee weapon without a shield. Either being a one handed weapon or two.
The issue arises because to block and attack you move your mouse in a certain direction to attack from that direction or block an incoming attack from that direction. However getting the game to know you moved your mouse left or right is annoying and sometimes you end up turning it so far that direction to make the game register you are trying to block or attack a certain way that you are no longer facing that enemy so it no longer matters.
The simplest solutions I found to the issue was to either never block only attacks, always have a shield equipped with your weapon or only use ranged weapons. Saying all of this though it may simply be I could not get used to that certain control or understand it fully, others may be far better at it than myself. I just found that particular mechanic very frustrating.
Becoming a True Bannerlord
As you progress through the game your party size will increase as you level your character and gain new skills or level your clan through actions that give you renown. As the leader of your clan and party its requirements are yours to fulfill. Soldiers need to be fed and paid and you must supply the food and money.
Each morning and night you will lose money and food to pay your party wages and feed your soldiers. It is very easy to have enough money and food to start with but as you progress through the game it becomes more difficult as you get better and more soldiers.
The higher rank or tier the soldier is, the more they cost daily.
Fulfilling the money and food requirements is actually not difficult in the least. You can pay for it through trade or battles or tournaments or raiding. If you have more food variety your troops get morale in battle, you can simply just carry about grain and feed your party on that without an issue. However if you have multiple varieties of food such as cheese, butter, beer, meat and grain then your party’s morale is higher and they are less likely to run from battle. You will also level up your steward skill passively as you continue your travels and your party eats well.
Bannerlord Honest Review, Are You a Commander, Warrior or Both?
When you enter the battle map you are a soldier and leader of your party. You can give command of your party to your sergeants or lead it yourself. The controls to give commands to your party/army can be annoying and difficult to start with but once you have spent some time doing it, it becomes second nature.
In the battle maps you can control all sections of your army, infantry, archers, horse archers and cavalry or you can command none of it and just be another warrior or only parts of it depending on what you want to do.
Before the battle starts you can put a commander in charge of each section of troops. This commander is your self, a family member or a wanderer you have paid to join your faction. These section leaders give buffs and carry banners to that section. I usually put myself in charge of my archers so my archery skills will then buff all the archers in my party. I will get a high skill sword and shield wanderer to put in charge of my infantry and so on. This buffs your entire troop and adds to the role play that each section of troops has their own leader should you fall in battle.
The battles are amazing fun and as you progress through the game and become a better soldier and leader you can see and feel a real difference in the battles as they grow larger and larger. Eventually they begin to really feel like a medieval battle might have. Very chaotic and gruesome.
The Campaign Map and World of Calradia
There are two types of maps in Bannerlords. The world map and the battle map. The world map is where you run around Calradia doing your own thing whatever that is. The battle map is basically what it says. It is when you go into battle with an enemy party or army. There are a multitude of different maps in battles each with their own unique geography which you can use to your advantage as well as the enemy can.
One of the many things that blows my mind about this game is the realism in places. The time of day has a literal effect on battles. The enemy party can and will use it against you. If the sun is rising or setting they will put their back to it so as you move to them or try to find them the sun is blinding you and your archers. This is the kind of thing that makes this game feel unique and groundbreaking.
You can visit and walk around every village and city you can find in the world map. I count these as battle maps as well. You may not be in battle or fighting anyone but the map layout is similar to battles.
The simple fact that there are so many villages and cities and so many different layouts for them shows the amount of effort and work Taleworks has put into this game and yet another reason why it feels so unique.
The world map is enormous. I mean truly, breathtakingly massive. There are dozens of cities, dozens of castles and hundreds of villages. You can visit and walk around them all. Each section of the world map has its own culture, environment, resources and characters. If you go far north you will be in the mountains and snow. South the desert, east the steppes, west the forests with the center being mostly farmland and grass plains.
Each culture has an abundance of certain resources and none of others. If you go to the east steppes you will find massive amounts of food such as meat, cheese and butter but no dates, grapes or pigs. To the west lots of grain, grapes, iron but not much butter, cheese. As you play you will find each area lacks certain things and the economy changes and evolves as merchants trade their wares.
Again another reason why this is unique: the economy changes based on recent events. If a city was recently under siege they will pay double or triple for any and all food types. Trading around the world bringing rare goods from an abundance region into a scarce region is a good way to make money.
Bannerlord Honest Review Graphics
The graphics in the world map in Bannerlord are decent. They are not spectacular or awful, they are just decent. Seeing 100s of lords and parties moving around the world map is spectacular though. When you consider you can interact and talk to every single one as well it is mind boggling.
The battle maps graphics though, they are amazing. The grass moves, the sun shines off the water, this game is three years old and it is still beautiful.
Bannerlord RPG Aspects
Bannerlord does have some RPG aspects to it. You are a single character who gains experience and gains skill and attribute points as you level. You can put these points into any of the skill trees giving you perks as you level and increasing your stats. Depending on your play style you will want to focus on certain areas of expertise.
As you expect in any RPG type game as you level it becomes harder and harder to continue to level until eventually you cannot realistically gain any more levels. Bannerlords is a fairly slow leveling process and you will not gain half of the skill points you may wish.
As a player that focuses on creating my own kingdom and being a General of an army I sometimes feel I am forced into certain skill trees and areas instead of more fully exploring the skills. This may be my play style but I do wish that you could gain more skill in areas without as much focus in them.
As you level a skill you then begin to gain less and less xp from it until you put more skill points or attribute points into that area. This makes sense to me so you cannot become a master of everything. The issue I have is at times it feels the amount of points you can put into an area is too small. Only being able to gain 20-30 points in a skill without investing perk points into it feels very low. Especially if you are in battle a lot using said skill but not getting better at it.
The Ceaseless Characters of Bannerlords
Within Bannerlords there are literally 100s of different characters. There are the lords, ladies, mercenaries, merchants, nobles and so on. What is so interesting and to be honest amazing is that every character has a family and relationships that evolve and change as the game progresses.
As a rising Lord yourself you become part of these families and relationships. You can marry your family off to other lords and ladies, change your heir, gain faction leadership through marriage and death. It is a fascinating system that continues to evolve and change.
Your relationships with lords and ladies will also affect if they will join your Kingdom when you create one and how much it will cost you to bribe them to join you.
From Hostage to Emperor
One of the best aspects of Bannerlord to me has always been creating your own Kingdom. Starting from the ground up. Having nothing and rising up to capture your first castle or city, declaring yourself a new Kingdom. Then surviving the continual harassment from the existing kingdoms to then conquering them all.
I will be honest it can become very tedious at times. When you have created your own kingdom the other kingdoms will continually declare war on you and try to destroy you. Once you create your kingdom there will be none stop war. You will live in the saddle on the move fighting one army after another. Especially at the beginning when you have no lords or ladies under your command. As you progress it does get better but it is also never ending until you capture the very last city or castle.
Bannerlord Honest Review Late Game
This is my only issue with the game. At the start of the game it is non-stop, always something to do, always leveling. I suppose that could be said for the late game as well but doing a quest at level 30 that gives 1000 gold when you have several million in the bank does not feel worth it.
As you progress into the late game you will mostly be focused on war. You will either be a Lord or Lady in a Kingdom or be a King or Queen. The problem is that you basically stop leveling. You might gain a level every few days of play time but not much.
Then there is the fact that the other factions will either all declare war on you at once or none will. Fighting a war on two fronts is bad, fighting it on four because everyone declares war on you at once is just stupid.
The diplomacy system needs real work; it is too simple. You have no idea why a faction decides to go to war with you. Or why the other factions all follow around the same time. It is something to do with overall Kingdom strength which is shown in the diplomacy tab but even when you are massively stronger than another faction, even when they have no castles or cities left they will still declare war on you and raid your villages.
It became infuriating after a few days of fighting non-stop. The constant random wars. You are fighting on one side of the map and suddenly two factions on the other side declare war on you as well. They literally have to go through two other factions’ territories to reach you but they still do. It makes no sense.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, Honest Review Conclusion
Overall I say this game is still amazing. The developers still have great passion for the game with continual fixes and patches that improve it and make it better. This shows in the game with the amount of detail present and the intricacies of the in game systems like trade and relationships.
The fighting takes some getting used to but once you are it is amazing fun, the personal fighting and leading armies both require some adjustment period but both well worth it in the end.
The graphics never disappoint and the realism makes the game feel alive, both add something special to the game while not being ground breaking or the very best but still very good.
The only real issue I have with the game is the leveling system is very slow and stops too early. The end game becomes repetitive and tedious after 100s of battle but that is usually after 100+ hours into your campaign so is it really an issue? That is for you to decide.