Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord has already been out in Steam Early Access for 12 months. An entire year has passed us by, but thanks to the COVID pandemic, it feels like only yesterday I first fired up Bannerlord with the largest grin on my face. Since then, I've put 170 hours into it.
Whether you should pick it up though is a difficult question to answer. If you're clawing for one of the best battle simulation games that allows you to enjoy 500 vs. 500 army battles with up to 1,000 units on the field at any given time, this is a must-have game. In my Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord preview, I noted that it's not all perfect in the land of Calradia, but whether you're rolling up to a castle to lay siege with thousands of men or creating your own kingdom, the ride has been wild.
However, if you want a very deep role-playing experience with plenty of systems to engage with, you may want to shortlist the latest Mount & Blade installment as there's still plenty of work to be done before it's released as a complete product.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is the successor to the cult-classic Warband. It has a new game engine, which paved the way for impressive visuals and the ability to have incredible large-scale battles and sieges. You just might have to wait for additional work to be poured into completing the game.
Still missing many features
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord launched in a terrible state with more technical problems than one could keep up with. We documented some of the more serious issues early on, and a large portion of them have since been addressed. TaleWorlds had to focus on making the game playable before tackling anything else.
The to-do list was (and still is) extensive. For one, there's not much new here compared to Warband. Bannerlord improves on its predecessor technically, but it's difficult to actually point out major features that are unique.
However, we've seen the addition of a birth and death system, allowing actual named characters to die in battle (or from other causes) much like the thousands of unnamed troops that fall on a daily basis. Conversations now happen in a more efficient way where the entire scene surrounding a character doesn't need to be loaded. Rebellions can now occur where cities or factions can revolt against their ruler.
Additional functionality is planned to expand on the basic feature set, including education for children, more advanced battle terrain generation, as well as actual banners you and your troops can take into battle. Hopefully, the banner creation system will be overhauled too. Lastly, the new sandbox mode is amazing. There's still plenty of planned Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord features for developer TaleWorlds Entertainment to crack on with, too.
But compared to Warband, here's what we're missing in Bannerlord right now:
- Peacetime feasts.
- Recommend AI overworld actions.
- Keep and street battles.
- Quests. (Current ones are a start.)
- In-depth characters.
- Settlement development options.
- Enhanced Courtship.
- Lord duels.
- Tournament gear.
- Character personalities.
- Naval use and combat.
- Hunting food.
- Setting up camp.
- Asking the location of characters.
Feasting is a big one since there's not a whole lot to do during peacetime. Sure, you need to recruit new troops to replenish your party numbers, but aside from that, it's a case of running around between settlements. There's no real reason to stay in your own fief.
Managing your settlements and castles is a quick endeavor; it takes a few seconds to select something to construct, but there are few additional gameplay mechanics on top of that. Your people will never ask anything of you, nor will you need to visit them unless at war for defense. And that's really Bannerlord in a nutshell — there is a great foundation, but little substance.
Performance has improved
If you were to open Bannerlord just after the game hit the Steam store last year, you would've found it hard to actually successfully get into Calradia. Stability was terrible, opening various screens would hang the game, and loading times were on the verge of creating a waiting simulator. Luckily, numerous patches have improved things immensely.
Entering battles takes a moment, but it'll load the entire terrain, units, and more. Entering settlements is the same, and conversations are also a lot quicker. Everything generally feels smoother.
The only issue I currently have is with Battania castles, which drop the frames-per-second (FPS) counter to single digits territory. It's a shame since this essentially forces me to avoid participating in sieges to take Batannian castles or to play under Caladog altogether.
Lore simply doesn't matter
I love the encyclopedia that's present in-game, but it can become more incredible if the lore actually mattered in the world of Calradia. While the factions have different colors, banners, and names, the cultural differences are sometimes difficult to spot. Yes, Aserai buildings look different from those in Sturgia, but this doesn't really matter. If your faction takes control of a settlement or castle, you won't really notice any difference.
Why aren't there temporary structures (themed to the occupier's culture) within a settlement after a siege, or visual damage? Having the lore matter would allow the world to breathe, especially if TaleWorlds continues to pour resources into making it appear as though people actually live and die in Calradia. Warband understood the character detail was what made the game special.
It won't take much for this to be addressed. Even if the developers don't tackle it, I have high hopes for the modding community.
It has an incredible modding community
Speaking of which, the modding community is already out in full force. More than 2,000 mods have already been released for Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, which is already more than Warband. There are so many mods available that the game is currently sat as the 13th most modded game on Nexus Mods.
That's before the extensive modding tools have been released by TaleWorlds, which is even more incredible. The incredibly talented community has already worked on some tweaks and fixes to the gameplay, as well as complete overhaul packages that transform Calradia into the Roman Empire.
We've looked at some of the best Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord mods and I'm expecting many more to come.
Bottom line: Should you play Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord?
Do I believe you should give Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord a try? If you're a fan of this type of game, absolutely. I've definitely had my money's worth with more than 170 hours invested into various playthroughs. The issue is that I was hoping for so much more and I'm not alone there. Bannerlord right now simply feels like a Warband Remastered in Early Access.
I'm going to be keeping an eye on future development, but there's not enough present in the game to hook in a wider audience. The upcoming patch with better terrain generation will be a welcomed addition, but until more meat is added to this feast (still no in-game feasts), I'm going to have to sit this one out. It doesn't help that the addition of new features has slowed somewhat through development.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is a mixed bag. On one side, it's one of the best games of its class, but on the other, there's still plenty one expects to see, and it's just not there. Strangely, it's not just TaleWorlds that has this problem. We waited a long time for Cyberpunk 2077 and, well, you know the story there.
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.