In the 10 years since the Mount & Blade series debuted, the games have occupied an unusual spot in the gaming landscape.
They’ve never been showered with praise, and they’re far from a household name. The Mount & Blade titles are in essence action-RPGs, but fit awkwardly in that well worn genre mould. The 2008 originally had a scrappy charm, certainly, but it was far from perfect.
But it’s never hard to find evangelists for the series, who eagerly speak of the game’s misunderstood potential. That audience have been eagerly awaiting Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord since it was announced way back in 2012, only a year after the release of spin-off stand-alone expansion, Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword.
Trusted Reviews has compiled everything you need to know about Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord including all the latest news, gameplay, trailers and our hands-on preview from Gamescom 2018.
Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord Trailer
Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord Gameplay Preview
The very point of the timed single-player demo at Gamescom was to let players do as they wish. There were seemingly no restrictions, meaning you could explore the vast strategic map, visit various cities and outposts, tackle quests, meet locals, or simply go around troubling gangs of petty criminals and passing warriors.
The game is, on paper, a medieval action-RPG that favours realism over fantasy. If you came for dragons and orcs, this is not the Tolkien-esque world you are looking for. Instead, expect an homage to medieval Europe with authentic weapons, landscapes, technologies and creatures.
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As with the first game, in this sequel the realm of Calradia plays backdrop to an experience where you are encouraged to do as you wish. Calradia, much like the Roman Empire that clearly inspired it, has fallen, and yours is the task of uniting this divided land, where several factions and myriad other groups are each following their own ambitions and goals.
Different regions not only host different types of NPC, but also promise distinct combat conventions. Head to one area and you might tackle a great deal more archers, demanding a certain approach. Meanwhile, a turn in the road could eventually lead you to a place with a proliferation of heavy cavalry, where combat may be rather different.
Thrown into the Gamescom demo, at first it’s a little overwhelming. Predominantly, that’s because in much of the game what you’re seeing offers a fairly abstract interpretation of what you’re actually doing.
Moving across the main game map with a party of allies to a nearby town? You’ll see yourself as a single character on horseback scaled – depending on the map zoom level – a good deal larger than the town’s buildings. When you arrive at the gates of the metropolis, while you can explore third-person in the classic action game form, stepping into rooms and investigating side alleys, to actually interact with the city might take several convoluted hops through menus.
Many of those elements are stalwarts of traditional RPGs and JRPGS, of course, but first timers with Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord have every right to feel confused, when even old hands could reasonably feel bewildered by this atypical blending of action and RPG conventions.
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For example, at one point in our play-through a conversation with an NPC named Joculos the Dyer in a city side-street triggered a quest. We were told to go and speak to a judge at a nearby ‘Lord’s Hall’. Clearly marked with a beacon on the screen, the building was easily found. The door was locked, but we’ve played action games before. They’ll be a back route or hidden door or person to steal a key from, right?
After much frustrated exploring and failure to enter the hall, we called it a day and left the city. Sometime later, on returning, we noticed that on the options menu, you can also choose to visit a ‘keep’. Cue another sub-menu with an option to visit the Lords Hall. Finally, we were in, and continue with the mission. It turned out the key to that door was a menu.
It’s fair to point out that the demo time we had started with no tutorial, and being work in progress we may have found ourselves wrangling with some shortcomings yet to be ironed out. Perhaps you could accuse us of missing the obvious, too. Should we have known a Lords Hall is in a keep? Maybe. It’ll be immediately familiar to those who are familiar with the series, perhaps, but the point is this; at least at first, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord appears to have an inconsistent and perplexing logic to its systems and mechanics.
And then something clicks. It doesn’t take long, but you start to realise ‘action-RPG’ can mean many things. Most commonly, it’s used to denote an action game with RPG-like levelling up, XP, HP and so on. Or it alludes to a lighter RPG, where you might control the protagonist directly, as with a typical 3D action-adventure game.
Bannerlord, though, isn’t an action game with RPG leanings, or an RPG that borrows from action game conventions. Instead, it is both an action game and an RPG, and often at the same time. The two models run alongside one another; it’s just that finding the harmony that binds them is a little less than an obvious task.
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Sometimes you’ll be playing an action game, and others a core RPG – but always with the counterpoint genre boiling away in the background. You may well be searching out a bar in a bustling town from a third-person perspective, but that doesn’t mean you should forget to keep using the intricate menu pages as another way to navigate the area. And out in the wilderness tackling bands of robbers to train up your less experienced troops, woe betide the player who takes too much time to think while the enemy hurls a volley of rocks at your party. This is action-orientated combat. And RPG combat.
Once you do adapt to the way the RPG and action game systems interact, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord becomes remarkably engrossing. Quite simply, there is a lot you can do, in a huge area to explore. Our gameplay session wasn’t long enough to get a sense of how much freedom you have with regard to how one meets the ultimate goal of bringing unity to Calradia, or how some of the grand strategy stet-pieces glimpsed before might work.
As it is, the single-player mode of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord still needs plenty of polish. Visually it’s a mixed bag for now; some interiors and swathes of landscape seen at a distance were plentifully impressive, but some settlement exteriors felt like they could do with a little more love.
Trying to get the attention of an NPC poised for conversation would often take lots of awkward shuffling of player-character and camera to trigger the option to start talking, Equally there could be a little more sign-posting; if not directly, then at least a seasoning of context-sensitive pointers to clarify the mechanisms of interaction would help. The latter may not be needed, of course, if a solid tutorial at the game’s start precedes anything seen in the demo.
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Many points shine, too. The melee combat is impressive, the detail of the world engrossing, and the scale of the environment – and sheer volume of distractions and options within it – feels very powerful. If the multiplayer mode delivers the goods, and those less polished elements are tended to before release, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord might well meet the potential the first game hinted at, but failed to quite reach.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord presents a captivating, convincing and rich medieval sandbox to establish your own presence in. It’s a grand ambition, and if met the game could present a remarkably personal experience that still offers much of the drama and delivery of a meticulously directed linear experience.
If it gets that right, this sequel could become the household name 2008 original could have been. But as with the first game, there’s plenty more capacity for polish here.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord release date – When can I play it?
A concrete release date has yet to be announced for Mount and Blade 2. We’ll be sure to update this page once we know more.
How do the Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord battles and sieges work?
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord will offer large-scale battles and castle sieges where you play the central role as a commander of hundreds of troops. You’ll need to maintain morale via your own performance as a warrior, while dictating formations and battlefield movement – and calling in different medieval technologies like catapults.
Sieges specifically will see you assume attacking and defending roles, offering what we hope will be rather distinct experiences. Certainly, the battles and sieges look thrilling, and fairly distinct from what we came across in our hands-on single-player sessions.
And what about the multiplayer gameplay?
TaleWorlds did demo one multiplayer mode at Gamescom 2017, and promised at least three more by launch. Back then a ‘Captain Mode’ was playable, offering each player the chance to charge into battle with a team of AI allies that can be commanded as they wish.
Essentially giving you a single squad to control in a larger conflict, it went down well with those who played it at the time, reported balancing energetic, even frantic pacing with a good amount of strategic depth.
How does the narrative relate to the original Mount & Blade game?
Set somewhere between 200 and 210 years before the original game, Bannerlord takes place in the same world as the original; a place named Calradia. The narrative, as far as has been confirmed, starts to lead up to the formation of the kingdoms that are pivotal in the original 2008 release.
While some sources are quoting eight factions occupying the Bannerlord world, the developer has confirmed six by unveiling banner art for each; the Aserai, the Battania, the Empire, the Khuzait, the Sturgia and the Vlandia. Those various factions promise to be distinct, and are complimented by other groups like mercenary cliques.
Does Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord look like an RPG you’d enjoy? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter @trustedreviews.