Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord Preview – Worth the wait?

Posted on April 7, 2020

Journey across the lands, take names and give no mercy; Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is finally available via Early Access for PC. Anticipation for the prequel to the critically acclaimed Mount & Blade: Warband has been brewing for a long time. TaleWorlds have begun to deliver a brilliant successor but it’s as janky as a rotten merchant trying to sell-off stolen goods and needs heaps of work.

The action role-playing series is popular for its combat and freedom to do and be whoever. Players can become the most successful steward and exploit the economy to glory, develop large armies and reign kingdoms, or be a lone-wolf mercenary with a group of companions. The vast sandbox possibilities and exciting multiplayer have cemented these games into many fond memories.

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Right out of the gate, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is off to a shaky start. It’s glitch and bug heavy, even so for an Early Access game. Characters may turn into balls of indistinguishable polygons or might get stuck on flat surfaces. NPCs sometimes will not appear in places, rendering quests useless and immediately halting campaign progression and points. Crashing, freezes, and odd anomalies are all here; like a beef burger with the lot.

Often quests and NPCs will reuse assets. The tedious ‘merchant can’t sell goods in this town’ and ‘army of poachers’ quests are mind-numbing. These are technically optional, yet it ruins the enjoyment if a quest-taker is the character you want to play. Town civilian X and Y will somehow be everywhere despite the kingdom or environment. Additionally, the character design is straight out of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Don’t get me wrong, the original Mount & Blade wasn’t known for its beautiful graphics, but WOW some of these people look terrible. With such well-designed environments, armour, and weaponry, it’s a shame the faces you pass are stale and soulless.

Multiplayer suffers from fewer glitches and bugs, playing quite smoothly with minimal hiccups. Although, the menus feel bare and there is no real progression or proper balance between weapon classes just yet.

Developers at TaleWords are maintaining a solid updating schedule. A release-day hotfix and numerous mini patches are already available, fixing crashes, soft-locks, and endless loading screen issues. Compared to some Early Access titles, the devs are truly dedicating themselves to improving and expanding upon this beloved game. With time, many of these glitches and bugs will be gone and the game will become a lot less bare and repetitive. Regardless, this doesn’t amend the yesteryear mechanics and gameplay issues.

“Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is an unfortunate loading screen hell… it beckons the question, why can’t character dialogue happen on the world map?”

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is an unfortunate loading screen hell. Need to talk to a noble? Load into their keep then chat with them for 15 seconds then load back into the world map. Let’s say this noble asked you to go investigate a spy in their city. Now, load into another environment and back again. Four to five loading screens in a minute of gameplay can drastically slow down the pace. This is horrifically poor from a design perspective. It beckons the question, why can’t character dialogue happen on the world map?

Smithing is a new mechanic that suffers from similar oversight. It takes forever to level up purely because of the stamina cap on the skill. Refining, smelting, and forging weapons all costs a certain amount of character stamina. At base level, it’s about eight times before a character is exhausted, which is barely enough to craft some materials. Players will have to leave the smithery, wait an annoyingly short amount of time, and return later. Unlocking parts for weapons are likewise confusingly random, done by smelting and unlocking new parts periodically for a completely unrelated item. Forging is a great idea for this game, but its execution needs some work.

Multiplayer is always one of the most exciting parts of the Mount & Blade series. Bannerlord currently has (as of April 2020) four game modes to reign supreme. Siege Mode pits attackers against the defending team, locked up in their castle. Skirmish Mode is a six on six battlegrounds where each team has morale points that can be used strategically to spawn in stronger units. Captain Mode allows players to command an army of AI in a six on six battle and Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory.

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This is where the game really shines right now. Each battle requires tactics, skill, and a certain amount of teamwork to win. Annihilating a horseman with a throwing axe or javelin while they gallop your way or landing several blocks in a row before counter-attacking your foe and finishing them off has never been so satisfying. It captures the spirit of Warband with new updates. Comparing this to Chivalry or War of the Roses, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord multiplayer has more emphasis on team strategy and a slightly lower barrier to play. Anyone can jump into a match and have a graciously fun time. What it lacks currently in depth will certainly be enhanced as time goes on.

What really makes this such a loved series is the modding community. Modders gave Mount & Blade: Warband thousands of hours of interesting and hilarious replayability. No doubt these creative types will do the same for Bannerlord. There is already a plethora of mods releasing and many of them are making significant improvements to the Early Access title. Soon enough, full overhauls, anime armies, and the DOOM BFG will simply be part of the player’s casual experience. No other game has such a welcoming modding community, from both the game design allowing it and the people within it.

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In the end, Mount & Blade lives in fame and glory for the stories. Quests, campaigns, and other scripted narrative within the game are merely a cherry on top of the sundae. It’s those player made tales of grandeur like barely scratching your way out of an 800 person battle with hardly ten infantry to spare. It’s growing with your character from a humble simpleton with no influence to joining a kingdom and slashing your way to the top, usurping the throne. Each warrior you start has a unique journey that brings their own prestigious tale. Does the successor still have this? Yes, and by and large improves and expands upon it. The opportunities, the freedom, and the excitement of this sandbox world are full of rearing cheers and tragic defeats.

Overall, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is going to make fans happy. Sure, it’s got plenty of issues, bugs, and oversights. The game will unfairly raise AI difficulty, it will temporarily lose a save file, and maybe even freeze here and there. Some of the mechanics are outdated or ineffectual, too. Though, Warband players aren’t going to walk away feeling empty-handed. Enormous battles of thousands of militia, clashing swords and shields like a Lord of the Rings battle scene will always be entertaining. Taking over kingdoms, slowly crawling to the top until the entire landmass is ruled by solely you will always be a gratifying success. TaleWords are using Early Access as an honest testing ground for their passion project, and despite Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord’s losses, the war is far from over.