Mount & Blade has always been a bit of a curiosity for me. I own the original game on Steam, but I’ve never played it. Hardly unique for many of us full of libraries of games we never play, but Mount & Blade was always a game that sounded appealing to me, but just didn’t look appealing. OK. I’m not going to mince words; it was too ugly and far jankier than even I’m comfortable with.
That being said, the game has had a cult following forever and for good reason. It’s one of the most interesting sandbox games on the market, a sort of Crusader Kings meets Total War medieval sim sandbox with a huge selection of mods to boot.
I haven’t been following the development of the sequel, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, but what I’ve seen here and there over the years looked like something I’d like to play. When the game released into Early Access earlier this week, I decided to jump in feet first. The short version of it is this: Bannerlord could end up being one of my favorite games ever…in maybe a year.
I’m loving the ability to come up with my own character and basically participate on a ground level in the sort of broader empire building you experience in games like Crusader Kings or Total War. In Mount & Blade, you’re a cog in the wheel and it’s every bit as neat in practice as you might imagine. Take those massive Total War battles and not only can you direct your troops, but you can participate in the fight yourself. On the empire building side, you don’t just make decisions at a menu level like you might in Crusader Kings and then find out how they play out, you often experience it all yourself. It’s incredibly compelling, when it works. And that’s the issue, a lot of it simply doesn’t.
The game’s current state in Early Access is a lot rougher than it can appear even on a surface level. There are obvious bugs and missing features, sure, but since the game is a simulation there’s a lot of stuff going on under the hood with that simulation and alongside a variety of balance issues these issues can sour or ultimately ruin an entire campaign at the moment. The most serious of which is the rampant snowballing going on in the game. For a number of reasons, it’s possible for the entire map to be conquered in a short amount of time, essentially locking you out from participating in a lot of what makes the game fun to begin with.
There’s no real recourse if this happens other than starting a new game, so bugs aside, this is my biggest issue with the game so far. Everyone has their own sensibilities for what they’re willing to accept when jumping into an Early Access title like this, but having a playthrough that is seemingly going well be completely ruined due to issues in the simulation is a real downer and something that will potentially repeat on each new playthrough until this is sorted, making it all a bit pointless.
There’s plenty of other issues, too. The game is incredibly stingy with experience points which makes progression feel glacial. Tournaments don’t provide experience at all, for example. Many of the skill perks also don’t work at all. Hundreds of items that are active in multiplayer aren’t available in single player and some items have insane prices due to some under the hood issues with the way the simulation prioritizes what items to build and sell in cities. Dedicated players have been already producing mods at a decent clip to address a lot of these issues, but developer Taleworlds needs to implement fixes soon or I imagine a ton of new players will simply churn out. Fortunately, the team has been pumping out many fixes and changes daily, so we’ll see how things go.
There are also concerns from members of the community about Bannerlord being too similar to its predecessor for how long they’ve been waiting, but I don’t come into this experience with any of that baggage, so this isn’t much of a consideration for me.
At this time, I don’t think I can recommend this one. There’s just too much work to be done right now. I’m willing to deal with the issues, but I probably have a lot more patience for this stuff than most, so for everyone else I would recommend checking back in about a month to see if things have been stabilized and improved a bit more.
What's your take on Bannerlord so far? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!