Back in 2008, the original Mount & Blade, not only gave the fans of medieval kingdom management games a deep and engaging experience, but it also revolutionized medieval combat gameplay. The sword and shield combat wasn’t just a typical hack & slash that was often seen in other RPGs, but the timing, the direction, and the accuracy of each attack and block mattered.

Now after more than a decade, and after two years of early access, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is finally here to expand on what its predecessor had established, and deliver hundreds of hours of fun gameplay, exciting combat, epic siege battles, complex kingdom management mechanics, and much more.  Developed and published by TaleWorlds Entertainment, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is a massive open-world medieval RPG that improves on the genre and honors the legacy of the Mount & Blade franchise.

A medieval tavern with middle eastern decorations
Taverns in major towns is a great place to find new companions, ransom prisoners, or hire mercenaries.

I’ve been playing Mount & Blade II since it was released 2 years ago in early access, and there are two important observations about the development process of the game that I need to mention before reviewing it. First, is that during the early access period, TaleWorld Entertainment has been very receptive to community feedback, and with open communication and regular patches, they have made a lot of improvements to the game. And second, is that the development is not over yet. The launch is just another step in the ongoing development process of the game and we can expect many more patches that improve upon what we have today. With that out of the way, let’s get to the game itself.

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord takes place in the land of Calradia, the scene of a huge civil war that shattered the empire ruling it to pieces. We start the game shortly after the Neretzes Folly, the battle in which emperor Neretzes was betrayed and killed. The brilliant thing about Bannerlord‘s story is that there is no narrative path to follow once you begin the game. The story of Calradia, what happened in the war, why the empire collapsed, and each noble and each faction’s part in it, is history. Once we start Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, we tell our own story. Who we ally with and who we oppose, who we help and who we betray, the peace we bring, or the wars we wage, adds up to our story.

Campain map of Bannerlord showing the city Manurath and its surrounding villages
We travel through the world and visit different location through the campaign map, and when we face another army in battle, the battle terrain looks similar to the location in the campaign map.

This is the purest form of Role Playing in games. Although we have the typical leveling, skills, and equipment system that one would expect from an RPG title, telling your own story with complete autonomy is something that is often left behind in the transition from tabletop RPGs to video games. Mount & Blade II creates the perfect setting, with a rich history, various characters, and an ongoing conflict, and leaves the rest for the player to decide. While the dialogue system is limited in options and variety, the actions we take have more than enough impact to forge a unique path each time we start a new game.

An important aspect of telling unique stories is through creating and leveling up our character. Apart from expansive appearance customization, we also get to choose different skills to start with, and each choice explains the backstory of who we were earlier in life. The starting skills can give us a direction of who we want our character to be, and when we level up further, we will choose the skills that fit our narrative and gameplay best. By choosing various skills, you can become a formidable combatant, an accurate sharpshooter, a legendary blacksmith, a feared outlaw, a wise leader, or a wealthy trader. And these are only a few of the possible paths our character can take. There are already many YouTube series of content creators roleplaying historical or fictional figures in Mount & Blade II, and there are many more ideas left to be explored by new players.

Skill screen in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
There are 18 skills total in the game, and each 25 levels that we get in each skill, we get to choose a new perk.

Another surprising aspect of Mount & Blade II was realizing how many different things we can do in the game. At first glance, tournaments, battles and sieges, and trading and diplomacy might seem like all there is to the game. But more and more has been added to Mount & Blade II during early access, such as prison breaks, fighting gangs in the cities, new quests, and new battle maps. There are also two main game modes: campaign, and sandbox. In campaign mode, you will start with three siblings that can help you out later, you have a few quests that guide you in the early stages, and you can play through the tutorial and learn all of the basic mechanics. Sandbox’s only significant difference is the absence of main quests, and you are free to do what you want. The difficulty of various aspects of Mount & Blade II is also highly customizable, and you can change it during the game if you feel like it’s is too easy or too hard for your taste.

We can’t talk about Mount & Blade and not mention the combat system. The directional attack and block combat provides one of the most realistic and engaging combat systems in any medieval RPG. You are never overpowered, even with your combat skills at max level and with the best equipment, you need to make split-second decisions and reactions, and a single mistake can mean your defeat. You can take on a few or maybe a dozen of enemies on your own if you are skilled at the game, but in large-scale battles, you are just one of the hundreds of soldiers, and to win these battles when the odds are against you, you need to be a smart strategist and lead your army carefully.

A soldier facing off against a horseman in the midst of battle
Army compositions can play a significant role in battle. If you are facing cavalry heavy armies, you might need more shock troops in your formation.

This is the difference between the early and late stages of Mount & Blade II. When we start, we mostly fight looters and bandits, with a few inexperienced soldiers on our side. We need to pull our weight in combat at this stage and be on the front lines. But once we get to the later stages of the game, if we choose to opt into huge battles between armies, we need to learn what formations to use, micro-manage the movement and actions of different groups, and stay out of direct combat as much as we can. There’s always a chance to win these battles if we are not outnumbered by a huge margin, but if we fall early in the battle and our men are left on their own, there’s not much hope left, especially since AI behavior is not optimal in huge fights.

These large battles and sieges are where we get to see how epic Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord can truly look. But it’s also when we realize how taxing rendering and processing these events can be on our system. My PC is getting a bit old, and I would experience significant fps drops, especially if the fight was taking place in harsh weather such as rain or snow. The performance has improved immensely during early access, and we can hope it continues to do so after launch. But considering the scale of the world and the battles, if you are not playing the game on a high-end PC or Console, you might need to sacrifice some quality for better performance.

An army preparing to siege a castle
Sieges are more about preparation and planning, rather than combat or army management skill.

The game’s sound design also affects those epic moments in battle. The sound of clashing swords, swooshing arrows, and trampling of the cavalry can be really immersive in the heat of the fight. Voice acting was missing for the majority of early access, but even after launch, not all NPCs and dialogues will have voice acting, and it’s limited to main quests in campaign mode and certain lines such as greetings and introductions to NPCs.

When we get to the later stages of Mount & Blade II and have to decide on army compositions, kingdom policies, and settlement management, we might come upon what the community has dubbed the “TaleWorlds Math”. TalesWorlds Math is when certain features in the game, such as policies, skills, or general descriptions, don’t do what they are supposed to. Some of these features might not apply their effects correctly, or in rare cases, they won’t work at all. Most of these bugs have been resolved in the patches before launch, but considering the scope of Mount & Blade II, it’s possible that some of them persist at least until future patches. None of these bugs are game-breaking. You might not even notice that some of them aren’t working properly, but they might be a nuisance for the hardcore players who want to min-max every aspect of their gameplay.

Strolling through one of the medieval cities in the game
Strolling through towns and villages is really satisfying. There’s a surprising amount of exploration in Bannerlord.

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is a massive game. If you are a fan of the medieval theme, challenging combat, and complex systems, you can enjoy hundreds of hours trying out different play styles and conquering Calradia through different means. It has its flaws, the performance can be taxing on older systems, and among tons of different features, some might not work the way they were intended to. These issues can sometimes lead to frustrating moments, and as one of our editors who also played Mount & Blade II during early access perfectly described, “I mostly love, and sometimes hate this game”.

Nima played Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord on PC with a review code.

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