The long-awaited Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is finally here! The unique RPG-strategy mixup from TaleWorlds Entertainment has left its early access phase on PC while also launching on PlayStation and Xbox at the same time. Did it live up the anticipation? We checked out the PlayStation 5 version to find out.
Bannerlord feels like it’s been with us for an eternity now. It was first announced back in 2012 and for a few years in a row we saw it in action during trade shows – and this was all pre-pandemic! Last summer we got a first look at the game on a PlayStation 5 setup, and now that the game is out we’ve finally had out first extended sessions with it. And for a game like this, that’s really important.
The reason for that is simple, and was something we noticed every single time we had a demo session for the game – Bannerlord has a lot to take in, especially in a 20 to 30 minute demo session. What starts out like an RPG experience with characters, development trees and relationships also branches out towards tactical battles that evoke memories of Total War: Mevieval and eventually towards a full 4X-like experience in which you balance trade, your standing with other nations and everything else. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and there’s no way to take in everything that Bannerlord has to offer in the scope of half an hour – or even a full day, for that matter.
That’s both good and bad, because for some people it might be too daunting whereas others will revel in everything it has to offer. A huge game world and complex mechanics that all interact somehow is great, but Bannerlord doesn’t do the best job of guiding you through them – much better tutorials are needed for those new to the franchise/formula and even experienced players will be left with questions if they consult the limited in-game encyclopedia for tips and tricks. Persevere and there’s lots to discover and have fun with, but we have the sense that many players will gravitate towards games that offer a more streamlined experience.
That’s a shame, because unlike any other game Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord lets you grow from completing menial tasks to taking on ever-larger battles and eventually amassing such an army and so much money and influence that you’ll eventually be in charge of a kingdom of your own. It takes dozens of hours to get there so it’s very much about the journey – though perhaps it’s hard to not take shortcuts to save time, which in this game means violent conflict as it’s the quicker way to fame and fortune.
Founding your own kingdom isn’t the endgame either – you’ll have towns to keep safe, castles to protect and lots of other elements to manage. When you then look back at how you started out, it’s an impressive scope, to say the least. You’ll see a larger scope in battle as you progress as well, from smaller battles on the open fields to full assaults on well fortified castles. It’s no surprise that the gameplay in Bannerlord seems to favor combat, as a lot of work was put into it. Combat scenarios can feel long and drawn out though, with formation changes, mid-battle changes in tactics and having to give orders – this isn’t a game you jump into for a quick battle.
When you zoom into how a game like this works on consoles, the slightly awkward gamepad controls stand out as something that gives players an additional learning curve to contend with, but perhaps that’s partly due to the fact that we’re not used to playing games like this on consoles. Once it clicks, the large battles are spectacular, and our PS5 didn’t have any issues with so many units appearing on-screen at the same time. When you start winning battles because of smart decisions you made that defy the odds, it’s extremely empowering, and really gives you the sense you’re on your way to something great.
It’s hard to deny the grind and the steep learning curve, but for the right audience Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is the type of game you can spend months playing. Be ready to invest some serious time, and Bannerlord will provide you with a unique experience.