Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a continent called Calradia, full of mountains, plains and lakes, full of kingdoms large and small, nobles constantly at war with each other, merchants who want to become the richest in the world, nomads and bandits ready at all. We are in the 1st century AD, TikTok did not exist and nobody knew who Ellon Musk was, people's worries were to eat, procreate and earn something to live on and to leave to their offspring. Although this scenario looks like the incipit of a historical film (or a new series on The Lord of the Rings), it is the setting of Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord, the second installment of the TaleWorld Entertainment franchise which peeped out on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S after more than two years of early access.
The new work actually represents a prequel to Mount & Blade: Warband, spinoff of the original chapter of the series, transporting the player 210 years before the already known story, during the decline of the Calradian Empire, which led to the formation of the factions that appear in Warband. The situation is deliberately inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire during the period of the Barbarian Invasions, and in fact the characteristics of each party follow the groups that actually clashed over 1500 years ago.
At the beginning of the Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord campaign, it will in fact be up to us to choose which faction to belong to, each with its own objectives in mind and with its own characteristics. You can therefore choose, among other things, whether to be a feudal lord or a nomad, and then create your character - in great detail - and finally begin your adventure in the world of Calradia.
One world, two modes
During the gameplay you will shuttle between two different scenarios: the world "on the surface" in 2D, where you will have to move your avatar, accompanied by his troops, within the territories of the Empire, but you will also have to immerse yourself in the adventure in first person, going to the multitude of kingdoms and interacting with various NPCs that populate them and by participating in the fights, accompanying and commanding your soldiers in 3D battles where you can show off your skills not only as a leader, but also as a warrior.
Precisely because of the multitude of aspects that you will find yourself managing, you may feel in the first hours of the game disoriented and confused. Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord is in fact a salad of different genres, a combination of action RPG, simulation and strategy which, once you understand the mechanics, is however effective and allows the player to climb towards power at will.
The title of TaleWorld Entertainment can in fact also be considered a sandbox, given that it will be entirely up to you to choose how to achieve success, whether it's by turning you into the wealthiest mercenaries of Calradia through trade or by becoming skilled fighters, choosing the right alliances with the most influential lords of the Empire. To help you in this there is the leveling system, where you can decide which skills to enhance thanks to the attribute points; unfortunately, however, improving skills will not be so easy, on the contrary, it will be a long and exhausting process. In my case, having decided to advance in the social ladder by carrying out missions for high ranks and throwing myself into the world of buying and selling, it was easier to jump directly into battle using troops and good weapons, rather than waiting to unlock the points for skills combat, which would have taken me hours and hours of gameplay.
If on the one hand it is positive that Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord gives total freedom to the player, on the other hand, especially in the RPG front, things soon become monotonous. It wasn't long before I stopped exploring the whole villages, instead deciding to go straight to the trading screen and the character dialogue screen… which I found myself skipping, since it doesn't matter who they are or what they want , once they complete the mission and get the reward, they will become nobody again.
Blood, sweat and leadership
Let's face it, the most interesting part of the title is the battlefield, where I was able to take command of hundreds of men, in one realistic simulation of what could have been the clashes in that era. Horses trotting, men running everywhere, screams, the sound of metal colliding, slashing with desperation. In Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord you will not be a deity: if you are not prepared enough or if you do not give the correct orders you will fail miserably, and you will have to pay the consequences.
However, even the fights, as well as the strategic part in the overworld, are initially very chaotic; I had to perish several times before figuring out how the different attack and defense options and the different types of weapons worked. Each offensive must be coordinated in speed down to the smallest detail based on factors such as the weight of the weapon you are wielding, elevation, length of the blow, and even the part that hits the enemy. Learning to control all these coefficients and adjust the difficulty of the game accordingly is what makes theexperience in Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord much more complete than in other action genre titles, helping to create a genre of its own.
Your battle skills will be especially useful in the Multiplayer, in which two factions clash, with each player commanding his own troops in a highly chaotic, but no less entertaining PvP. In fact, get ready to see arrows shot everywhere, swords hitting the void, spears thrown in the hope of hitting something and many, many screams of warriors whose only thought is victory - also because they are AI, so they are not particularly deep -.
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord, a one-note sandbox?
Unfortunately, the attention to detail that can be found during battles is not the same in other aspects of the gameplay: the simulation of the trade, as well as the relationships with the other characters, are lifeless, and any decision will have the aim of starting a new war. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, everything soon falls into repetitiveness, throwing the player into an infinite loop of skipped dialogues, quests and fights; you will definitely earn money and power, but is it worth it?
During my campaign, it took me about half an hour (almost a month in-game) to bring sheep from one kingdom to another, during which I could do nothing but watch my character move along with his troops along the 2D map of Calradia, all for some money with which to recruit more men and buy more weapons, with which to be stronger in battle, win the next fight and repeat the circle.
Without challenging elements a sandbox quickly becomes as monotonous as a desert, and after 10 hours of gameplay, Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord becomes as barren as the Sahara. The problem? 10 hours isn't nearly enough time to finish the campaign, which it can be extended up to 50 hours; you will therefore find yourself playing having discovered everything that the title has to offer, and you will have to repeat the same actions, or almost, over and over again. It's up to you to decide how much effort to dedicate to the title, whether to simply throw yourself into the fray, or whether to invest time and effort to build a real empire, conquering Calradia and revealing all its mysteries.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the platform on which to play Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord: I got to try the Xbox Series S version, but the work is much more suitable on PC. On the console, the commands are in fact rather uncomfortable, and you will find yourself moving the cursor, evidently designed for the mouse, with the analog of the controller, and to click on elements it will be necessary to press a very unintuitive key combination. Considering that the title is not currently present on either Game Pass or PlayStation Plus, my dispassionate advice is to get it for PC in order to enjoy the experience as best as possible.