Getting back into Mount & Blade with Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is like coming home to a fully set table full of your favorite meals. Not everything your spouse cooked is perfect though; he or she still makes a dish with that one herb that you hate. And while you’re pretty sure they made your favorite soup, you’ve only got a fork to eat it with. Still, it’s one of the most satisfying meals I’ve eaten in a long time. Just like with my main character, the Genghis Khan-inspired badass named Khan: once you get a little taste (of blood, in his case), you remember that there’s no restaurant that makes the food quite like your partner does.
What is Mount & Blade?
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord recently released in Early Access and quickly surged in popularity. The franchise has always combined many different, clearly defined genres into something unique. You’ll spend a lot of time on a grand strategy map where time moves in real time. But only if you do, so you can pause it at any time. Much like in the Total War-series, you can conquer settlements and topple kingdoms with strategic sieges and field battles. Yet contrary to that RTS franchise, you actually, personally fight huge, epic battles while commanding your army. You’re not just moving soldiers around, you fight and die alongside them. And being part of a huge battle containing hundreds of troops (or thousand if you have a beefy PC) is unlike anything else in gaming currently. As if that wasn’t enough, Bannerlord also features a deep RPG system, complete with character creation, customization, and distinct skill trees. This all happens in a huge sandbox world, the medieval world of Calradia, where Game of Thrones-esque stories unfold all around you. It’s all up to you which type of character you play as. You can be a benevolent king leading a prosperous empire. You could be a not so humble mercenary that switches sides more often than a Pong-ball. Hell, in one of my playthrough’s I barely hurt a fly, focusing on trading and making money rather than spilling blood.
How it all started
But not when I created Khan. Quite the contrary. I spilled blood like it was going out of style. Quite surprising, given the fact that my original concept for this playthrough was to build a Genghis Khan-inspired empire minus the slaughter that superseded it. So I started a ‘good’ playthrough with Khan. In Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, each backstory is somewhat different. As you chronicle the early life of your character through a series of options, your base skill tree changes based on your choices. What they did as a kid, who their parents were and so on.
Growing up on the Khuzait plains, my character led a life of prosperity. Despite being born in a noble family he still helped those in need and even served under the chieftain as a teen. This laid the foundation for a charismatic, just leader that used his charm over his sword when possible. Sure, I diverged from the Genghis Khan inspiration there a little bit, but that was the point. I wanted to be a powerful conqueror, without the brutality. My future Khuzait empire, Khan’s homeland, is a Mongolian-esque faction though that focuses on cavalry, much like the hordes of the actual Genghis Khan. I focused mainly on mounted archers that specialize in a nasty tactic called ‘hit and run’.
After growing up, Khan set out to put his mark on the world. But the Khuzait’s wanted more than just the dusty plains around Makeb and Chaikland. So they declared war on the Northern Empire, a huge part of the remnants of the fallen Roman empire-like faction plagued by civil war. That meant I had to go to war with them as well. The Khuzait’s quickly conquered most of their cities and I, doing my noble duty, helped where I could with my tiny yet dedicated band of warriors. Sure, I wanted to be just, but getting Renown (points that symbolize the legitimacy of your clan) requires you to help your Kingdom out. So I reluctantly killed some soldiers and even raided a village or two.
Revenge gone bad
After finally being accepted as a Vassal of the Khuzait’s and being awarded not one, but two castles with accompanying towns, I could finally work on shaping the empire the way I set out to. I married a beautiful Khazait lady, built up my personal army, and helped out my villages by doing small quests for them.
Using Influence, a currency used in the politics of Bannerlord, I started building a prospering, almost democratic empire. Laws that promoted trading were favored over decrees that benefited violence. Prosperity was more important than taxes. But that all changed when the Sturgian Kingdom declared war on us.
The viking-like barbarian Sturgians left their snowy mountains and pushed South into our territory. The first villages and castles they encountered, you guessed it, were mine. My garrisons weren’t properly prepared for the barbarian hordes. Within days they raided my villages, took my castles, and even kidnapped my wife. In an attempt to free her from the wretched hands of Godun of the Vagiroving clan, I charged the more than 300 troops strong army and fought an epic battle that he would inevitably always lose. I say inevitably, because I quit without saving and reloaded several times. Still, I couldn’t win the fight, so I accepted Khan’s fate (eventually). Sue me for trying to be a hero for my beloved wife Alijin!
The Wrath of Khan
After many days as a prisoner, I finally escaped while the Sturgians fought for control over our northern cities. I managed to recruit a couple of local recruits in every village I stopped at, tracking Godun across half the map back to Sturgia. There, Godun was finally without the support of all the other clans and an epic battle for revenge ensued. We won, and without hesitation, I ordered the execution of Godun for the atrocities he had committed against my clan.￼
This started a blood-fueled personal quest for Khan to track down and execute all the nobles of the Vagiroving clan. And yeah, I wiped the entire clan from the Sturgian ranks. Finally their Faction sued for peace with just one major city left in their possession. Sadly I realized that my goal for this playthrough was tainted. I had single handedly wiped an entire clan, not to mention most of the Northern Empire. I couldn’t look Khan in the eyes and say he was a fair nobleman. And so I changed the name of my clan to The Decapitator, completing my transformation from green nobleman to bloodthirsty ruler… Much like the real-life Genghis Khan. I started out inspired by the historical figure, and accidentally followed his footsteps in the process. I wanted to rewrite Genghis Khan’s history. Instead, I became the very thing I was trying to avoid. I was a murderer. And it was an absolute blast.
What type of ruler will you create?
After waiting for 8 years, this game takes no time at all to start this sandbox rollercoaster ride. It’s cliche, but it’s true; you can go from feeling like an absolute badass to a completely incompetent jester. For example, while already at war with two Factions, your King might decide a third war would be appropriate. Conversely, you could personally sway one (or all three) of the wars in your Kingdom’s favor by strategically attacking caravans, villages and unguarded castles. It really is a game that takes you on theme park ride.
If it works, that is. While this is by no means a review, I will say that if you’re not prepared to deal with some jank, this game isn’t for you (yet). It’s very clearly still in Early Access. For example, some parts of the persistent, simulator economy could break, crippling a Kingdom for no reason. Sometimes quests are literally impossible to complete. Hell, you even learn quite quickly that saving often and with multiple save files is essential because some might corrupt from time to time.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is by all means an absolute treat for anyone that liked it’s predecessor Warband. It gives that same epic feeling and features many of the same, now improved gameplay mechanics. It also has a lot of the same flaws that – hopefully over time – will be ironed out. The developer is definitely hard at work though, as there was a patch almost every day during the first two weeks after the initial release.
Now if you’ll excuse us, Khan and I have some villagers to slaughter, castles to besiege, and of course, heads to chop off for no good reason at all.