The Best Days of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord Are Yet to Come
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord has released in Early Access to positive reviews, but the game's best days are yet to come.
Mount & Blade: Warband is one of my favorite games of the past decade. It fulfills that need for gritty semi-realistic medieval combat while pairing it with a deep, albeit janky, kingdom-building simulator. Now with the release of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord I’ve found a new favorite title, or rather a favorite time sink, to dive deeper into. But the best part of this sequel isn’t playing what’s available now; with the game in Early Access and all, it’s knowing that the best is yet to come.
Know Your History
But in order to know what is and could be coming down the line for Mount & Blade II, it’s important to look at how developer TaleWorlds treated Mount & Blade: Warband. That being said, let’s start off with some history. Warband, as popular as it is, was actually a stand-alone DLC for the original Mount & Blade, which was released back in 2008. Warband, however, added a ton of features like political interactions, the ability to form your own faction, and chaotic multiplayer.
These features, particularly the first two, formed the base of the Mount & Blade experience I had when I played the game in high school and college. Being able to interact with the other lords and nobles of the world gave me friends, enemies, and rivals. Names that, although I can’t remember them now, would lead me to make emotionally charged decisions. Oh, that asshole lord owns this town? Well now I’m throwing the might of my empire at it, and there’s nothing they can do.
But eventually, the systems of Warband got repetitive. Going back and forth between cities to buy food, dealing with the game’s janky AI, riding the same horses into virtually the same battles; it all got pretty tiring. And then TaleWorlds started releasing more DLC.
First, they released Napoleonic Wars in 2012. This was a more multiplayer-focused addition for Mount & Blade, one that brought a truly game-changing addition – muskets. As soon as guns were part of Mount & Blade, everything changed, and that’s all thanks to the DLC’s original development team.
See, Napoleonic Wars wasn’t developed by the folks at TaleWorlds. It was instead made by a small European developer, Flying Squirrel Entertainment. That team had been working on a mod for the original game called Mount & Musket. Now the whole story isn’t clear, but somewhere along the line, TaleWorlds took note of this mod and brought its developers on to make it an official expansion.
The second official DLC for Warband pretty much followed suit. It was originally developed by a team called Brytenwalda as a mod with the same name. TaleWorlds and the Brytenwalda team then worked together to create Viking Conquest, which would set precedents for how the game would go on to approach troop commands. For the first time you could form a shield wall, or tell your infantry to rearrange in intricate formations. Viking Conquest also featured naval combat, in which players could board enemy ships and take them for themselves. It also featured a fully realized story mode, where the player’s decisions would impact its ending.
Besides these expansions, Warband was also supported by a robust modding scene. Using the tools put into the game through the game’s DLC, modders were able to recreate any world, real or fiction, and Nexusmods was the place to find them. Did you want to take the game to Feudal Japan and fight as samurai? There’s a mod for that. Or maybe you wanted to recreate Helm’s Deep and turn Calradia into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of hobbits, elves and orcs. There’s a mod for that too.
It’s impossible to not consider that some of Mount & Blade’s success isn’t based on the creations of its modding scene. It’s even harder to dismiss when looking at what could be made for Bannerlord.
The Bannerlord’s Future
Considering both the official expansions for Warband and what its community has created for it, it’s possible to see a much clearer picture of what’s to come for Bannerlord.
While its modding scene is still in the infantile state, it’s already bursting with things that I would at this point deem necessary for the game to reach its full potential. None of these mods change the entire campaign of Bannerlord; those are bound to start popping up later on, likely after the game fully releases. What is available now are mostly tweaks and other small features that improve the game. Still, Bannerlord wouldn’t be the same without mods that change the game’s balance or let you cut through swathes of enemies instead of stopping your blade at the first one unfortunate enough to get in its way.
As for official expansions – well it would just be irresponsible of me to say that I know what’s coming. Of course I don’t: these are all vague predictions based on the time that I’ve spent with the series and examinations of how it’s treated post-release content in the past. That being said, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that after Bannerlord gets a full release, we’ll be treated to extra downloadable content. These campaigns will most likely have an entirely different setting than the base game, and will vastly improve upon the game’s already solid foundational systems.
One thing I’m really hoping for is the return of naval combat. It wasn’t executed that well in Viking Conquest (it was one of the jankiest parts of that game by far), but had so much promise that it kept me interested in that expansion. This feature’s exclusion from the current version of Bannerlord has me hoping that it will show up later on, either in an update or an expansion.
But whatever you’re looking for in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, it’s most likely coming if it isn’t already available. The game is backed by amazing, receptive developers with a track record of including players in the development of official expansions, along with a robust modding community bringing any fantasy battle you could imagine to life inside the game’s engine. And considering the plethora of tools, features and systems now available to modders, their creations will only be more unique and fleshed out.
To sum it all up, the brightest days of Bannerlord lie ahead. That doesn’t really change much of what I think of the game now – I personally love it. I love its amalgamation of historical cultures, its approach to massive battles, hell I even love how janky the game is. But that hardly compares to how I expect to feel about the game in a year’s time.