PETER HOSKIN reviews Mount & Blade II – Bannerlord 

Saddle your steed… it’s time to get medieval on your assassins: PETER HOSKIN reviews Mount & Blade II – Bannerlord

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (PlayStation, Xbox, PC, £39.99)

Verdict: Conquering hero

Rating: ****

Mount up! Grab a blade! It’s time to fulfil your dreams of becoming a… bannerlord?

I’m not sure about the subtitle to Mount & Blade II:, but otherwise the intentions of this game are remarkably clear. This is all about living out your medieval fantasies, if you are indeed the sort of person with medieval fantasies.

It’s set in a place called Calradia, which is a fictionalised version of — roughly speaking — the collapsing Roman empire, circa 500 AD. You get to sign up with factions that look much like the Vikings or the Goths or the Mongols. Then you and your ill-shaven buddies go about on your horses, wielding axes and coarse language, trying to capture as much new territory as possible.

Mount up! Grab a blade! It’s time to fulfil your dreams of becoming a… bannerlord?

Mount up! Grab a blade! It’s time to fulfil your dreams of becoming a… bannerlord? 

This is all about living out your medieval fantasies, if you are indeed the sort of person with medieval fantasies

This is all about living out your medieval fantasies, if you are indeed the sort of person with medieval fantasies

The graphics aren’t exactly polished. The battles far outweigh the other parts in their quality

The graphics aren’t exactly polished. The battles far outweigh the other parts in their quality

In truth, it’s not all horseback derring-do. Much like its 2008 predecessor, Bannerlord is a mix of different games — though the mix is far more pronounced this time. There’s some of the overhead strategising and city management of, say, the Civilisation series. There’s a touch of the chatty relationship-building of Crusader Kings.

But, it must be said, there is a lot of horseback derring-do. Perhaps the main draw of Bannerlord is its battles, which take place on huge maps with dozens of combatants. Few other games — if any — convey the mud and toil of hand-to-hand combat so evocatively. When a cavalry charge hits or a volley of arrows thwangs into the ground, it’s as authentic as this 21st-century wuss can handle.

If all this makes Bannerlord sound like an ambitious game, well, it is. There are even different ways to get stuck into its gameplay, from a full story mode to an open-ended sandbox option.

But this ambition isn’t always matched by the achievement. Bannerlord has recently been fully released on to PCs and consoles after a couple of years in ‘early access’ — effectively an extended preview period — yet many of the imperfections of the early-access years remain.

It must be said, there is a lot of horseback derring-do. Perhaps the main draw of Bannerlord is its battles, which take place on huge maps with dozens of combatants

It must be said, there is a lot of horseback derring-do. Perhaps the main draw of Bannerlord is its battles, which take place on huge maps with dozens of combatants

In truth, it’s not all horseback derring-do. Much like its 2008 predecessor, Bannerlord is a mix of different games — though the mix is far more pronounced this time

In truth, it’s not all horseback derring-do. Much like its 2008 predecessor, Bannerlord is a mix of different games — though the mix is far more pronounced this time

There are bigger games made at much greater expense than Bannerlord — yet they struggle to match its charm

There are bigger games made at much greater expense than Bannerlord — yet they struggle to match its charm

The graphics aren’t exactly polished. The battles far outweigh the other parts in their quality. Even the opening tutorials are a bit underdone, such that they’re less illuminating that the tutorial sections in other, bigger games.

In a way, though, that is the point: there are bigger games made at much greater expense than Bannerlord — yet they struggle to match its charm. After your first few hours in Calradia, you’ll stop noticing the iffy facial animations and clumsy interfaces, and you’ll just see medieval Europe spread out before you. Charge!

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