The successor to the incredible Mount and Blade: Warband came out into early access in the form of Bannerlord on March 30th of 2020, and while its takeoff has been bumpy, it seems to have finally started flying into smoother conditions, at least for now. The game is a medieval warband simulator, to put it simply. You’re a man or woman with limited funds and fame tasked with building your army, businesses, and relationships slowly until you reach your goal, whatever that may be; being king / queen, owning most of the wealth in the country, or just being a vassal of an established monarch, its really up to you.
I’d say that the game is a currently a canvas that’s been prepped for an incredible piece of art to be thrown onto it, but hasn’t reached its end product yet. This might a provincial observation to make, given the fact that Bannerlord is in early access, but I genuinely feel like the game has a longer way to go before being the successor Warband actually deserves. Yes, the questing is better, the diplomacy and bartering is far more convenient, and the siege combat is far more refined in Bannerlord than even a modded out Warband. But the game’s direction, I believe, isn’t pointing to greatness, rather mediocrity (which is still amazing, for these games, but wasted potential all the same.)
Even when I throw aside all of the obvious issues as gimmes, such as certain perks not working properly, smithing being absolutely broken (what a drag!), and the early game being a bandit chasing simulator, what I’m left with is still a game that isn’t paying attention to the immersive strengths that make up the ‘reward’ factor of the game. The ‘pull’ for players to keep pushing on.
That pull is the fantasy of what your character, party, kingdom, and children will be like in the next 100 days. What sort of politics will arise? What effects on the various kingdoms will they have? Will my allies mount an attack on my keeps? What happens if I focus on XYZ perk tree? If I hire Tywin Lannister to serve as my Hand of King, will he kill me? These are the kinds of questions that the average player will ask when playing through a campaign, and yet Bannerlord does very little that Warband didn’t to answer them in interesting ways.
In both games, your influence is directly related to your party’s combative power. You can be rich, well-liked, have influence in powerful places, and on good terms with all the kingdoms in the game, yet if you have a party of 10 drunken bowmen you found in a tavern somewhere, you’re next to useless. Your friends will betray you, your enemies will stomp on you without repercussion, and you’ll be left a prisoner for all the hard work you’ve put into the game.
It would be nice to be able to play as purely a merchant who uses his or her coin to influence the realm. Owning businesses and caravans in multiple kingdoms helps to pay for your influence with the vassals, who protect your assets. Said influence can be used to wage wars to create opportunities for monopolies and land grabs, thus fueling your money-kingdom further. Or what about the ability to get dirt on your enemies who commit dishonorable crimes, and being able to use that dirt to make them do your bidding in the face of the truth coming to light. These are just two simple idea’s (simple in concept, I’m sure the programming logistics are more complicated, obviously.) that come to mind, and they took no longer than a couple minutes to come up with. This game has been in the works for years and, still, doesn’t show any signs of offering the player any alternate ways to come into power.
Its not that the game is disappointing in anyway, its actually incredible. It’s only that it feels as though there truly is a void that sits there mocking me as I play it. A void that has rich potential to add so much depth to the game that it always bothers me to know its there. But anyway, its still in early access, so we’ll have to see how the game shapes up on release. So far, 8/10, I’m loving it, can’t get enough.