Mount and Blade: Bannerlord 2 Is the Latest Must-Play RPG on Xbox Game Pass
So big and bold, it’s a genre unto itself.
Plans suck. Sure they’re useful, but often plans don't work. It's why we have adages like "man plans, god laughs" and "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." This intersection of planning and punching is where we set our stories and live our lessons. What do you do when a plan falls apart? Do you have what it takes to adapt?
This is just one of many questions at the core of Mount and Blade: Bannerlord 2 from TaleWorlds Entertainment. It is a genre unto itself, a massive medieval warfare game that cares about everything from the number of archers in your retinue to the price of olives in the marketplace. Deep, meticulous, and oddly compelling, Bannerlord 2 is everything you want in an Arthurian fantasy (and maybe too much).
Bannerlord 2 is exactly the type of game you’d want on Game Pass. It’s very much a “try before you buy” situation because its a complex game that can also be very simple and, occasionally, frustratingly vague. Veterans of the franchise know what they’re in for, and eagerly signed on to this long-awaited sequel which expanded upon the castle siege mechanics at the core of the experience.
New players will likely be confounded by the game world. A very basic tutorial walks you through some rudimentary combat and a few simple missions before turning you loose on Calradia to establish your legacy. It doesn’t cover the myriad problems you’ll run into like paying and feeding troops, managing your reputation, diplomacy with factions, and straight-up babymaking. The key to enjoying Bannerlord 2 as a new player is to save early and often so you can scum your way through the early years when your hero is a broke nobody, and later undo any big decisions you made that weren’t thoroughly explained.
The upside to this wide-open sandbox is that progression happens fast. You start out with a character creator that lets you focus on a number of skills, a mix of combat, crafting, persuasion, and tactics. Your first few combat encounters don’t leave you feeling like much of a hero but travel from city to city for a while participating in pit fighting tournaments and soon you’ll have the cash and the brawn to hold your own against looters and brigands. There’s a lot of passive skill-building in Bannerlord 2 that happens while you do all this traveling, too. Not just for you, but for the dozens (and potentially hundreds) of soldiers in your party.
Do enough do-goodery and your reputation will get you on the radar of the various empires controlling the world. You can pledge fealty and work your way through the ranks of a particular house, or you can be a mercenary in charge of a private army ready to work for the highest bidder.
Use your wealth and influence to start businesses or trade caravans, or maybe you just want to shake down peasants for tax revenue. Eventually, all the effort culminates in you commanding a powerful army and attempting to storm rival castles to build an empire. You’re not just in charge of the army, dictating formations and troop movements in real-time. You’re in the battle too, one of many hundreds of soldiers swarming along castle walls.
There’s no place for grand heroics here, either. You learn fast that bold and brave often means a speedy demise. Instead, you hang back, let your troops do their thing, and try to figure out where you can make a real difference. Maybe there’s a pack of archers in a tower the AI can’t figure out how to get to, or a wall of soldiers on the ramparts that will scatter if you can sneak around their flank.
It can be crushing to watch an army you spent hours cultivating collapse on a siege because of a mistake. Or to lose a freshly won castle to a bigger army that was just a few days behind yours. The upside is you can always rebuild, and that’s half the fun anyway.