If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord's single player campaign is full of thugs and bog men

A twenty minute misadventure

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is the medieval war ‘em up that often pops up to say: “Hello, I still look good.” We have seen its sieges, its horse archers, and even played some of its multiplayer sword-clashing. But at this year’s Gamescom, I played some of the single player campaign. And oh yes, that’s the good stuff. I played as Valtis, an athletic sword-swinging dude from the Southern Empire who can also throw javelins. I like javelins. I like the sound they make as they whoosh by and impale a man.

Like its predecessor, this is set in a sideways world of alt history and alt nations. In the year of our alt Lord, 1084, the land of Calradia is split into cultural factions all based on historical peoples. The Khuzait live in Mongol-like clans, the Battanians resemble the Celts, and so on (the game will have a built-in encyclopedia to help you trough all this, and like previous games it'll include key characters and their relationships).

But the first thing I see as I am plonked onto the world map is the detail in this landscape of valleys, seasides and mountains. A river spreads out into a large lake, with palm trees at the side. Dry, mountainous lands rise in the south. The little villages, castles and cities found on the world map will be a reflection of what they really look like on the inside, I’m told. In the previous game, these were just tiny identical models for each type of settlement.

(Press play to see the GIFs)

It looks good, especially compared to the Mount & Blade of old, which you can see here.

I wander to the village of Lysia. Inside, it looks green and lively. There are geese and chickens and pigs roaming around. Vegetable patches, stone cottages, animal enclosures, and peasants going about their lives.

An excellent chance to walk among the people. Except, I can’t find the button to get off my steed. This is embarrassing. I suppose I’ll just speak to everyone from my literal high horse. This is how I meet Nasiclys, a man I presume is the local elder. He tells me to watch myself around him because he is a big deal in the village. He is listed by the game as “Owner of bog”.

“They know me as Valtis,” I say. “Mark it down, you shall be hearing of me a lot.”

Nasiclys the bog man does not frighten me. So I hire two of his finest men (his only two men) just to show him I have the gold to throw around. Now I have one archer and one recruit spearman. I leave the village, feeling shrewd and powerful. Then I run into a group of 11 desert bandits.

“Maybe we can work something out,” I say.

I pay him 179 gold pieces to leave us alone. It’s good to know that throwing your weight around is still the best way to negotiate in the sequel, and a viable way to get money. It’s just a pity that I’m the one paying up this time.

But enough of this failure. I ride into the deserts, toward the lakeside city of Razih. There's a Middle Eastern vibe to these southern lands. The toy-like trading caravans who criss-cross the world map have gone from using horses to camels. Meanwhile, Razih is a much larger settlement than the bog village. There are 279 troops inside the city, so a siege is probably out of the question. Although the flavour text tells me that the populace isn’t exactly happy with things under the current Emir.

“You hear some complaints about prices, shortages and greedy merchants,” it says, “but no more than normal.”

I go for a walk around town but it’s the dead of night. The market is empty and I don’t know where to go. Luckily, if you hold down “Alt” you can see all the notable characters and places in the city.

Places like the hall of the local Lord, or the dungeon, or the tavern. I head to the Lord’s hall. A pleasant Moorish-style riad at the summit of sixty-six steps, with a star-shaped pool outside the doors.

“Sorry,” says on of the guards, “But we don’t know you. We can’t just let anyone in.”

I give him 100 gold.

“Now I remember you,” he says.

I’m allowed in. I instantly march to the top of the chamber and approach the most important-looking man in the room. A bloke called Addas. He doesn’t look like an Emir, but he’s civil and well-dressed. He asks me my name.

“They know me as Valtis,” I say. “Mark it down, you shall be hearing of me a lot.”

I tell him I’d like to join his people, the Aserai. To offer my sword in vassalage. Me and all of my, uh, two men.

“You will need to talk to Unquid about that.”

That’s what Addas is like, you see. All pleasantries and civility until you want to make a formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign sovereign state. He tells me to seek out the Emir of this realm, Unquid, who’s currently tearing around another part of the map with his army. This is very Mount & Blade, and it’s reminding me why I like the games, repetitive dialogue and all. I look at my map and make a mental note about the coastal city of Quyaz, where the Emir has been spotted.

I could also have taken a side quest from this guy, but decide to leave the hall without one. Matthew, the RPS video person who was playing a campaign alongside me, recorded his own side quest adventure about training some peasants into a force resembling a militia for a local chieftan.

Perhaps it was time for me to get into a similar scrape. But on my own terms! However, that depends on making some new friends, which means going to the local tavern. It looks like Taleworlds is still working on the lighting.

Like previous games, you can still hire people in the tavern. These are named characters with skills and a better life expectancy. The companion menu shows space for five close pals, special roles you can assign to certain people: Engineer, Surgeon, Quartermaster, Sergeant, Scout. I remember in previous games the companions often bickered and you sometimes had to tell them to stop annoying one another, like some sort of frustrated war dad. I didn’t get to see if those strained relationships were a part of the sequel or not, but I would be disappointed if they didn’t show up.

In the pub, I meet two thugs and a bloke called “Jaim the Falcon” who claims to fight for honour and glory. I have no interest in those things, but I hire him anyway. The thugs too. They will make good henchmen, you’ll see.

After the pub, I visit a man on the outskirts of town who calls himself “Farim the Demon”. They’re very theatrical in this town. I don’t walk to this fella, like I did with Addas in the Lord’s hall. Instead, I simply make use of the town menu. As in the old games, you can start a dialogue with people just by clicking around these menus. You don’t need to hoof it everywhere if you’re not into the deep role-playing side of things. Normally, I’m a hoofer, but I’ve only got five minutes left to play. So I zoom to Farim by clicking on his turbaned head.

“Peace to you stranger,” he says, “What is your name?”

“They know me as Valtis,” I say. “Mark it down, you shall be hearing of me a lot.”

Farim ignores my impudence. He is a local crime lord, according to the game. He doesn’t mind talking in the dark.

He says there is a caravan that has been cornered by bandits out in the sticks somewhere. And me and my ragtag bunch of thugs, knights and bog men are just the crowd to help them out. But Farim is going to have some militia men follow us and join in the fray. I’m also told to make sure I have enough food to feed my posse.

The trading here offers a familiar assortment of goods to the seasoned Mount & Blader. There are weapons like crossbows and spears. There’s clothing, armour, and ammo for your archers. There are cows and horses, a welcome return for any player who loved to steal cattle from villages and sell them in the big cities of neighbouring provinces. Not that I, Valtis, would do such a thing.

Then there’s food. This keeps your troops satisfied and energised. I buy some dates, meat, cheese, fish, salt, olives, grapes, beer and flour. This shopping screen is much neater than the basic square filling inventory boxes of Warband. For a sense of how much they’ve tidied it up, here is the new trading interface.

And here is the old trading screen from Mount and Balde: Warband.

That’s a welcome improvement. Anyway, let’s buy all these delicious things and feast! Ha ha.

“You don’t have enough money.”

Oh right. Yes. Cash. I put the most expensive picnic food back on the shelves and make do with the basics. I set out with my new militia men and without hesitation I neglect to do anything Farim asked of me. That’s right, I’m going to the city of Quyaz to find the Emir. This is the true joy of this sword ‘n’ shield sandbox – you can just do whatever. I forget about Farim’s mission and decide instead to wander past the good-looking cliffside city of Husn Fulq.

These are excellent ambush lands, but we make it through okay. The demo is nearly over, however. There’s no way I’ll find the Emir in time. That’s disappointing. So I guess I’ll take out my frustration on some sea raiders. Have at ‘em boys.

The militia have abandoned us, so it’s just me and my five bog thugs against these five Viking-like outlaws. I fancy those odds, mostly because we have some horses and they don’t.

It’s a grubby night time skirmish, unlike the large battles between hundreds of soldiers that the later game will deliver, once you’ve built a name for yourself and earned a big bag of coin. But it does a decent job of reminding me of how enjoyable it is to swing a sword. I could have gone into the arena of any nearby city and tried out the combat more thoroughly, but I played the multiplayer battling last year, so I felt more drawn towards the RPG elements this time. Of course, that did not stop the bloodlust bubbling up when the last sea raider was running away.

Victory. But now the demo was over and that made me sad. This was only a small taste of a game that has been far too long in coming. It basically seems like a big shiny upgrade to everything that made Warband and its ilk so alluring. I didn't get time to explore the depths of its diplomacy, or to figure out how your character learns new skills. But the flavours I did catch are all familiar: the sweetness of freedom, the saltiness of being captured and taken prisoner, the bitterness of oddly repetitive dialogue. But principally it feels like another massive, moreish meal of RPG-strategy wanderlust. I’m happy enough for it to be just that. If the campaign is anywhere near as freewheeling as the demo suggests, Bannerlord will probably take over my life for a few weeks when it does come out.

So mark it down, you shall be hearing of it a lot.

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord still doesn't have a release date :(

Topics in this article

Follow topics and we'll email you when we publish something new about them.  Manage your notification settings.

About the Author
Brendan Caldwell avatar

Brendan Caldwell


Brendan likes all types of games. To him there is wisdom in Crusader Kings 2, valour in Dark Souls, and tragicomedy in Nidhogg.

Rock Paper Shotgun logo

We've been talking, and we think that you should wear clothes

Total coincidence, but we sell some clothes

Buy RPS stuff here
Rock Paper Shotgun Merch