With Bannerlord comes a new world map, because the game deals a good 200 years earlier than Warband. Therefore there are other kingdoms, cities and villages than in the predecessor. At the beginning, eight factions share the game world: Three kingdoms form the Calradian Empire and five kingdoms form the invaders who want to fight the Calradia Empire.
How we want to integrate ourselves into this world is up to us: There are no prescribed paths or objectives. As a purely optional support, however, there is a main quest where you have to take care of the preservation or fall of the empire. Like Warband, Bannerlord is also very multi-layered: towns and villages trade, factions wage war and there are friendships and enemies between the individual characters that influence the game.
Whoever wants to participate in Calradia needs influence above all else – whether it be through a high reputation, a lot of money or good contacts. All these points can be developed individually: You can make money by trade and robbery, gain control by making friends with different characters or rise to the nobility and act as vassal or even king.
There are no irrevocable decisions, just like in the predecessors: For example, you can leave the supported kingdom and then found your own, or you can give up politics altogether and be a robber knight at any time. All this is entirely up to the player.
The entry into Bannerlord, as you are used to from older parts, is difficult: At the beginning you are alone and very poorly equipped, if you want to be a hero here you have to work hard. If you move on the map without the appropriate caution, you are a real treat for the numerous plunderers and bandits that wander around. The game is ruthless: stronger opponents attack mercilessly and do not have the friendliness to face the player individually as in other games. Anyone who rides alone into a group of soldiers or exposes himself unprotected to a hail of arrows is dead in a few seconds.
Apart from bandits, other factions also cavort in the game world: caravans and villagers transport goods between the settlements, and nobles guard their land with their armies or join armies and start a violent expropriation of a neighbouring kingdom. At least for the time being, the groups are identical to Warband: there are no new categories.
Bannerlord’s combat system also remains identical to its predecessor in many respects: As usual in RPGs, weapons and armor can be chosen freely, and it is also up to you whether you enter the field on horseback or on foot. The combat system can be learned in a very short time, so that you can parry and fight back enemy attacks without problems. At least at the beginning you should be prepared for setbacks.
Better than new
In many key points, therefore, only little has changed compared to the predecessor. But there are also some new gameplay mechanics: For example, all towns and villages now have their own characters for which you can complete tasks. The relationship to these characters also determines how many and which soldiers you can recruit. So if you often have to replace your army, you should not be careless here.
Also new is the currency “influence”, which is used for votes in your own kingdom. It allows you to participate more in your own kingdom; to disown or expropriate vassals and vote on laws that affect the entire kingdom. It really makes you feel like you’re participating in the shaping of the kingdom, whereas Warband has always been a bit opaque here. In addition, there are now no longer kingdoms alone, but also family clans. If you found one yourself, you can get even more power.
A particularly important change compared to Warband are also the battles: During sieges, various siege weapons are now available, which can be freely selected and placed. In addition, the maximum number of soldiers increases for all battles from the previous maximum of 150 to up to 1,000 soldiers. As a result, impressive battles are now possible, which can also be better controlled by the improved tactical commands.
The AI has been drilled out considerably. Although it still has a few quirks, the soldiers now behave more realistically in many aspects. It is a pleasure to watch the archers laying siege to a castle: Finally they take cover and hide behind stones and wooden walls. But there are still weaknesses in Bannerlord: For example, soldiers may be waiting for you behind an open castle gate, but they do not always prevent you from entering the castle, they only defend themselves.
These were only the most serious innovations compared to Warband – in detail there are of course many more. For example, the much more accessible inventory system and the much better designed levels. In essence, Bannerlord is still almost the same Mount & Blade as we have known it for years, albeit in a much more polished and improved form. Especially the look back to Warband shows how horrible the old game actually looks by today’s standards, and how many possibilities one misses when switching back. Bannerlord can therefore be regarded as a worthwhile upgrade.
Nevertheless Taleworlds does not use the possibilities completely at the moment: There are still some innovations missing to make the gameplay perfect, e.g. alliances with single lords or kingdoms. But you shouldn’t forget that Bannerlord is still in early access and therefore far away from the finished game. Many changes are still to come and Taleworlds is busy since the release to fix bugs and adjust the balancing.
Also new features are planned, e.g. Taleworlds has announced that some dialogues will get a voice output. This is already partly included in the main quest. If this is not enough for you, you can use mods like in Warband. These already exist in numerous variations: From small problem fixes up to new game mechanics everything is included.