Note: This guide is intended for Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord‘s early access stage. For more information, check out our Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord guides and features hub.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord – Armies and battlefield tactics
Army creation and cohesion
Your initial army might not seem much early on in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, so your goal is to increase your party’s size via your clan rank and the Steward skill. Fast forward, and you should be able to field hundreds of troops once you’re a vassal or, even better, as a ruler of your own kingdom. Having lots of troops (and horses) also helps improve your inventory capacity.
Anyway, being a vassal or a ruler allows you to attach new armies to yours by spending a bit of influence. Don’t forget that assembling armies and keeping morale high also boosts your Leadership skill. The other vassal lords you don’t select, meanwhile, will form their own armies or parties. Unfortunately, you won’t have a lot of control over what the AI does.
Note: It’s possible to bring dozens of generals with you, but more parties attached lead to faster cohesion decay. Once cohesion reaches zero, the other parties will be disbanded. Try to find the right balance between enlisting multiple parties versus using a smaller squad.
When it comes to your units, they have default groupings corresponding to a number on your keyboard: (1) infantry, (2) archers, (3) melee cavalry, (4) horse archers, (5) skirmishers, and so on. The zero (0) key selects all your units.
You can customize these groupings to your liking though it can be tedious. You’ll need to go to your party screen, click on each unit, and, one by one, pick the group you want that unit to be in. Still, it might be helpful such as when separating your shielded infantry and unshielded ones — you wouldn’t want troops forming a shield wall if they don’t have anything to defend themselves with, right?
Battlefield commands and formations
F1 (Movement) – select a group, then press F1 followed by the corresponding key to order your units:
- F1 – units will move to a position (left-click) without breaking their formation; it’s a bit like an RTS game.
- F2 – soldiers will follow you around; very useful if you specify cavalry to do it.
- F3 – everyone will charge the enemy; great for killing routing units.
- F4 – advance a few paces.
- F5 – fall back a few paces.
- F6 – make units stop completely.
- F7 – selected groups will retreat from the battlefield.
F3 (Formations) – select a group, then press F3 to have your units assemble in formations. Shield wall is good for your tough melee units, whereas archers forming a line behind them is viable. The skein or wedge formation is advantageous for melee cavalry and the loose formation is fine for horse archers and skirmishers.
In any case, the AI can be read easily enough in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord. When the opposing army vastly outnumbers you or you greatly outnumber it, it’ll likely charge without care. If the balance of power is almost equal, it’ll deploy in a defensive formation (seen below).
A good idea is to have melee infantry and archers advance cautiously while you tell your companions and melee/ranged cavalry to follow you. Infantry units will pin down enemy troops while you attack their flanks. If you’re winning a battle, though, just get everyone to charge to mow down hostiles.
Note: Alternatively, you can just select all units (“zero/0”) and press F6 to delegate all troop actions to the AI.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord – Sieges and the Engineering skill
All of the above can be done in field battles as well as sieges, but sieges have additional mechanics too. First, whenever you besiege a town (main settlement) or castle, you’ll need to prepare a siege camp. Likewise, there are multiple slots that let you construct siege engines.
Take note of the following:
- ballista – anti-infantry
- fire ballista – anti-infantry
- onagers – anti-infantry
- fire onagers – anti-infantry
- trebuchets – anti-infantry; I’ve never seen it destroy walls
- siege tower – provides defenses for units assaulting the walls
- rams – breaking down the gate
- ladders – part of the siege map; infantry will use them to climb walls
- barricades – part of the siege map; archers will use them while firing
Sieges in practice
Your Engineering skill determines how fast these can be built. Also, whether you’re attacking or defending during a siege, it’s possible for your engines of war to be destroyed by the opposing force’s own weaponry while on the campaign map. Likewise, remember that hostile armies can start surrounding you and that defending forces may sally out to do battle.
You can choose to let a siege run its course until the defenders are wiped out by starvation, but it’ll also cost you a lot of time and food. But, if you play a siege battle manually, you’ll be able to use the siege weapons you’ve built. For instance, the trebuchet can be aimed at a general direction (W and S keys), but you can’t control how high or low (or how distant) it’ll fire:
Exploiting the AI
You can also exploit the inept AI during sieges. For instance, there are times when attacking soldiers would just mill around next to the walls and you can freely snipe them to increase your Bow or Crossbow skills. You’ve also got arrow pouches to fill your ammo and stones that you can drop on their heads.
When you’re on the offense and most archers have been eliminated, you could climb up the ladders and stab or bash enemies that are clustered together. This can help increase your One-Handed, Two-Handed, or Polearm skills:
Additional tidbits and more skills
While not related to sieges, in particular, the battles you fight will help increase your other skills in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord:
- Captured enemy lords can be released to increase relations and your Charm skill.
- Or, you could make them your prisoner and, together with other captured soldiers, ransom them to increase Roguery.
- If you have a lot of wounded units, assign yourself as your clan’s surgeon via the Clan panel (L) and rest in a settlement. Keep healing wounded units to boost your Medicine skill.
- Lastly, the Tactics skill can be increased as you keep auto-resolving fights. While troops also level-up quickly via auto-resolve, you can suffer unnecessary losses.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is available now via Steam’s early access program. For more information, check out our guides and features hub.