While Mount&Blade's combat system is centered on the player's character, victory in single player battles more often goes to the side which dictated the terms of the battle (when and where to fight) and utilized its troops more effectively on the battlefield. The former is properly called strategy and latter, tactics. To succeed in Mount&Blade's single player campaign, a firm grasp of both is required.
Briefly stated, there are three main types of military troops:
- Melee Infantry
- Ranged Infantry (archers, crossbows, rock throwers, etc.)
Melee Infantry are generally regarded as the bread and butter of any army. They specialize in getting up close to their targets and beating them into submission. They're generally cheaper than the equivalently armed and armored cavalry and perform slightly better than dismounted cavalry due to their investment in Athletics rather than Riding.
Melee infantry in Mount&Blade are very similar to real world medieval infantry in that if the infantry unit is moving, it is virtually helpless up against cavalry. The infantry scatters into a loose formation and allows the cavalry to do its run-by attacks.
Defeating cavalry is easy by using "hold this ground" and formation orders to thicken your line. With this tactic, charging cavalry become trapped in your defensive line which causes each attacking cavalry troop to potentially face three or four of your infantry at once. Using this stratagem, even crossbowmen can be quite effective against an assaulting cavalry force. As in real life, infantry only has the ability to defeat cavalry when kept in formation and standing strong or using the terrain to their advantage.
- Dense Formations
- Mobile in Rough Terrain
- Relatively slow ground speed
- Vulnerable out of Dense Formation.
Ranged Units (typically Archers) are usually potent, but poorly protected. They're designed to stay out of melee and rain death on enemies from afar. Against infantry this works well enough, but Cavalry can usually cross the danger zone and bring the fight to the archers.
A ranged unit that isn't lobbing projectiles is misused. With their generally weaker armor they'll lose in melee combat.
Ranged units can concentrate fighting power from a wide area onto targets. On their own, ranged units tend to spread their fire evenly, so it's best to try break up advancing enemies so your fighters can concentrate fire and overwhelm their defenses. The other problem ranged units have is running out of ammunition. A ranged unit without ammunition is just a weakly armored infantryman, so it's usually best to have firing lines hold fire until you can make it count. Crossbowmen with their lower rate of fire can be somewhat exempted from this as their slow methodical fire will achieve the same end, but archers can typically empty their quivers before the enemy even charges. The most important things to remember about ranged units are:
- Keep out of melee.
- Make your shots count
- Can Concentrate power from wide area
- Weak Armor
- Vulnerable to melee
- Limited ammunition
Cavalry in Mount&Blade are extremely powerful. Mounted troops can use their horses to charge isolated infantry, inflicting blunt damage and staggering them, which breaks their shield defense. The increased speed grants added striking power to their rider's blows.
However, unlike infantry, horses turn slowly and their length interferes further when hemmed in by obstacles. Also unlike infantry, horses in Mount&Blade can't walk sideways or strafe.
Finally, when the player recognizes these weaknesses and strengths, they can use cavalry more effectively. Just remember two points concerning cavalry:
- Melee cavalry are made for charges. Do not engage in prolonged melee; either pierce through or withdraw and charge again. Stay out of the fight and use the "charge" and "hold this position" commands to continually ram the enemy and pull your cavalry out before they get stuck.
- Ranged cavalry do not shoot as well as ranged infantry while on the move; either hold still to shoot or charge the AI's likely scattered formation.
- Guard Crush Charge
- Weapon Power Multiplier
- Slow turning
- No Strafing
- Impeded Ranged attacks
- Increased expense
- Often become surrounded if halted by infantry (and vice versa)
- Can't attack things behind them if they are unable to turn their horse (happens when surrounded)
These categories suggest a form of rock-paper-scissors arrangement, perhaps something like:
- Cavalry beat ranged attackers
- Ranged attackers beat infantry
- Infantry beat cavalry
This model is too simplistic however, more realistically commanders should appreciate:
- Cavalry are a danger to all foot troops if not halted.
- Ranged Attackers can safely engage shorter ranged troops and concentrate firepower from a wide area.
- Infantry have the athletics to bring superior armor and weapons into melee and emerge victorious.
Cavalry are both faster than infantry and can move much more easily in and out of melee combat. Infantry once engaged must typically defeat their opponent to survive. Archers avoid the problem of moving in and out of combat range by inflicting damage from afar and intentionally avoiding melee at the cost of being very ineffective when forced into it.
In addition, units are also marked by upgrade tiers, which indicates troop quality. At each stage the troops level and attributes increase which improves their lethality and survivability.
The quality of the unit(s) in question has a huge influence: a Nord Huscarl will shred almost any other unit in the game in most melees, regardless of the above relationships. This, of course, does not take into consideration any other factors, such as terrain or morale (the zeal of one's troops, which plays-out via the odds of either side's units fleeing mid-battle). That said, a Huscarl's total training cost is nearly quadruple the nearly-as-good Rhodok Sergeant's.
A few things to keep in mind when one is about to start a fightEdit
- Are you taking on a lord or just a group?
- The presence of a lord impacts the morale of the army heavily, which means that groups without one, such as a group of looters, are more likely to flee mid-battle.
- Where are you in the game map when the fight starts?
- If you are on a mountain in the big map, expect hills in the battle, and so on.
- How is your morale?
- If Morale is low, consider that your units might take off on you during anything but a castle siege. However, if you ride near them, they suddenly perk back up, turn around, and get back into the fight. The Player is, in effect, a moving morale generator.
And once in Battle...
Take a look at the enemy units. Maybe tell your army to stay put (press 0, then F1, then F1 again anytime during combat to make the entire army stay put at your current position) and Ride out by yourself.
- See a lot of Missile Shooters?
- That means get everyone behind a hill. In fact, that's just a good practice if you plan to play a defensive game, period. Have them spread-out, too. Although they lose cohesion this way, the added defense against missiles is totally worth it, in this scenario.
- How about horses?
- In that case, get on the top of a hill, so that they are slowed down considerably just trying to reach you. While you're at it, have your units stand closer (check your control options to see how) so that the horsemen can't get through. If you are not opposed to exploitations and want to make for an easier fight, have your men stand right at the edge of the map so that when the enemy horses charge you and run past they get stopped by the map border and are momentarily vulnerable to attack.
Another effective strategy -- especially if you have very little cavalry -- is stand in the center of a river; it's impossible to charge in a river. Make sure that all your men dismount. The enemy will advance slowly and dividedly, making it extremely easy to kill them all with minimal casualties on your side. Ensure that the infantry and dismounted cavalry make-up the front line and ensure that the archers are just behind them. If you can't place them in the river itself, place them on the banks. As previously stated; one simply cannot charge through water. Historically, the Scots won many upsets against the English by doing this.
- And what about infantry?
- In this case, get your archers in there early, and attack with your cavalry if you can to keep them distracted while your archers go nuts. Once they break through your horses and start running towards the archers, unleash the infantry. Mind you, if those infantry look like they have a lot of spears, you may want to consider moving in your infantry and cavalry in such a way so they attack in unison to give the Missile Shooters all the chance they need. Try to flank (hit from behind or on the side) with your cavalry, especially when the enemy has a lot of spear-men (pole-arms and two-handed weapons are the best ways to take-down a horse).
- Kingdom of Nords Tactics: Fierce Northmen field an all infantry army.
- Kingdom of Rhodoks Tactics: Well known for an army of Crossbowmen.
- Kingdom of Vaegirs Tactics: A mix of heavy cavalry and armored archers
- Kingdom of Swadia Tactics: Heavy Cavalry and crossbowmen.
- Khergit Khanate Tactics: Steppe riders best known for their horse archers.
- Sarranid Sultanate Tactics: Desert riders with a mix of heavy cavalry and light archers.
Understanding what you can do with the tools available, it's possible to construct a plan of action. Collect and bring those tools into action. This is strategy.
Part of what makes steppe bandits so dangerous is their high map speed makes them hard to avoid. This can be attributed to their horses. Composing your own forces of mostly or entirely cavalry keeps your own map speed high which enables you to outrun forces you can't outfight and quickly run down slower forces who you can beat. The pathfinding skill also contributes so don't neglect that side of your party composition.
- Control who you engage and you need not fear your enemies
Archers can feather enemies from afar with minimal risks. While not particularly good on the assault, archers holding position can decimate advances before the enemy can do any damage.
The basic principle is:
- Get a whole bunch of shooters
- Put them in a place with good lines of fire
- Pin cushion your enemies when they close
The basic problem with the army is it requires user intervention to function and operates best when the enemy's advance is degraded. Also the optimum configuration is a line which is probably the most vulnerable to cavalry attack. On the plus side, an army of all archers can be extremely efficient and few troops will be lost in battle, so mastering this kind of army can be very valuable.
Get all of the heaviest cavalry you can find and let them charge.
- Heavy cavalry are extremely well armored
Heavy cavalry can pretty much stomp any other unit. This isn't a finesse approach. Just get them to charge your enemies and keep from bogging down. This strategy breaks down in rough terrain where loss of horsepower reduces heavy cavalry to very clumsy heavy infantry. Overall, this strategy is probably the easiest and most powerful wherever horses are allowed, but it will cost roughly twice the amount of an army with no heavy cavalry.
Most units in Mount&Blade carry a defense, be it shield or parrying weapon. This defense is typically oriented forward. Attacking from behind or the opposite side negates this defense and improves the efficiency of your attacks. As a result it is often advantageous to mix into your armies at least a small number of cavalry to follow you in attacking flanks and rear faces of enemy formations.
- Attack where their defense isn't
Kill the HorsesEdit
Cavalry are annoying to fight. They generally don't stay still long enough to skewer with your pointy tool of choice. Killing the horse reduces the once mighty knight to a less mighty heavy infantryman, who is a perfect target for couched lances.
- If it's too hard to kill, weaken it
- Infantry is easier to pin and destroy than cavalry
Dislodge Their CoverEdit
With infantry-based factions like the Nords and Rhodoks, the charge mentality doesn't always work, especially dealing with horses, and, more importantly, Khergits, which both have swift steeds and sharp swords.
Unfortunately, the A.I. does not know that, and they'll most likely just get all their infantry in a line, and slowly advance. Once you get close enough, they charge.
So suppose that you're a vassal of Sanjar Khan (Khergits) and specialize in cavalry. An all-cavalry army moves much faster than an all-infantry army, but consider that a 100-man Rhodok army pins you down on the world map, and forces you to fight with your 50-man Khergit army against them on hilly terrain.
It'd be a nightmare without the command bar.
- Tell your cavalry to follow you.
- Charge towards the enemy, but circle around them. I recommend turning towards the right, as that way your horse archers can fire onto the enemy.
- Do this for a minute or so. Now the enemy should be scattered, most of them charging towards you.
- Wait for about 20 seconds for the rest of the army to settle into more flat terrain.
This strategy allows your Khergits to slaughter your foes mercilessly. But one thing to keep in mind: scatter the enemy. A lone infantryman will break easier than a clump of them. You want to bait them, then, when they aren't ready, charge them. This strategy can also work with flat terrain if you're facing up against clumps of infantry. Just circle them until they spread out. Infantry work well as a large, tightly-packed unit, using their shields and themselves to block missile fire from those deeper in the formation. Therefore, you should consider dispersing them before launching your payload of arrows or javelins. Terrain is their shield, pure melee power is their weapon. And, as always, getting rid of the shield first will make things a whole lot easier.
Time Is On Your Side Edit
Something to keep in mind is that as the player, you are effectively the center of the universe. Any battle you take part in takes absolutely no time on the strategic scale. Unlike when supporting other AI lords, any lord that is willing to take part in your battles only needs to be within a certain distance of the player, rather than actually needing to run the rest of the way between them and the other lord to take part. This mostly removes the primary disadvantage of large armies being slow. Through this, a player backed faction can effectively rack up victory after victory in less than an in-game hour and force an enemy faction to surrender due to having no one left to defend their territory.