In Mount&Blade, the player will generally rely upon their war party to carry fights that they and their heroes alone would not be capable of handling. Understanding the differences between the troops they can recruit and train, and how to command them to gain their fullest benefit, is the key to success as a military commander.
This article compares only the top-tier versions of each type of unit - generally, all units have less-trained versions of the same type, where the top-tier units are better equipped, more skilled, more durable, and more expensive, but functionally fill the same roles as their lower-tier versions.
Except in the early game, where unit costs can be prohibitive to a player who has yet to get a grasp of how to earn a steady income, players should try to upgrade their units up to their maximum tier as soon as they possibly can.
Units are divided by the role that they fill - a balance of each type of role is generally recommended, although cavalry are generally more useful when the player is not expecting to engage in siege warfare, and archers are more useful when the player is, and making use of garrisons to switch units out can make this type of strategy more easily performed.
Players can also blend multiple types of units of the same role, trying to shore up weaknesses with the strengths of others, such as putting shieldless Vaegir infantry behind shielded Rhodok infantry, but this may require a care that not all players will want to pay attention to in a game where every battle starts with a general order for all units to charge.
Every faction but the Khergit Khanate has a specialized melee infantry unit. Heavy infantry are generally best used in the defense or besieging of castles, or in other close-quarters terrain, as the open field is where cavalry will generally carry the day, instead. In these close quarters, the fight generally devolves into a free-for-all brawl where tactical choices, the terrain, and unit skills matter little as both sides simply try to hack into one another until one side stops moving.
Because of this, the relative power of infantry troops generally comes down to the strength of their arms and armor more than the exact skills. Nord Huscarls are considered to be the strongest unit, however, this is not to say that other units are not worth the money it takes to recruit them, as the differences between the melee infantry units are not so great that the functional difference is only in a slight change in the number of soldiers it takes to win a battle (especially since Huscarls cost more in exchange for slightly outperforming their rivals).
- The Nord Huscarl is, by general consensus, the strongest melee unit in the game due to having a good shield (Huscarl's round shield) and good armor, but more importantly, due to having axes, which are more effective at chopping through enemy shields than other types of weapons are. They also have a chance to carry throwing weapons, which can give them an additional edge in battle. Huscarls also have a good athletics rating, making them less of a drag on your Party Speed if you are also using cavalry.
- The Rhodok Sergeant generally ranks in second place, thanks to its better Board Shield, but the Rhodok troops tend to rely upon blunt weapons for attack (alongside a two-handed spear or pike they rarely use while they still possess a shield). This blunt weapon, however, will net you more prisoners with which you can make more money (and hence, support paying for more troops). They are not quite as powerful as Huscarls, but are not a bad choice by any means.
- The Hired Blade is a pricey, but fairly well-armored unit, looking much like a Swadian Knight that has been dismounted. They have the added bonus of being considered mounted when on the map, so that they are not a hindrance to your Party Speed. Their shield is, however, somewhat small, so they can fall victim to ranged attacks as their shield does not cover their whole body the way that huscarl or board shields do.
- The Swadian Sergeant is a relatively versatile, but unfortunately slow melee unit, which lacks the hit points and shield of a Huscarl, but has better armour, being equipped with the very strong coat of plates armour. They use one-handed weapons such as a sword and mace so that they can either kill or capture foes. They also carry a heater shield. In a castle where they will not need to move much, they are durable opponents, and good defenders, but lack the edge in breaking shields that Huscarls have. Their low athletics rating will also slow down your Party Speed.
- The Vaegir Guard, alongside the Sarranid Guard, is a marked drop in soldier quality from their other top-tier counterparts. Vaegir Guards have relatively poor armor and many of them lack shields altogether, making them vulnerable to ranged missile fire, and vulnerable in a melee, as well. They do, however, possess a good running speed and tend to carry powerful polearms or two-handed weapons like the bardiche that have a bonus to breaking through enemy shields, and they are capable of dealing quite a bit of damage in a short period of time, although they ultimately fall short because they are so incapable of resisting damage, themselves.
- The Sarranid Guard is alongside the Vaegir Guard for "weakest melee infantry". Like the Vaegir version, they sometimes rush into battle with no shield (although they carry shields more often than Vaegirs do) and only medium armor, making them vulnerable to missile fire and melee, although they are even faster than the Vaegirs. They often carry jarids, which are capable of inflicting kills before they even reach melee range against unshielded opponents, although most other infantry units do carry shields. They generally use spears as their main weapon, although they are also capable of carrying a rare two-handed Sarranid Battle Axe that is more powerful than even the already powerful two-handed battle axes that other factions gain access to.
Four factions have specialized melee cavalry units, the exceptions being the Nords and the Rhodoks, which lack any form of cavalry outside of their nobles or odd units they have picked up from the prisoners of bandits.
Cavalry has a great advantage in the open field - especially with lances, where they can use their couched lance damage to inflict instant death upon any unit that does not somehow block the attack. Even without lances, cavalry units are devastating in a charge, as their speed adds a bonus to the damage they deal, making any weapon with a good reach potentially fatal when they attack from a gallop.
Cavalry is weak, however, when it gets "stuck in" melee, which happens fairly often when attacking close-formation infantry with shields to block the initial charge. Cavalry, then, is best used by distracting enemy units with infantry or archers or even the player's character before attacking them from behind, where their shields are of no use. In melee, shorter-range weapons are more valuable than polearms that don't have the swinging room to be used effectively, and if a cavalryman is dismounted, a lance is a liability rather than a fearsome weapon.
Strong cavalry units often have heavy armor, lances, and most importantly, heavily armored horses so that their horses do not die in the initial charge, and the cavalry are left as oddly equipped and overpaid melee infantrymen.
- Swadian Knights are considered top-tier cavalry for their Chargers, which are extremely durable, and their generally heavy arms and armor. They carry a lance, the highly durable Knightly Heater Shield, and an arming sword or morningstar for close range. Their cavalry charge is fearsome, but they are not lacking in melee capacity, either.
- Sarranid Mamlukes are functionally almost identical to Swadian Knights in Warband, and as such they can be used almost interchangeably with each other. Mamlukes are slightly less armoured than Swadian Knights, but have an advantage in blunt weaponry, making them useful in acquiring more captives to sell to the ransom broker, which helps to pay for their high salary. They also have 2 more points in riding over the Swadian Knights, making them faster and more agile, making them suitable for chasing down Horse Archers. However, they sometimes are equipped with a unarmored but faster horse which means they get quickly dismounted.
- Sword Sisters are equipped with the heaviest attainable armors in the game - plate mail, gauntlets, plate boots, and steel shields, but oddly will occasionally go without any helmet at all (presumably to let you see their hair and let you know they are female) giving a certain portion of them a glaring weak point. They also ride in on lighter coursers, which make them vulnerable to dismounting. They do, however, tend to have only one-handed swords along with very good shields, so they are not as vulnerable when dismounted as other cavalry. They can also carry a crossbow, which can turn them into mobile horse archers if the need arises, giving them an additional layer of versatility (note, however, that their crossbows cannot be reloaded while on horseback; their ranged attacks may still be utilized if they are ordered to dismount and join the archer or infantry line). They are significantly less expensive than standard cavalry, and their top-tier armor and close-range weaponry makes them usually very durable, outside of headshots, in a melee brawl, so they are not to be discounted. They are, however, not easy to levy replacements for when one of them falls in battle, as the only way to raise Sword Sisters is to rescue female peasants or refugees from bandits, and train them through several ranks of generally worthless infantry units. Because of their low cost, they are attractive in the early stages of the game, when players would have trouble affording a knight or Mamluke, if any female peasants can survive long enough to become a sword sister. Ultimately, while not a bad unit, the difficulty in easily replacing them will probably mean they see less use unless players purposefully go out of their way to try to use female troops.
- Slaver Chiefs are upgraded from the Manhunter unit, and ride into combat with medium armor and armored warhorses while swinging heavy mauls that make them effective shock troops, and very capable of capturing enemies alive for the ransom broker, but they are not as effective in a pitched battle as a dedicated cavalry troop will be. They lack shields, and as such, can fall victim to ranged attacks, and are poor soldiers off their (fortunately durable) horses. They are also hard to replace quickly when killed, as only hiring released Manhunters captured by bandits will provide a source of replacement troops. They do, however, excel against bandits in the early stages of the game when you need prisoners for money, and bandits are ill-equipped for handling a large number of cavalry units. When you get into the late game, and need the ability to match horseman to horseman, however, they should be replaced by heavier cavalry.
- Khergit Lancers have only occasionally-armored horses and alternate between having an axe or sword and shield or a two-handed weapon that leaves the man (and possibly also the horse) unshielded and vulnerable to missile fire. As lighter cavalry, they tend to perform better on the open plains and steppes where they can maneuver for multiple hit-and-run attacks, rather than staying in melee, and in melee they tend to go down faster than heavier cavalry do. Commanders will get more from this unit if they take advantage of the mobility of these units by ordering those types of hit-and-run attacks manually, although this takes time a player may not have if they are fighting for their own lives in melee.
- Vaegir Knights are a lighter cavalry force that possesses heavy armor on the cavalry, but unarmored (yet fast) horses and two-handed (shieldless) weapons that make for an impressive initial charge that can cut unprepared enemies to ribbons in the initial wave, but when they (inevitably) get stuck in melee, they are terribly weak and unlikely to last long. Vaegir Knights require more commander supervision to use properly, demanding being pulled in and out of combat to make use of their impressive charge, which in turn requires that the player manually supervise combat, rather than participate in it.
- Mercenary Cavalry are the low-end of the top-tier cavalry spectrum, with poor armor, unarmored horses, and generally poor tactical uses. They are only useful for their ability to be quickly hired as a fill-in while training better cavalry up from recruits after you have suffered serious casualties.
- Brigands are obtained by taking prisoner, recruiting, and then upgrading Bandits that spawn during some missions. They are thus very hard to acquire and replace. While better than Caravan Masters, their stats and equipment are still very inferior to other top-tier units and they have practically no use.
- Caravan Masters are the worst cavalry troops in the game, with low stats, slow and unarmored horses, no shields and inferior armor and weapons. They are however, very cheap to maintain and, if you manage to get a few, they can be used early game against low-tier troops until you can afford to get better cavalry.
Archers are the ranged dimension of combat in Mount and Blade, and tend to be more useful to the player who takes the time to order their units than the one who simply charges headlong into the fray, and relies upon the skill in and weight of arms to carry the day. When positioned in a place where they have a great field of view against an enemy that is either distracted by infantry in another direction, or struggling to scale a steep slope, they can deal significant damage. If left to be charged by cavalry or engaged in melee, they will likely wither, and you would have been better served with melee infantry.
Archers are also of great value in the initial stages of a siege, before melee can be properly joined. Defending archers on castle walls will shred unshielded infantry and cavalry long before they can scale your walls. Attacking archers will pick through defending archers before they can eliminate your infantry.
Good archers are not simply the units that deal the most damage, but also the units that can withstand the most punishment in return - a bow or crossbow is a two-handed weapon, which means that a shield cannot be held while firing those weapons. Good archers are also decent in a melee, because eventually, they will be faced with someone who rushes through their missiles.
- Vaegir Marksmen are considered the best bow infantry unit in the game - with a better rate of fire, if weaker damage-per-shot, Vaegir bowmen are capable of inflicting more damage over a short period of time than their Rhodok counterparts. The reason Rhodok Sharpshooters are often considered superior is that siege battles are often long enough to exhaust the quivers of archers, and rate of fire is of lesser importance than total damage per shot. Vaegir marksmen are superior in the open field, but since cavalry dominate in the open field, many players prefer to focus their archers in the specialization of siege warfare.
- Sarranid Master Archers are a new addition to Warband. They are capable of decimating unshielded troops like any other archers and they are generally regarded as the best archers in Calradia, rivaled only by Vaegir Marksmen who have very similar stats in terms of power draw, melee weapons and life, however Vaegir Marksmen do have inferior armor and Sarranid Master Archers use weaker, but faster firing bows than the Vaegir Marksmen. Strangely, they sometimes spawn with throwing jarids instead of bows and arrows, severely limiting their effectiveness as ranged combatants when that happens. They are the most durable archers in Calradia, even better than Rhodok Sharpshooter (except for the lack of shields and melee inferiority). Truly, Sarranid Master Archers are almost as great as Vaegir Marksmen in combat if not better than them.
- Nord Veteran Archers are comparable to Vaegir Marksmen. Although they have inferior ranged damage output due to a slower firing rate, they are more flexible. Their armor and melee weapons proficiency allows them to perform well if pressed into close combat, and they have the highest Athletics skill of any soldier in the game, tied with Nord Huscarls. Additionally, they reach top tier faster than any other archer, and are the least expensive.
- Rhodok Sharpshooters are generally considered the best siege archers in the game because their thick board shields will protect them if told to hold their fire (and wait for enemy archers to run out of ammo. although note that this does not happen for siege defenders, who have infinite ammo), and their heavy siege crossbows will deal more damage per bolt over the long haul of a grueling siege battle. They also posses decent armor and melee capacity, making them useful even when engaged in melee when they have been flanked or when they have run out of bolts. Their melee weapon is often a hammer, giving them a chance to capture enemies alive for later ransom.
- Swadian Sharpshooters are slower, less heavily armored, and less melee-ready versions of the Rhodok Sharpshooter. In their specialized role of firing crossbows, they are functionally similar, but they lack the well-rounded nature of a Rhodok Sharpshooter, and offer no advantages to compensate.
- Mercenary Crossbowmen are the mercenary's only ranged unit, and like the Nord's, they are lower-tier versions of the Rhodok or Swadian Sharpshooters, and lack the features of their higher-tier kin, making them inferior troops.
Only the Khergit Horsemen have true horse archers, the Khergit Veteran Horse Archer, although Sword Sisters and Brigands can pull some double duty in this role with their light crossbows and longbows respectively.
Horse Archers are problematic to use, because only in Warband can you separate out a "Horse Archer" unit type to command them separately. Otherwise, they will be either held at a distance or thrown into the charge along with all the other cavalry. Because of their lack of armor on either the men or horses, horse archers are very vulnerable and quickly die off in the melee.
When ordered in a separate formation, players who can keep them on the edges of the battle can take advantage of a highly mobile set of archers that can fly around behind infantry to attack their unshielded rear while the infantry distract them from the front.
The efficacy of this type of unit depends entirely on whether or not the player is going to be willing to order this unit separately, or if they prefer to simply charge into the fray, and let the AI handle the details of tactics. Horse archers will usually only reward the player willing to command them to keep them out of battle.