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Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord difficulty guide: should you play on realistic difficulty?

(Image credit: Taleworlds)
Master Bannerlord's medieval sandbox with these guides

(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

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In Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord, choosing your difficulty setting isn't as simple as setting it to normal and moving on. Instead of one global option, Bannerlord breaks difficulty settings into a few different areas that you can tweak. It's possible, for example, to soften the challenge of its political systems while still keeping melee combat extremely fatal. But because Bannerlord uses a weird naming convention for its difficulty settings, choosing the right option for you might be a little confusing at first. We're here to help.

When choosing your difficulty at the beginning of a new campaign, there are seven different settings to play with that each affect a different part of the game, like how easily you can recruit characters. Each of these five settings has three options: very easy, easy, and realistic.

Difficulty options can be changed at any time by accessing the Campaign Options menu.

You might think that, given these names, realistic is the equivalent of a normal difficulty, but it's more like hard. For the most part, only veterans and masochists should play on realistic difficulty. But let's break down each setting one by one and explain how they work.

If you want to get started right away

New players:

  • Friendly Troops Received Damage: Realistic
  • Friendly Parties Received Damage: Realistic
  • Player Received Damage: Easy
  • Recruitment Difficulty: Easy
  • Map Movement Speed: Easy
  • Enable Death: On
  • Auto Allocate Clan Member Perks: On

Veterans:

  • Friendly Troops Received Damage: Realistic
  • Friendly Parties Received Damage: Realistic
  • Player Received Damage: Realistic
  • Recruitment Difficulty: Realistic
  • Map Movement Speed: Realistic
  • Enable Death: On
  • Auto Allocate Clan Member Perks: On

Friendly Troops Received Damage

This setting determines how much damage your friendly units take in combat but excludes your own character. For that reason, I'd recommend setting this to realistic regardless of whether you're a new player or a veteran. This means that your own troops and enemy troops will be on even footing when fighting, which shouldn't be a problem if you're smart and always try to have the bigger army or better equipped soldiers.

This option does require you to understand Bannerlord's complicated unit command system, though. On Realistic, you'll need to give orders to your different units so they're always in an advantageous position, whereas on lower difficulties you can just order them to charge and mostly forget about them.

(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

Friendly Parties Received Damage

This option controls how much damage your allies take in combat. To be clear, these are not the troops under your control, but any additional computer-controlled soldiers who might join you in battle. Again, I'd recommend setting this option to realistic regardless of your experience with Bannerlord as this means allied soldiers and enemies they fight will be on relatively even ground. And since you don't have command over these units anyway, you don't have to worry about micromanaging them to keep them alive.

Player Received Damage

This option controls how much damage your character takes and will be the most noticeable difficulty option you can tinker with. Setting this to realistic requires you to be adept at Bannerlord's nuanced combat in order to survive, as even the weakest bandit will be able to kill you in just a few hits. Only veterans should set this option to realistic, as it requires impeccable timing to beat most AI opponents. And god help you if you get outnumbered.

For new players, there's no shame in setting this to very easy until you come to grips with combat. I prefer to set this to easy, personally. It gives me a bit of an edge in one on one combat, but I still have to command my troops effectively to win large-scale battles.

Recruitment Difficulty

In order to recruit more troops from settlements you visit, you have to win the favor of notable NPCs who live there. That's where this option comes in as it determines how much characters have to like you before they'll let you recruit their best soldiers to your cause.

This option won't affect your campaign as dramatically as the first three, but it is important. If you want to spend less time kissing ass and more time kicking ass, I'd recommend setting this to easy. That way you can enlist troops more quickly and spend time fighting. But if you want a more authentic experience, keep this at realistic. 

(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

Map Movement Speed

Like Recruitment Difficulty, Map Movement Speed subtly changes how quickly you can move around on the overworld map. See, your speed is determined by a variety of factors like the quality and number of your horses, how full your inventory is, and even the morale of your troops. This option adjusts how much each of those affects your speed. Like recruitment, lowering this option is great for those who want to focus on fighting and less on management. But if you want a more authentic experience, keep it at realistic.

Enable Death

I strongly encourage everyone to play with Enable Death on, as it adds an excellent level of realism to Bannerlord. When enabled, named NPCs (called heroes) can now die, including kings, emperors, and, yes, even you. This creates opportunities for dramatic upheavals in the political landscape, as characters meet their untimely end and nations devolve into chaos. If you want to play a campaign with real consequences to your actions, Enable Death is the way to go.

To be clear, it will be possible that you can die. If you have an heir, you'll start playing as them and your campaign will continue. If you don't, it's likely game over. The good news is that, when just starting out, the risk of that happening is minimal. Most bandits and other criminals you fight would prefer to keep you alive so they can ransom you for money or sell you into slavery, so defeat in combat rarely means a true game over.

Auto Allocate Clan Member Perks

This is less of a difficulty option and more of a convenience option. Once you start to build a clan, you'll begin managing the progress of characters other than your main one. It's a bit like playing any party-based RPG, except your party can get really, really big. This option takes some of the micromanagement out of that task by allocating perks automatically, though I haven't yet had time to research how it spreads these points around. Otherwise, you'll need to individually select which perks your followers have, which can be a bit daunting.

Again, turn this option on if you want to focus less on Bannerlord's management aspect and more on killing stuff. But, like all these options, you can always change it if you're getting overwhelmed or, conversely, want more control of your clan.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.