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Which Bannerlord faction should you choose?

best bannerlord troops
(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

The intricacies of all the Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord factions aren’t immediately obvious to those without a strong knowledge of the game's historical setting. Late antiquity, or the early medieval period, has provided much of the source material for this game. Even if you can tell your Byzantines from your boyars, deciding which group to ally with is a tough call. 

Thankfully I’ve put the hours in to help you choose the best Bannerlord units for you and how to help each faction thrive. As you travel all over Calradia, you'll likely recruit from many—if not all—of them before the game is over. Plus, it’s always good to know your enemy. So, here are the all the factions in Bannerlord, and the units to prioritise in each.

All Bannerlord factions and how they work

Every Bannerlord faction has a primary recruit and a rare secondary, both with their own line of upgrades. The primary recruit generally splits into a melee and ranged tree. The melee tree then diverges into a weapon tree and a shield tree, while the ranged one generally splits into any two of bow, crossbow, and skirmisher. The faction’s rare recruit is just that: rare. They show up less often in villages and towns and are more expensive, but they upgrade on a linear path into that faction’s premier or signature unit.

Note: These following factions don’t provide the only units in the game by far. Elite troops like the Skolder Brotva, or mercenary guards, can be found in limited numbers around the game world, for example.

The Mount and Blade 2: Bannerlord factions are:

  • Northern Empire
  • Southern Empire
  • Western Empire
  • Battania
  • Vlandia
  • Sturgia
  • Aserai
  • Khuzait Khanate

The Empire

Sprawling across the center of the Calradic Empire are three factions: the Northern, Southern, and Western Empires. The empire splintered into separate states after the assassination of the emperor, and each are in conflict with different outside forces as the game begins. Don’t be fooled, though: The empire is in a state of civil war, and these three factions are perfectly happy to go to war with one another. They are:

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(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

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  • Northern Empire: Led by the wealthy plutocrat senator, Lucon, the northerners want the imperial senate to choose the next emperor. It's spread across a large, mountainous area on the shore of a large lake, so they’re pretty well protected. They also have a strong economy, but having multiple enemies at a time is a constant challenge for them.
  • Southern Empire: This part of the Empire is spearheaded by Empress Rhagaea, wife of the murdered emperor, in the name of his daughter and heir, Ira. If you're interested in the Southern Empire, you might want to court Ira’s favor: She’s unmarried at the start of the game. The Southern Empire has well-protected natural borders, but struggles to expand against imposing Khuzait and Aserai cavalry.
  • Western Empire: The western folk are led by Garios, the famous and popular military leader who sees himself as the next emperor. The Western Empire controls several wealthy cities, but often ends up locked in grinding wars of attrition with the Battanians.

The imperial military use heavy cataphract cavalry, effective archers, and a core of versatile heavy infantry. Their melee troops excel when they drive into Infantryman and Legionaries, as they carry shields and heavy throwing weapons. While they have access to crossbowmen, their archer upgrade path leads to the far more effective (and well-armored) Palatine Guard or Bucellarii horse archers. Their rare recruit is the Imperial Vigla, which upgrades to Cataphract. Cataphracts are armored head-to-toe and carry lances and bows, making them some of the most deadly and flexible heavy cavalry in the game.

Battania

The highlands northwest of the empire are controlled by the Battanian confederation. Their position at the start of the game is a good one: They only control five towns, fewer than anyone else, but they're dense and relatively close together. Also, every entrance to the highlands is in a dream defensive position in that they're through narrow mountain passes guarded by castles.

Battania’s army features medium-to-heavy spear infantry with strong bows as ranged support. Their cavalry is weak, generally only suited to skirmish harassment or fending off enemy cavalry. Battania is also hindered by their unit selection. Their Fian Champions are the best archers in the game with the highest Bow skill and a disturbingly high fire rate with their longbows and they carry two-handed swords at a top-tier skill level, but there's a problem.

Unfortunately, Battania’s archers only come from the rare recruit Highborn Youth. Battanian players should recruit as many as they can and pick up the Disciplinarian perk under the Leadership skill, which allows captured and recruited forest bandits into this unit tree. Battania’s other strongest units are its Wildlings (well-armored skirmishers) and Falxmen. Falxmen are fragile without a shield, but their wide swings can devastate an enemy already in disarray from arrows and javelins.

Vlandia

Situated along the entire west coast of Calradia, Vlandia is the most authentically medieval faction in Bannerlord. Their territory is quite large and some important factions are very remote, so enemy armies often disperse before effectively sieging or raiding. Vlandia starts the game in a challenging war against Sturgia, where a long travel distance can doom the AI’s attacks before they even get off the ground.

That said, Vlandia’s army is one of the best in the game. Their powerful knights are vicious on attack, and they back that up with cheap, effective, readily available crossbowmen. Their crossbows are effective from the first upgrade, all the way from Levy Crossbowmen to Vlandian Sharpshooters. Vlandian Hardened Crossbows and better also carry a huge pavise shield into battle, which keeps them safe as they advance into range as a shield wall. Keep as many melee infantry around as you need to screen them and fend off enemies, particularly the Vlandian Infantry line of upgrades that ends in the Vlandian Sergeant. Otherwise? Crossbows.

Crossbows and horses, that is. The rare recruit Vlandian Squire starts just okay, but from the first upgrade gets more and more powerful before ending up as the Vlandian Banner Knight, the most powerful heavy cavalry in Mount & Blade 2. Get as many of these knight-tree units as you can, then fill in the gaps in your Cavalry force with Light Cavalry and Vanguard units from the main-line Infantry tree. 

The Vlandians have a secret up their sleeves, too. Most cavalry-heavy factions suffer in sieges, but the Billman and Voulgier upgrades for the Vlandian Spearman are excellent at taking and clearing walls. I like to keep a reserve of around ten for siege battles, but I keep them well away from the enemy during field fights.

(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

Sturgia

The inhabitants of Bannerlord’s frozen north are inspired by the people of medieval Russia, a confederation of kingdoms united under one Prince. Their territory stretches the length of the map from east to west, which is both a blessing and a curse: Enemies struggle to move across the snowy forests and narrow valley chokepoints, but reacting to an attack on the other end of their territory can mean you arrive far, far too late to do any good.

Sturgia’s army is built around a solid core of dependable heavy and medium infantry. Their cavalry isn’t too special; they're at best a scouting and skirmishing force. Their low-tier troops are fairly weak with no bow and only small shields, so try to take on bands of looters as often as possible to get them past tier 2 to the better armed and armored tier 3+ units. Sturgian Veteran Warriors are one of the best mainstay infantry units in the game, and backed up by Ulfhednar berserkers can grind anyone else’s infantry body into paste and take any castle wall. Just be wary of enemy armies that can outshoot and outmaneuver you with heavy cavalry.

However, the Sturgians’ rare recruit, the Warrior Son are just not up to it. Their final form, Druzhinnik cavalry, is at best a second-rate cataphract. As of patch 1.0.7, they’re pretty useless—they're now poor with their primary weapon at every upgrade stage. Once fixed, they’ll hopefully be useful as a mobile reserve.

(Image credit: TaleWorlds)

Aserai

The desert-dwelling Aserai have arguably the best starting position in the game. Separated from any enemies by a natural chokepoint in both the east and the west, their borders with enemies are quite small, so they’re well-positioned for expansion. At the same time, the Aserai can struggle to exploit their protected status because their main cities are so far into the desert from their borders. AI-controlled Aserai lords often spend as much time going home to recruit as they do fighting.

Unlike other factions, Aserai troops split from recruit into separate trees of either standard or specialty, rather than melee and ranged. The standard tree is lackluster, so you’re ultimately better off getting archers and infantry from other faction recruits. 

That said the specialty Mameluke tree is superb. Aserai Mameluke Palace Guards are heavy-armored shock infantry with two-handed axes. Aserai Mameluke Cavalry and Heavy Cavalry are fast compared to their counterparts in other factions, and with their bows and swords they serve any cavalry role required. Aserai’s rare recruit tree, the Aserai Youth, upgrades into a great unit of hit-and-run cavalry lancers much faster than any other faction’s equivalent units.

Khuzait Khanate

Based on the steppe civilizations of the Huns and Mongols, the Khuzait inhabit a huge and otherwise empty region on the eastern end of the map. Their high mobility is their strength on the steppe with their relatively large numbers of cavalry. Still, this area is not without its challenges: The most dangerous bandit faction in the game, Steppe Bandits, are always a nuisance here.

Thankfully for the Khuzait, the Steppe Bandits and Khuzait share a key and dangerous attribute: Horse archery, led by the Khuzait Tribal Warrior, a tier 2 unit already equipped with a horse and bow. The Khuzait Heavy Horse Archer is the best horse archer in Bannerlord, and even if the Khuzait Heavy Lancer isn’t the best heavy cavalry, once the enemy has been pelted with hundreds of arrows that’s not going to matter. 

The Khuzait rare recruit is the Noble’s Son, which upgrades into the Khuzait Khan’s Guard, a heavily armored cavalryman with both a bow and a long bladed polearm. The Khuzait Khan’s Guard might just be the best unit in Mount & Blade 2. 

To win as the Khuzait, form your horse archers into a column and ride a few circles around the enemy before sending in the rest of your army to break their scattered, arrow-riddled stragglers.

Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.