Due to multiple factors, Bannerlord's field battle tactics are currently very shallow.
There's a clear best tactic: sit your archers on a hill, sit any infantry you might have in front of them stretched in a wide loose formation, and just sit perfectly still and watch the kills roll in. Or, have a party of all horse archers (Khan's Guard are particularly gamebreaking), have them follow you to prevent their AI doing anything stupid, and simply circle the enemy. You do not need to deviate from these tactics regardless of who you are facing. Due to the weakness of armor, battles also usually end too quickly for the player to really execute different tactics anyway.
Bannerlord doesn't need to be as tactically deep as Total War, but it can be better than this. Most of the pieces are there for a solid tactical game, they just don't work together. Here are some changes and additions that can be made to bring it together into a more engaging tactical experience, where the player needs to adapt their tactics over the course of a battle, and is rewarded for doing so.
A key component of any tactics game is being able to direct certain troops to attack specific enemy troops. So:
- Add the ability for the player to tell a formation of troops to target a particular enemy formation.
If TW can't manage to get the AI to do this, any substitute is better than nothing - like the ability to say "don't change targets after the first enemy you engage" or "ignore all enemies except this certain enemy type".
Right now tier means little for infantry, as only two T1 recruits are needed to mob and kill a T5 elite. But if higher tier units were better fighters, then a unit's tier could mean how many T1s it can fight at once. So numbers would not be the only factor of whether you win a battle, tier would be as well. A smart player could multiply troop tier by quantity in their head to make an informed decision on whether their forces' experience outweighed a numbers disadvantage - though that number would, of course, not be a guarantee of victory, due to all the other tactical factors.
"The enemy has 100 men, and I have only 50. But their forces are inexperienced and poorly equipped, made up of 40 T1s and 60 T2s, while my men are all experienced and well-equipped T4s. So despite our numerical disadvantage, we can still probably win if we attack."
In order to make tier meaningful:
- Make armor provide significantly better protection against ranged attacks, and slightly better protection against some other sources of melee damage.
- Raise the threshold for a stun to occur on armor, so that two very low tier AIs with weak weapons cannot easily perma-stun a higher tier AI wearing good quality armor.
- Implement the morale changes listed below which make tier more impactful in morale.
Soft counter systems of some kind are common in tactics games. They form naturally, from the real-life strengths and weaknesses some types of soldier have against each other. MP's Captain Mode has a partial counter system in place.
Soft counters add a tactical variable for a good player to think about: choosing troops that are good against the type of enemy you're facing to gain an advantage. On the other hand, the player's troops can be countered too, and a good tactician can offset the disadvantage by using terrain, flanking, morale, formations, having troops of higher tier, personally reinforcing the formation that is countered, or sending in other troops of a different type to reinforce the countered troops.
In this way, soft counters make tactical gameplay important. Here is an example of how a soft counter system could work in Bannerlord.
Pike Infantry: Uses a two-handed braceable polearm, with backup throwing weapons. Is strong against melee cavalry, thanks to their braced pike that can stop and seriously injure a charging horse.
Shock Infantry: Uses a two-handed high damage weapon, with a backup small shield. Is strong against shield infantry, thanks to their high damage which can shred shields.
Shield Infantry: Uses a large shield and one-handed weapon, with backup throwing weapons. Is strong against ranged infantry, as their shield can soak up arrows while closing into melee range.
Ranged Infantry: Uses a bow, crossbow, or javelins. Is strong against ranged cavalry, as being steady on foot allows for more accuracy, faster fire rate, and the use of more powerful ranged weapons.
Ranged Cavalry: Uses a horse and bow or javelins. Is strong against pike infantry, who carry no shield to protect them from arrows, and cannot catch up to the cavalry to fight.
Melee Cavalry: Uses a horse and usually a couchable polearm. Is strong against shock infantry, who have no braced pike or large shield to protect them from a couched lance charge.
Some of this already holds true in the game, but not all of it. To implement a counter system the following changes would be needed:
- Make melee cavalry more accurate in their charges. Also, make melee infantry less accurate at hitting fast-moving cavalry. Currently due to poor attack timing/aim, melee cavalry will fail many attempts at couched lance charges. This means they are not a real threat on the battlefield, not really worth taking or using, and they get murdered by shock infantry rather than countering them. Once they can charge properly, and shock infantry are not superhumanly accurate, this situation should reverse.
- Make armor work better, so that archers and horse archers aren't strong against all sorts of infantry and melee cavalry, and are limited to one strength/weakness each.
- The troop trees need to be reworked, mainly so that pikemen can be included more - as currently the amount of troops in Bannerlord that can actually brace is quite small- but also to reduce the amount of large shields in the game now that armor actually works, so post-nerf archers have enough shieldless targets to shoot at so they aren't too weak; and to make the factions more distinct in the troop types they have available, so the player has to change their tactics more based on the faction they're facing. Below is an example of how that could be done.
When armor becomes more useful and troops take longer to die, morale will become more important. Bannerlord has a morale system where individual troops will flee based on nearby actions, but it appears to have no morale effects on the formation or army level - troops will stay in formation down to the last man
if something does not happen to make them individually flee. The dev blog on morale
said that a chain rout would be able to occur and cause an entire formation to dissipate, and gave historical examples of what they were going for by discussing an entire army routing in a historical scenario, but this is currently not the case. In order for this to happen in the game, more morale systems are needed. Also, the player currently has no reason to make their formation deep in infantry vs. infantry combat. In real life, the reason was that troops behind would stop the man in front from running away. So this needs to be simulated with a morale bonus, to make deep formations useful. And to create tactical depth with a morale system that the player can actually affect in gameplay, formation morale is needed, so the player can cause chain-routs by targeting and breaking low-morale enemy formations.
- Implement Global Morale: When a force is outnumbered past a certain amount, all troops below a certain tier flee. For example, if the army is outnumbered by 4x, all T2 troops will flee. This threshold is altered by the party's morale before the battle, and Leadership of the commander. If the commander is lost, the threshold of outnumbering required to flee drops dramatically.
- Implement Formation Morale: Each formation has a numerical morale value, set at the beginning of the battle based on party morale, tier, and Leadership skill of the commander. Nearby events happening, such as the captain getting kills or losing the banner bearer, causes formation morale to raise/lower; reaching zero causes a full formation rout. You can see which of your formations are low morale and reinforce them. With higher Tactics skill, you can see enemy formation morale, and make informed tactical decisions based on it.
- Being attacked from the flank should inflict heavy Formation Morale damage.
- A higher-tier formation attacking a lower-tier formation should reduce their Formation Morale. For example, T6 Banner Knights charging a formation of T1 Recruits should inflict some temporary morale damage, and make them likely to flee if they do not have a commander with good Leadership.
- Make it so that being in a deeper formation improves Formation Morale. This will balance out the encirclement advantage of being in a wider formation.
- Individual troops are currently very, very likely to rout at the drop of a hat if they are T1-2, but above T3 almost never rout. The likelihood of individuals routing needs to be a more gradual curve, otherwise morale becomes not important.
Combine all these elements, and this is what Bannerlord's tactical gameplay will look like. (green tick = already in game):
More men makes you more likely to win. Simple on its own, but becomes one of multiple factors to take into account with everything below.
Higher tier = can take on significantly more enemies, and possibly win against a numerical disadvantage.
UNIT TYPE/SOFT COUNTERS
Pike infantry, Shock infantry, Shield infantry, Ranged infantry, Ranged cavalry, Melee cavalry. Each of these troop types has an advantage and disadvantage against one other type.
Elevation, cover, chokepoints, water: their effect on the speed of cavalry and infantry, what ranged attackers can shoot, and protecting the flank of a smaller force against a larger one.
Flanking: hit enemy formation from side or rear to significantly impact the whole formation's morale, maybe causing it to rout.
Line, square, shieldwall, wedge, column, circle, etc.; each formation has different usefulness against different troop types.
Depth of formation- wider formation to encircle enemy, deeper formation for better morale and entangling cavalry.
Individual morale: A unit will break and run if nearby factors of death or allied retreat cause it to lose too much morale.
Formation morale: A whole formation has a morale score which, upon reaching 0, causes it to break and run. It is influenced by factors like the banner bearer being alive or dead, its captain dying/getting kills, kills and losses, etc. The player can see enemy formation morale if they have good Tactics skill, and target formations with weak morale to try and cause a chain rout.
Intimidation: A high-tier formation of elite troops charging a low-tier one will cause their morale to drop.
Global morale: If numbers disadvantage becomes too high, or the commander is lost, entire sections of the army below a certain tier can break and run, causing a chain rout.