The existential horror of playing Mount & Blade 2 on easy mode

In the 400-something hours I’ve clocked in the Mount and Blade games, I’ve rarely bumped the difficulty above easy. It only provides a handful of bonuses: reduced damage, decreased troop upkeep, a speed boost on the overworld map. But as those bonuses interact with all of Mount and Blade’s systems, they cascade until your character has a gravity that pulls the game off its axis and into chaos. It’s a rare image of protagonism, with you playing the monster. 

It would be terrifying to share a world with a player character. You’d be coexisting with someone who literally operates under a different set of rules, casually warping reality as easily as they breathe. They act in ways that you can’t, and the world reacts in ways it won’t for you. For no discernible reason, the universe has chosen them as its sole fascination. 

In plenty of cases, there’s in-universe justification to paint over the existential horror: the main character’s the chosen one of some divine entity, went to the best secret agent school, or has a dragon’s soul in there somewhere. But games where your character’s theoretically just as mundane as anyone else can turn into a kind of morbid spectacle.

mount and blade 2

(Image credit: TaleWorlds Entertainment)

Imagine you’re the Vlandian noble from my recent Bannerlord campaign. For the last month, you’ve heard rumours of a stranger who appeared as if from nowhere. With only a dozen gathered peasants, they’ve stamped out the region’s banditry, carting in apprehended highwaymen for the city ransom brokers twice a day. Now they stand before you, offering their services as a mercenary in your king’s war effort. You can’t be blamed for what follows. You see only a probably-filthy vigilante; how could you know they’re just one cavalry lance’s worth of mercenary wages away from being a regicidal apex predator?