For this month's blog prompt “The Company You Keep” I'd like to take a look at the companion system in Mount and Blade: Warband and why it works so well.
Mount and Blade: Warband's companions have backstories, stats, gear, rivalries, and friendships that all work to tell unique stories about them and their journey alongside you.
One of the companions, Bunduk, is an experienced Rhodok guardsmen. When you find him, he's just left his post because of his guard captain told him off despite being a quarter of his age and definitely not experienced. Just another prince put in power by blood rather than qualifications. When you offer to pay his tab he joins you with a crossbow and padded jacket, sometimes being better equipped then the starting player. The best part of his skills is his training stat. His time with the guard gave him the experience to train recruits quickly and can be invaluable at all stages of the game. Bunduk shines as one of your most helpful companions but there is another companion who fits a similar mold, Lezalit.
|"Sir. Bunduk is incorrigibly indisciplined. During that skirmish, I called out to him that should hold ranks with the rest of the battle array. He called back to me that I should 'get stuffed.'" - Lezalit on Bunduk (Image Source)|
Lezalit fits a similar niche, he starts with a high trainer stat and an excellent power strike, making him an easy fill in warrior for your front line. However, Bunduk and Lezalit disagree heavily on how to train troops. Their likes and dislikes can drive a wedge between them during your campaign which culminates in one of them leaving if you can't keep them satisfied. Bunduk respects a lord who can win battles with as few causalities as possible and you don't lose relationship by retreating from hard engagements. Lezalit however, could care less if 90% of your army dies and you had to rob a village to feed your army. If you enter a fight, retreating is an attack on his pride as a warrior. You can end up in a situation where after a battle, Lezalit and Bunduk get into a fight and you need to pick a side. If you pick Lezalit, Bunduk's relationship will drop and losing battles would drop it to dangerous levels.
Eventually a companion will be fed up with their treatment, and just decide to split ways with your army. Which means you lose the equipment you gave them, and the stats you allocated for them are gone. This can vary from a redundant companion being removed from your party, to a massive hole in your army. Companions like Borcha offer stats like spotting, tracking, and path-finding which if he decides to leave over personal differences, would cripple your army.
It's this relationship system that makes Mount and Blade's companion system shine. To compare to Skyrim's companion system there is Erandur, one of my favorite companions. However, if you complete Erandur's quest and then ask him to join you, his personality will never manifest in the mechanics of the game. Sure he says fun quips about being in dark places and refers back to Mara when smiting the dead, but he'll never leave you. He's bound by forces that don't make sense, cause if I started slaughtering the whole Church of Mara in Riften. Erandur the character would have left my service the second I killed an innocent person. But Erandur the companion doesn't have that same character. In fact, he joins me in fighting off the guard.
Mount and Blade does a fantastic job to give life to companions via conditional checks that your army would be going through anyway. It creates tales interactions where players gain or lose companions based on how their company is going, and in the end helps the game feel alive. It's a premium example on how flavor and mechanics can work together to make characters feel completely different despite offering the same bonuses.
Addendum: I used to wonder why my friend liked Lezalit so much, but after researching him I realized that there is a whole lot he offers that makes him a great companion. Bunduk might have the moral high ground in my opinion, but Lezalit will stay in your party even if you get completely destroyed by an enemy. There is something cool about how a character can have so many positive and negative traits, it really helps sell them as realistic characters. Cause man, Lezalit is an awful person but at least he's loyal.
Additionally this is my first community post, so if there are any style mistakes or feedback, I'm more than happy to receive it and improve.