Mount & Blade 2

The skill system seems great at first glance but, like Oblivion’s, it forces you to awkwardly metagame just to build a decent character.

I love "level up by doing" skill systems, so at first I thought I'd love Bannerlord's system: level up by doing, but spend points to accelerate the process for skills you value.

It's great, up until level 12 or so when you realize you haven't leveled up in a while and you check to see what's up. You notice two things:

  1. Your combat skills have hit hard caps and are no longer increasing.

  2. Many of your non-combat skills are not increasing much, even though you've sunk lots of attribute/focus points into them. Things like Charisma, Leadership, Steward, Tactics, Engineer, etc.

Suddenly you've stalled out, because all the primary skills that you can readily increase have hit hard caps, and the rest you can do little about. What can you do at this point? You can stop the role-playing and start metagaming, of course.

See, attribute/focus points, skills, and levels are a cycle where each one feeds into the next: attribute/focus points increase skill caps/multipliers, which gives you more skill increases, which give you more levels, which give you more attribute/focus points. At level 1, your number of "potential skill increases" (the total difference between your skills' current values and their hard limit) is way more than the number of skill increases required to level up, so it's easy. But later, level-ups require enough skill increases that your "potential skill increases" becomes a currency that can easily be mismanaged. This has two main effects:

  1. Every skill that hasn't reached its hard cap is wasted leveling potential. This mainly happens whenever you use only 1 or 2 skills for a given attribute. Got a Vigor of 6 so you can have high One-Handed and Polearm skill on horseback? Then you have a ton of wasted "potential skill increases" sitting in Two-Handed, because your Vigor of 6 has increased its cap to 120 (IIRC). You need to start using a two-handed weapon in order to continue leveling up your one-handed and polearm skills. It's not fun and it makes no intuitive sense.

  2. If you commit too many "potential skill increases" into a skill you can't level quickly (e.g. Leadership), then you've locked away much of your potential, and you can do nothing about it except wait. Excited about sieges so you put 5 Intelligence and 4 Focus Points into Engineer? Well now you have maybe 180 "potential skill increases" locked into that skill, so once you cap out your easily-attainable skills you'll stall out.

Read more:  Developer statement on priorities for singleplayer and the game engine.

This system forces the player to do all sorts of out-of-character things just to progress. I say "force" because it's not just slower to level up when you avoid metagaming, it's downright impossible. The Attribute Points are the worst offenders for this, because they affect three skills at once. You're pretty much always going to be increasing the cap of at least one skill you don't care about, and later you'll need to level the skill just to keep your character going.

The fix IMO is simple: remove hard caps entirely, and have the soft cap simply be a reduction to a x1 learning rate modifier. This way no player action is ever useless with regards to character leveling, and the worst-case scenario of a bad character build is that it makes progression slower, rather than halting it completely.


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