Warning: You are about to laugh hard at the shame and embarrassment of a man who was defeated by a simple barrel in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord.
Thanks to my inability to recognize when I’m heading down a ridiculous and downright embarrassing road, I can never look my Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord troops in the eye again. Yes, I was vaguely aware of the term “sunk-cost fallacy;” I just didn’t expect barrel murder to figure into it.
In my defense, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is a little fuzzy about which action RPG tropes are present in the game. I was low on health and I figured that there had to be a potion or two lying around. And when I spotted a single, solitary barrel sitting in the open, I knew what I had to do.
I’d already dashed past several others, but there was something about the placement of this item that just screamed “break me.” I was still dabbling in Elden Ring, a game that literally lets you smash furniture by rolling into it, so I figured I was on reasonably safe ground — just a few swipes more and I’d be slurping sweet, healing nectar.
The first sign that something was a little off, that I wasn’t going to be rewarded with a health potion, a handful of gold pieces, or even a rusty dagger, came three or four hits in. The barrel was still unbroken, and as I continued my assault, my protagonist started screeching at this wooden menace.
“Die, dog!” she yelled, which would have been slightly less embarrassing if that weren’t the moment my troops chose to catch up with me. I’d run ahead, leaving them to finish off a couple of foes, which, admittedly, wasn’t a great look to start with.
But now, the men who had entrusted me with their lives and/or paychecks were watching me unleash my fury upon an inanimate and, apparently, invulnerable object. I paused briefly, considering my course of action. Should I admit defeat, stepping away and mumbling something about testing my axe? Or should I continue on this fruitless course, further shaming myself in their eyes?
The sunk-cost fallacy won out, and I continued my assault, both physical and verbal, on the barrel. “To hell with you!” was the next insult to leave my character’s lips. It didn’t help any. A few of my 15-or-so soldiers gawped in horror at me, while several others looked away, pretending they’d seen a really interesting rabbit just over there.
Suddenly, I was struck by a revelation, one born of desperation. Maybe I was going about this all wrong, just standing there smacking my axe into the side of a barrel. Clearly, what I had to do was use overhead swings — that’d do it! Anytime now I’d be looking at a pile of debris and a pair of leather greaves. Anytime now.
It took another 15 swipes before common sense reasserted itself in my brain and nonchalantly stepped away from that cursed container. Well, as nonchalantly as you can when you’ve been screaming and flailing at a barrel, producing nothing more than an intermittent jet of sawdust. But by then, the damage was done. See for yourself below.
Like the joke about the house-builder and the sheep, I knew I’d never be able to escape my shame. Maybe I could murder all the witnesses; I certainly didn’t have enough money to bribe them. But I didn’t fancy my chances, no matter how much I messed with Bannerlord’s difficulty settings.
If only that stupid barrel in Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord had behaved like 75% of action RPG vessels and disgorged some valuable item, shattered or not. Perhaps I could own my folly and have a barrel added to my clan’s flag. Or maybe, if I worked my way up to king, I could have every cooper in the land hurled into a deep, dark dungeon. That’d show them.
I’m tempted to take the New Game route, to erase the world where I fought — and failed — to defeat my rotund, wooden nemesis. That may seem extreme, but erasing the world as is guarantees there’ll be no one to mock me. But there’s one person who’d remember — me. So it looks like I’m going to have to live with my Bannerlord barrel shame for a long, long time to come.