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Battle Brothers Review

by forgottenlor, 2017-05-18

The north side of the skeletal legionaries' battle line is starting to crumble, so imagine my surprise when the undead general sends his last two skeletons south to surround Konrad. Konrad is a tank. He's got fairly heavy armour and a shield. He just needs to hold out a few rounds, I think. The next round looks grim for the skeletons. Two more fall, and my troops continue to destroy the northern part of the undead line. Konard takes two hits. He's looking winded. The battle is more or less over. It's time to rescue Konrad. But all three skeletons next to poor Konrad hit him. The second one shatters his helmet. The third one strikes him down. It leaves me, despite my victory, with a bitter taste in my mouth. Konrad was the first of my battle brothers to fall in the line of duty. He was certainly not the last. Battle Brothers is a sandbox tactical RPG, where you lead a mercenary company to glory or destruction in a grim low fantasy world. It succeeds in investing you emotionally in your little group of warriors, and gives you the feeling of what it means to survive by scraping one conflict after another.


At the beginning skeletons can be a deadly threat.

 

Combat

Battle Brothers is a tactical RPG, and is best compared to games like X-Com and Heroes of Might and Magic. You spend a very large percentage of the game on the tactical battlefield. A game like this lives or dies based on how enjoyable it is to fight. The developers really did an excellent job with this portion of the game. While there are plenty of fine tactical games on the market, what really sets Battle Brothers apart is its fine attention to detail.

There are a large number of melee weapons each with its own specialty. Swords are fast and can be used to riposte. Axes can destroy enemy shields and you can't imagine how useful that can be. Flails can make aimed head shots. Never go into battle with orcs without a hammer. These can be used to destroy armour. Spears can be used to prevent enemies from entering the square in front of you. Pole arms can attack from the second rank. Two handed weapons are nasty, but require a lot of fatigue to use, and unlike many games, a shield in battle brothers often means the difference between life and death. Ranged weapons especially show the love for detail. Fire a bow or crossbow into a crowd, and even if you have a low chance to hit a particular target, you still have a good chance to hit the target or one of their neighbours.

Battlefield terrain comes into effect as well. It's a sizable advantage to be on higher terrain. Missile troops can fire farther when elevated. Some bushes provide cover. Others wall off hexes. Depending on where you fight on the world map, you end up fighting in thick woods, rugged hills or relatively flat terrain.

Goblin Wolfriders aren't tough, but they are fast and mobile. If you don't pay attention, they'll circle around behind your formation to pick off your lightly armoured archers.

There are three factions in Battle Brothers, the greenskins, the undead, and humans, and all of them have their own special units and characteristics. Even within a faction, opponents can vary wildly. Goblins for example have extremely swift and mobile wolf riders, and employ bows, bolas, and nets well. Orcs on the other hand only occasionally throw a javelin, but mostly they rush your lines. Unlike goblins many of them are heavily armoured, and they have extremely high morale, meaning they rarely break before the battle is more or less over. Occasionally hero type units appear and these are extremely unpleasant to face in battle. I rarely fought one of these without losing at least one of my mercenaries.

The orc warlord at the bottom is an enemy hero. The first time I fought this battle he decapitated 4 of my mercenaries. I decided to reload and try again. This time I have him surrounded.

Combat in general is deadly. Most of your mercenaries can't survive more than a few direct hits (not including blocks with a shield or dodging). Heavy armour helps, but it's extremely expensive and limits stamina. When stamina get low, attacking and moving is limited, and special weapon attacks are no longer available.

That combat works so well in Battle Brothers is typical of the developer's approach, which seems to put enjoyable game mechanics over everything else. It's one of the reason that Battle Brothers proves to be an enjoyable experience for as long as it does.

 

Campaign and Missions

Battle Brothers also has a strategic level. This is the campaign and its various missions. You start out the game by taking over the remnants of your mercenary company after your captain and most of your fellow soldiers are killed in an ambush. Your goal is to build up your mercenary company to its former glory, and surpass it. Battle Brothers' campaign is defined by its ambition system. After you gain vengeance against the bandit who set the devastating ambush, you're given the choice of ambitions. Do you want to build your mercenary company up to 12 men? Or visit all of the towns of the campaign world? Or how about win over a small town as an ally. These are all longer term goals, and all of them serve a practical purpose. Each time you fulfil an ambition you get rewarded with positive morale, but often the ambition is either a reward in itself, or gives you some sort of material benefit. For example once you save enough money to buy a battle standard, you actually get the standard, which turns out to not only be a flag, but also a deadly pole arm.

The difficulty of missions available and the amount of money they yield increases as the campaign progresses. There are also 3 different possibly endings (or you can play through all 3 endings in one campaign), which take the form of a late game crisis in the game world. My campaign featured an orc invasion, but an undead plague or a civil war between the game's noble houses are also possible outcomes. This has an effect on the kind of enemies you face near the end of the game (I ended up fighting lots of orcs and goblins) and offers a motivation to replay the game with another mercenary company. You can determine the end game crisis at the game's beginning or like me let the game choose at random. Playing the campaign through one crisis took me over 32 hours to complete.

Individually weak, zombies often appear in hordes. And killing them once isn't enough. Given time, they'll rise again.

Normally the path in succeeding in your ambitions, leads you in taking on various missions. You often are required to travel or to make an expensive purchase, and those things require money and supplies. You earn these by taking on various missions. Initially you have four types. Either you need to track down an enemy who has stolen something or is terrorizing a town, or you need to go to a location to battle enemies there. You can also work as a caravan guard or deliver goods on foot. Neither of the latter two jobs are as dangerous but they often play less, and sometimes aren't worth the bother. As the game progresses a few types of additional missions become available and very rarely a mission will have a twist. There aren't many missions, and they repeat themselves fairly frequently, but in general that's not so important, since they are a means to an ends.

Getting to choose an ambition is a tough decision, and advances the game along.

Not only do you need to jobs to fulfil your ambitions, but also upgrade your mercenaries. Levelling up is important and Battle Brothers has a very good character development system. Each character has 8 stats, including initiative, hit points, resolve, stamina (very important for wearing heavy armour, wielding heavy weapons, and using special abilities), melee attack, ranged attack, melee defence, and ranged defence. Each of these stats can be really important. Failing a resolve check means losing control of a mercenary (who usually flees). Being shot at by archers with a low ranged defence can be life threatening. And running out of stamina lowers a mercenary's action points, which can be very bad. That means most stats are pretty useful. Each time a mercenary levels up a random roll is made for each stat, and you can choose 3 stats to level up. So sometimes you get a level where you may have a low roll for melee attack and a very high roll for initiative and hit points, so you really have to weigh out not only what build you want for your mercenary, but whether it's sometimes worth investing in a stat where you get a good roll, even if it's not one of the primary stats for your build. In addition to these stats, your mercenary also gets to learn a new perk every level, which can give multiple useful advantages. In addition to levelling up, you'll see from the beginning of the game lots of nice, expensive weapons and armour your characters can't afford.

Buying a high quality weapon will help me in the long run, but I better be careful not to spend too much. I still need to regularly pay my troops and keep them well supplied with food and other supplies.

 

Your mercenaries need to eat, their equipment needs to be repaired, missile weapons need ammunition, and the injured need to be bandaged. Unlike many old school RPGs with these mechanics, Battle Brothers doesn't make you manually repair items or distribute arrows. You simply buy tools and over time your equipment is automatically repaired. Also quivers are filled from your missile supply after each battle. Medicine is expended as your soldier regenerate over time. I personally found this a nice system as it gives the feeling of realism without forcing the player to invest lots of time in what can be repetitive and not particularly interesting mechanics.

 

Story and Atmosphere

Battle Brother's story is told via its ambitions. It's basically about your rise as a mercenary commander, and your success (or lack thereof) of dealing with the game's endgame crisis. Each time you complete an ambition, you're given some text to read. The writing in battle brothers is actually quite decent. And the one place that the player really gets to read it, is after an ambition is fulfilled or during the relatively rare random events which occur from time to time, and which require a choice from you, sort of like in a choose your own adventure book. These minor events can often end with minor gameplay effects. All in all though you won't be spending much time on reading, and after the first two hours I rarely bothered reading the texts for individual jobs.

The job descriptions are actually very nicely written. Its just after you've played out a kind of job a couple of times, they become repetitive.

While Battle Brother's story is a relatively small portion of the game, Battle Brother's world does convey a wonderful low fantasy feeling. From the game's mercenaries, to its equipment, to its locations and opponents, Battle Brothers pays detailed attention to its world. Take locations for example. The game has three rival noble houses, each with their own "feel." Towns have their own wares and services, which makes sense based on their location. That's also true for the monsters. Undead (except for ghouls) are pretty much found in ruins, unless they are in the end game crisis.

Königswasser is a big port city, which means it offers a goond number of services. Currently its being raided by goblins. Here's a chance to earn some cash.

Your mercenaries also have their own background. These can vary quite a lot. For example there are fishermen, hunters, beggars, retired guardsmen, hedge knights, wild men, messengers, criminals, ex-torturers, merchants and some others. These backgrounds not only have an effect on stats, but can also effect random events. For example at one point, my level 2 hedge knight became upset that he wasn't earning as much as my level 8 wild man, who was obviously of inferior birth.

Unlike in most fantasy games, magic plays a very small role in Battle Brothers. You yourself have no magic at your command. Even the game's temples are basically hospitals where serious wounds can be healed faster, but not removed. In fact one of the game's most frequent magic opponent is the necromancer, whose powers are limited to raising fallen corpses or buffing an undead creature (but only one at a time). Nevertheless the necromancer is sort of a boss opponent who one only encounters rarely.

 

Presentation

Battle Brothers has a rather unique visual style which won't appeal to everyone. Town screens are simply one large picture with all the available locations. The world map is nicely done, and battlefields are hex maps very reminiscent of table top tactical games. The brothers themselves aren't particularly handsome men (and yes, they are all men), but you can customize their appearances at a barber shop, if you like. Both the brothers and opponents appear sort of like statue busts or chess pieces on the tactical map. You see their head and shoulders, but not their lower bodies. The reason for this becomes obvious as you play, and that is that the graphical presentation serves the game mechanics. Looking at the condition of the face, will automatically tell you how wounded a unit is. All equipment is depicted on the unit. If a helm is broken, it actually shatters with a hit, the same happens with a shield.
At the base of the unit are its weapons and a flag which shows the unit's current morale. That means you can see at a glance, everything you need to know about your units. I personally found this highly desirable after the first hour or two of gameplay, but one can't deny that it's not aesthetically pleasing.

Much of Battle Brothers in conveyed by text, like my wall of fallen brothers.

The music is well done, and everything else is related with nicely illustrated text windows. Still one has the impression that the developers of Battle Brothers invested their resources into making great gameplay and kept presentation to what was necessary. This approach won't please everyone (though it pleases me) and will probably represent the greatest hurdle as to whether a potential player would want to purchase the game .

 

Summary

I spent a lot of time reading our "how we review" before deciding on my rating. In the end I thought about how Battle Brothers compared to some of the milestones of the SRPG genre. The writing and story, which isn't the game's strength, certainly is better than what we find in Might and Magic 3, or X-Com. Yes the main missions are repetitive, but then again in X-Com players must also complete the same kinds of missions over and over again, and in Jagged Alliance 2 one fights many similar battles. In fact the only major complaint I can see is with the game's presentation. There is obviously no voice acting, or cut scenes (just vignettes with a picture and some text), and the graphics, though they convey the game's mechanics extremely effectively, aren't really pretty and won't be everyone's cup of tea. Those players who place a lot of value on presentation and in general can't get by the presentation found in indie games, may want to take notice and dump one or even two stars off my final value.

In terms of gameplay though, I found Battle Brothers to be comparable to the best tactical SRPGs I've played. The battles themselves are suspenseful, and are a pleasure to play. It's the sort of game where I found myself having to tear myself away from the computer. Just one more ambition. Just one more mission. So if you like SRPGs and sandbox games, then I'd highly recommend Battle Brothers.

Box Art

Information about

Battle Brothers

Developer: Overhype Studios

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 40-60 hours
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2017-03-24
· Publisher: Overhype Studios

More information

Summary

Pros

  • Detailed and suspense combat system
  • Great character and equipment mechanics
  • Excellent gritty low fantasy atmosphere
  • Well done ambition system
  • Crisis system offers lots of hours of gameplay.

Cons

  • Repetitive jobs
  • Visuals not especially attractive
  • Presentation done via text vignettes

Rating

Review version

Steam