General game information
Game name: Battle Brothers
Release date: March 24, 2017
Price: US$ 29.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Turn-based tactical RPG
Developer: Overhype Studios
Publisher: Overhype Studios
Battle Brothers is a turn-based tactical RPG that tasks players with assembling and maintaining a small mercenary band in a low fantasy medieval world filled to the brim with bandits, wild beasts and other dangerous foes. The game starts with our not so merry band getting decimated by the forces of the target they were sent to hunt, and our character having to take command after the previous captain met a grisly end. From that point onwards, every decision we make will affect the lives of our brothers in arms, as we have to direct them in battle, manage their equipment and amass enough cash to be able to both pay their wages and keep them fed, healthy and relatively happy.
As it’s the case with the Mount and Blade series, for example, Battle Brothers doesn’t have an overarching narrative, instead using our exploits to create emergent storytelling. With the exception of a few things, every player will get a different experience, and the choices we make as our mercenary company grows will either take us to a “game over” screen or one of several “retirement” endings, where our character leaves the band for good and someone else takes over the mercenary captain role. Our main objective will vary depending on our playstyle, but most people will probably try to build up their company in order to gain more reputation and cash (that can be then invested in better gear for our men, in order to continue the cycle).
Battle Brothers‘ main gameplay elements involve two parts, roaming a world map looking for job offers from local lords or important people, and carrying out these tasks in turn based combat scenarios. Since we are the leader of a band of sellswords, we get to decide whether we want to accept the quests being offered to us or not, based on the amount of coin we’ll get for their completion and the odds of success. After accepting a task, we won’t be able to take on any other job until our current objective is completed (or we fail/choose to abandon it, something that will affect our relations with the affected faction).
Quest givers will give us a more or less detailed description of the task that we must carry out, something that is achieved through well written snippets of text that left me wanting to know more about the world. Sadly, due to the random nature of most things in Battle Brothers, we may end up accepting a quest, completing it, travelling to another village.. and then getting the exact same task but with altered MacGuffin names. Other text based events suffer from the same issue, turning stories that should have been unique (or at least not repeated in the space of a few hours) into relatively common things.
Luckily, Battle Brothers‘ combat part doesn’t suffer from the repetition that sometimes plagues the text sections. Maps are randomly generated, so the odds of fighting in the same terrain twice are extremely low, and the enemies we’ll meet will also change from playthrough to playthrough. Battles take place in turn based scenarios, and both our units and our foes’ are represented by small miniatures which also depict their state (as the engagement progresses, they’ll get progressively more bruised, and may even lose limbs, depending on the gravity of their wounds). Every character has a number of action points which may be spent in order to move, attack the enemy forces or perform a special move such as a shield wall, or a riposte. Combat takes into account the terrain, any untreated wounds that may already afflict our units, their morale, equipment weight and position. For instance, a soldier equipped with a mace will be really useful against an armored target (but weak against other enemy types) a merc who’s been wounded on his arm will probably miss often, and units that get above/behind the opposing forces will have a bonus to their chances of hitting their targets.
While I love the combat system created by Overhype Studios, I must point out that there is a distinct lack of ingame tutorials, so players who wish to survive past the first ten days should head over to the developers’ Youtube channel and watch the lengthy tutorial videos that are available there. This isn’t ideal, and it’s sad to see an otherwise excellent experience marred by poor ingame help, but I can understand the reasons behind this decision, as the development team is quite small. Hopefully they will be able to add a better tutorial system down the line, as a post-release update.
As I said previously, battle wounds aren’t just a cosmetic touch and they affect our men’s combat performance greatly, so we should always be prepared to put wounded soldiers in reserve and swap them out for fresher units. This means that even though the maximum amount of controllable units that can be on the battlefield at any time is limited to 12 (excluding war dogs) our mercenary company will probably end up fielding more people in order to be able to rotate them out of the active roster. Sadly, some wounds are permanent, and sometimes we may have to let go of mercs who served us well after they lose enough limbs or sustain permanent brain damage, for example. Soldiers lost in battle will stay dead, and at some points I found myself placing newly recruited units in harm’s way so my wounded veterans could retreat and live to fight another day.
With the coin obtained from completing quests, we can buy food, pay our men’s wages, and most important of all, upgrade their equipment. The right tool for the job can often decide who walks away from the battlefield with their head still on their shoulders, and Battle Brothers is full of useful weapons and items that can be used to gain an advantage during a combat encounter, but we have to be aware that there are always some trade-offs when equipping our mercenaries. The same thing goes for their armor, while it’s incredibly tempting to spend our hard earned cash on shiny chain mail, some units don’t really benefit from it and may actually underperform if we force them to wear heavier protection.
Individual units can also level up, and a relatively straightforward skill system lets us make even more choices that may or may not come to bite us in the rear down the line. High level mercenaries can also be recruited in the different towns strewn about the world map, but they will require both a big up-front sum of cash, and higher wages than the ones we pay to normal units.
Gamers who survive enough time to see their mercenary company grow into a respected force will be able to face endgame crises which spice things up enough to force the player to approach combat situations in different ways or abandon their long term goals in order to deal with more pressing matters. Two of the three different crises that may pop up during a match can also alter the game world permanently, as human settlements may be destroyed with no way to rebuild them.
Graphically, Battle Brothers seems like a mixture between Mount and Blade’s world map and a board game. The overworld looks like an old map, with a tiny bobblehead figure marking our mercenary company’s position, and similar icons signalling other bands, bandits, etc. Once we zoom in to the battle view or open our inventory, we can also see that our units look like ugly bobbleheads, with details such as warts, scars and other deformities giving our characters a personal touch that I appreciated greatly, as it let me identify my trusted veterans with a single look.
To sum up, Battle Brothers is an incredibly engaging experience, forcing players to make meaningful choices as they manage a mercenary company and try to leave a mark in a detailed fantasy world. It’s not a perfect game, and it could use a better tutorial, but players looking for a deep turn-based tactical RPG will definitely get a lot of enjoyment out of Overhype Studios‘ excellent first title.
9/10 – Great.