XCOM and Game of Thrones’ bastard son.
Morning dawned on us with steel and blood. A group of bandits caught us sleeping, and of course they took advantage of the situation to profit with gold, provisions and weapons. They obviously noticed our sorry state and thought it would be easy, after all, my men had already travelled in the god-forsaken mountains for a week. Ever since we accepted the contract to chase the bandits that stole a certain relic from a wealthy merchant, things only went downhill. We where lost in the mountains, too far from civilization, our provisions where about to run out, our money too and my men where suffering from wounds, thanks to the constant battles with direwolves. As expected, my men where tired, hungry, injured and slow. Some of them where about to break formation and run back to the campside, to desert, no doubt. However, they mustered whatever little strength and courage they had left, and formed the spearwall, as I ordered them to do so. The battle was fierce, but short. As the bandits fell one after another to our spears, axes and swords, my men slowly advanced. The terrrain of the mountains however, forced us to break formation and try to encircle the enemy’s archers. That’s where things got real nasty. The bandits took advantage of the spearwall gone, and descended upon us like vultures on a carcass. Eventually, we won the day, but at what cost? Out of my 15 men, only 8 survived with permanent wounds. The others died in battle, or bled until there was nothing left inside them. As we returned to the campsite, I realised that now, I had to deal with famine, desertion and low morale. Tell you what, this whole chaos was not worth the 400 gold we where promised. This is, however, life in Battle Brothers, and you better adapt to it quickly.
Battle Brothers is set in a low-fantasy medieval world. That means you will encounter the occasional undead, orc and goblin horde, but magic has very little presence here and times are as rough as they can be. After a failed battle to kill a wanted criminal and his goons, you are left in charge of a small mercenary company. A tutorial that barely covers the basics will demonstrate how everything works, and then you are left to face the world and make a name for yourself and your men.
While there is no actual story in the form of main quests, there are countless other incidents happening across the world. You will have to participate in the nobles’ squabbles, or you will be called upon to protect the villages from a greeskin horde that ravages everything in its path. The world is full of misery and suffering, and this creates opportunities for a mercenary company, like yours. Only Game of Thrones portrays medieval suffering in such a fashion, and it’s really good.
The numerous quests are nice and all, but it’s dissapointing to see that in their core, are 10 different quests with altered text. It’s always the same, hunt the bandits, escort the merchants, find the relic etc. It would be nice to see a main questline, which will add some more depth in the game. The reason this feature is absent is understandable, the developers simply wanted to make the world feel “free”. Still, it’s a minus.
This is where the fun begins. In Battle Brothers, the world is yours to explore. There are no limits to where you can go, provided you have enough provisions. Every town, village and city has quests, shops and potential recruits, and you can visit all of them, right from the start of the game. While wandering from settlement to settlement, you will notice the map is pretty busy. You will always encounter army patrols, other mercenary bands and trade caravans going about their business. On the other hand, if you wander too far from the road, it’s a death sentence. The wilderness is crawling with bandits, direwolves and abandoded towers, full of undead to explore. It’s a world that feels alive and makes you feel insignificant, especially in early levels. After all, you are just another mercenary company. The nobles can hire as many as they want.
Money is the reason you and your men walk, talk, breathe, eat and exist. That sweet, shiny substance is tough to obtain and even tougher to maintain. Your men must be paid, or else you face the danger of standing on the shield wall alone. Take as many jobs as you can and finish them as fast as you can, but keep in mind to always save some money for tough times. If you spend all your money in good equipment and the next quest is weeks away, don’t expect your men to feel happy about it. Get some basic armor and steel, hire a couple of drunk farmers and march. Don’t worry, any character can be shaped in a good warrior. Or die in the process.
Speaking of which, Battle Brothers is extremely deep and well structed, when it comes to your men. They are not just pawns in your grand scheme of greatness, they have actual lives and you will feel bad for them when they die. Based on their backgrounds, your men will have the appropriate traits, skills and preferences. For example, a farmer may have more resistance to damage, but he’s useless with a bow, while a thief is fast, good with a knife and a crossbow, but don’t expect him to face tougher enemies with heavy armor and an axe. Every character has unique stats, and keep an eye out for stats with stars. If a character has 1-3 stars above a certain stat, that means you have to level these up, since they will evolve your character to something better than a drunk farmer, covered in his own piss.
In a similar fashion to characters, equipment has its own stats. Every weapon is good at something. Axes are great for smashing shields like firewood, hammers and pickaxes are ideal to tear the armor of your enemies apart, while spears are perfect for keeping enemies at bay, but good luck trying to kill an armored enemy with them. Keeping a good balance between the weapons your men have, means you will be able to deal with every situation. Keep that in mind.
All in all, Battle Brothers is like a board game. The terrain changes accordingly, based on where you where on the map. If you picked a fight with some pesky bandits in the mountains, prepare for a lot of hills, that give height advantage (IT’S OVER ANAKIN, I HAVE THE HIGH GROUND!). Use the terrain carefully to your advantage, since you can tire the enemy out faster and deal more damage with ranged weapons. Every character is portrayed like a chess piece, moving around as if an invisible hand is directing it. But we will leave that for the “graphics” sector.
One of the biggest drawbacks this game has, is the menu. Why, oh why, the developers did not throw somewhere a comparison screen? If you want to compare pieces of equipment, you have to open a screen, close another, open a sub-menu, and search each and every one of your men to see who’s carrying what. Would it be such a pain to add a screen when you select a weapon that says “the character you are hovering above has this weapon compared to this”? Jeez, it only ruins the fun, but not entirely.
One last warning: in this game, you are at the mercy of RNG. Prepare to witness failed shots with 90% success rate and your men getting mauled by orcs that are 10 times less experienced and well-equipped compared to you. Be patient, it’s just the way this game works.
This was one of the rare cases where a game surprised me in a good fashion. The whole minimalistic style was, at first, a bit dull and lacking detail. All I could see was characters like chess pieces, moving around without any worthy animation. Slowly, I started noticing the details. Necks snapped under the pressure of axes, heads flied in the air after a good swing of a greatsword and eyes went black with blood after many hits in the head with a club. The game has a surprisingly good amount of detail when it comes to gore. If one of your men permanently loses his nose to a spear, his portrait and “chess piece” will adjust accordingly. If a soldier is wounded in his arm, he will have some bandaged tied there until the wound heals. The pixelated violence is amazing, you won’t find anything like it anywhere.
Still, the lack of animations was dissapointing. I get the whole “board game” feel the game has, but an attack is just the “piece” shaking like a maniac and a couple of effects to top it off. I could not help but feel that this game has such a great caliber, it’s only appropriate to have detailed 3D models and animations. You can’t have it all, I guess.
The sound on the other hand, is flawless. The music tracks are incredible, with medieval-like tunes that amplify the atmosphere and pump you up for the battle ahead. Kudos to the team that composed the music and effects, they did an incredible work. I have a couple of tracks stuck in my head days now, and I’m close to making one a ringtone. The sound effects are also exquisite. When you visit a town, you will hear people selling their wares in the market, bells ringing and soldiers patrolling. The overall sound helps a lot with creating a medieval atmopshere, and you can’t have any complaints here.
What are you still doing here? You’re still thinking about it? Only once every 6 months a game of this caliber is released and it’s bloody worthy of every penny and cent you will spend for it. I reccomend it hands-down, I had tons of fun trying to keep my company alive and guide them to fame and riches. It’s realistic, it’s difficult, it’s merciless and it will make a man out of you. Go for it!
- Deep, immersive gameplay.
- Your merceneries feel like actual characters with complex stories and backgrounds.
- The soundtrack will make love to your ears.
- The graphics have a nice amount of detail.
- Many ways to approach a battle, the story, everything.
- It's as merciless and difficult as it must be.
- A huge, busy world to explore.
- No main questline.
- For a game of this caliber, the graphics could be nicer.
- The animations could use some improvement.
- Silly gameplay elements like the menus are spoiling the fun.
- For players used to casual games, this is a nightmare.
- It needs better tutorials.
- No main questline.