Battle Brothers makes its name as another entry into the ever popular Rouge-like genre. Originally entering Early Access in April of 2015, the game saw its full release in March of 2017. With turn based combat as one of the primary mechanics, Battle Brothers draws comparisons to genre standouts like Darkest Dungeon and the XCOM series. But does Battle Brothers stand up to these comparisons, or does it fall a bit flat?
Battle Brothers is available on Steam for $29.99
The story of Battle Brothers is fairly straightforward. You are the leader of a mercenary company, and your goal is to make a name for yourselves, and more importantly, a mountain of gold. How you decide to go about doing this is up to you. You can be a cruel brigand, attacking peasants and taking less than honest work from some of the local lords, or you can become a local hero, always following through with your contracts no matter what and protecting the common folk. In the end what matters is that you not only survive, but prosper.
The world of Battle Brothers, while taking place on randomly generated maps, will always have the same constants. The land is split between settlements aligned to three different noble houses, and in addition to being terrorized by thieves and brigands; the peasants are beset by Greenskins (a.k.a orcs and goblins) and the undead. You, as a mercenary, will have to deal with all these conflicts.
One interesting thing to note about Battle Brothers is that party members will have their own different backgrounds that apply to how they will perform within your party. A farmer forced to abandon his home may be hardier than the former servant released by his master. A former court jester will be much more likely to run away than a battle hardened sell sword. With fifty different base backgrounds, as well as varying flavor text for each individual recruit, the player can create a very diverse company.
As mentioned earlier, the primary gameplay element of Battle Brothers is its turned based combat, using a hex grid based map. This mechanic in itself has several different aspects to it, and for most players it will take more than a few dead party members before they start to get the hand of the combat system.
The outcome of the battle will rely on both your own strategic ability as well as a set of important attributes each character has. These attributes are as listed below:
- Hitpoints: The characters health, the importance of which is fairly self explanatory. The more health someone has, the less likely they are to be horrendously murdered
- Fatigue: Each movement made by a character builds up fatigue, until they are unable to maneuver any longer. Upgrading fatigue increases how high it can build to. At the end of each turn characters lose 15 fatigue.
- Initiative: The higher your characters initiative, the earlier they take there turn during a round.
- Resolve: The resolve attribute effects the characters morale. Characters with high morale will be gain bonuses in combat, while letting it get too low can cause allies to retreat mid battle.
- Melee & Ranged Skill: Putting points into these attributes will increase the chance of hitting an enemy with melee and ranged weapons. Hit chances can go as high as 95% and as low as 5%.
- Melee & Ranged Defense: These attributes determine the characters ability to dodge melee and ranged attacks. As with the attributes listed above, chances can reach 95% or be as low as 5%.
Combat can also be affected by both the players equipment and the terrain the battle takes place on. Head and body armor will absorb damage that would usually go to the characters HP. If it takes to much damage, the characters armor will reduced to zero durability and made useless. Shields affect the characters dodge chances, as well as absorbing damage that would otherwise hit the character. It is also possible for armor and shields to be destroyed permanently during battle.
Weapons will determine the actual damage done to characters during battle, usually being a random roll out of a maximum and minimum value. Weapons will have different advantages and disadvantages depending on the opponents being faced. Spears and swords aren’t very effective against heavily armored opponents, but don’t cost nearly as much stamina to use. Weapons can also ignore a certain percentage of armor, with some being much more effective against armored opponents. Weapon reach is also important. Bows and crossbows allow the player to attack from far away, will polearms can attack enemies from outside of their zone of control. As with shields and armor, weapons are also have their own durability. In addition, ranged gear has a limited amount of ammunition.
Terrain and time of day can also have effect on the battle. At night, characters line of sight are lowered, as well as the range of ranged weapons. Different types of terrain can cost more or less AP to make a move, limiting how fast you can get across the map. In addition, different levels of elevation can both help and harm players. Being at a higher elevation than an enemy gives you advantages in both hit and dodge chances. It also gives additional range to bows and crossbows.
Characters gain experience through battle, with those getting kills often leveling up faster than others. That being said, if a character is falls in battle, there’s a high chance they will be killed. They are gone forever, and you’ll have to replace them with a new recruit. Through each level up, the character can upgrade three of their attributes and can choose a new perk per level. Some of these perks can increase hit and dodge chances, while others give the characters new skills in battle. Individual characters have different talents and traits that will impact how they improve their skills and how they perform in battle. Talents are shown by stars on the attributes, ranging from one to three stars. The more stars, the more points the character gains by upgrading them.
Traits will vary from character to character, and can give them advantages and disadvantages in combat. For example, the Brave trait gives the character an additional five resolve, while the Dumb trait lowers the amount of experience they gain. The characters background can also affect what traits they get. A deserter is more likely to have traits like Craven than a wild man or a sword master. Some traits are permanent, while others can change over time.
Another important mechanic that effects the characters attributes are injuries. During combat, a character can take severe damage that causes them an injury that will negatively affect their stats and morale. Some injuries can be treated or waited out until they heal, though at time they can suffer from a permanent injury, such as the loss of a limb or internal damage. A character with several injuries piled up will be noticeably less effective in combat, and could very easily end up killed.
Outside of combat, the player will manage their party while travelling from settlement to settlement in search of contracts. The party will need to be payed and fed, as well as keeping a supply of tools for weapon repairs and medicine to treat injuries. Running out of food and gold can cause members to abandon your company, while a lack of medicine and tools can take a severe toll on your effectiveness in battle. Most supplies can be purchased in settlements or looted after a battle, and are essential to your survival. Settlements also provide an opportunity to recruit new party members, with more variety in larger settlements.
The main source of income the player has will come from completing contracts for notable citizens and the noble houses. The player is given a chance to negotiate the terms of the contract, such as the amount of pay, advanced payment, or any other conditions. The value of the contract increases as the character gains repute, which in turn increases as you successfully complete contracts and win battles. The player will also be given certain milestones to reach, that if completed will also increase repute. But beware, as the higher the reward the higher the danger.
As you travel the over world you will also deal with special encounters from time to time. The results of these will vary, often times affected by both the choices you make and the company you keep. Some characters will be able to add additional options to deal with the situations, while ate other times they can cause trouble with other party members or in a settlement.
After playing for around 100 in game days, you will have to deal with a late game crisis, the cause of which will vary from crisis to crisis. As you play you will get special encounters that give you a hint as to what the crisis will be. In my own play through, I would encounter travelers who kept speaking about the dead rising and attacking people. During these events new types of contracts can become available, and settlements can be destroyed. The latter of these can have an adverse effect on your ability to resupply, recruit, and acquire contracts.
While many other games use the same method of high difficulty to give the player a sense of achievement when they win, Battle Brothers has a severe problem in that it’s not a particularly fair game. You can only have a maximum of 12 characters from your party in battle, despite having a maximum party size of 20. At the beginning of the campaign it’s not as bad, but as enemy forces grow larger and larger you find yourself at a huge disadvantage. I assumed that the idea of this was to be able to switch out heavily injured party members in between battles, but as the characters in reserve gain no experience, they are often severely underprepared to fight, and end up being slaughtered. A large majority of the money I made was spent on replacing recruits.
In addition, the enemy has two other huge advantages over player characters. First of all, they regain twice the amount of stamina that your party does, allowing them to get off more attacks and maneuvers than your own men could. Secondly, enemy bowmen and crossbowmen are not hampered by a limited amount of ammo, while the you will only have a max of 30 shots per character, assuming you gave them two extra quivers of arrows. The problem with this is that it actually limits your strategy options, as trying to turtle up while the enemy bombards you with arrows is ultimately futile, as it will never stop. The only really effective way to deal with enemies backed by archers is to bum rush them, as they themselves will often just make a shield wall and wait you out.
Graphics and Audio
Easily one of the strongest aspects of Battle Brothers is its game art. Reminiscent of series like D&D and Warhammer Fantasy, the dark fantasy style used helps bring to life the idea that the world you’re in is not a happy one, but a dim place plagued by conflict. The characters are designed in a chess piece like style during battle, while also showing the constant damage your characters sustain throughout your journey.
The sound design is solid, with attacks having nice solid effect whether they hit or miss. The music, while a bit generic fantasy, is still fitting for the game, though there are times in battle when it seems a bit too peaceful. Over all solid, but nothing spectacular.
While things like the traits and backgrounds give variety beyond just having separate classes, and the games art is certainly fantastic, it does little else to really separate itself, at least mechanically, from other games in the rouge-like genre. In addition, the high, and to be quite frank unfair, difficulty curve may turn players off, though fans of the genre will definitely find a fun, if not a bit frustrating, challenge.
+Strong art style and sound design
-Doesn’t do much to separate itself from its peers
+Simple but interesting premise with great writing
-High and unfair difficulty curve
+Backrounds and traits providing a nice change from usual class systems