I am a big fan of a tactical game, and so was the obvious choice to check out the latest in the long list of those to come to the Xbox. Battle Brothers is from developers Overhype Studios, promising to bring a whole new level of challenge to the genre. The question that needs answering though is whether or not this actually brings anything new to the table. It’s time to strap on a shield and find out…
So, as usual I like to kick off by mentioning the story of the game. In this case, Battle Brothers refers to the name of a mercenary company, who, as the game opens, have been sent to chase down a notorious bandit by the name of Hoggart the Weasel. Sadly, things haven’t gone well, and the company has been roundly battered by the bandits – it is up to us to pull their bits out of the fire, rebuild the company and hone them into a lean, mean fighting machine.
Presentation wise and it must be said that Battle Brothers is an odd duck – and that’s being kind. In the majority of games of this type you’ll find the battlefields divided into squares. Well, not so this one, and instead they come in the form of hexagons. I don’t know why, as it doesn’t seem to offer any particular advantage over the squares, but there we go. The characters that you control are presented in an almost super deformed style, with only their heads really visible, and with no noticeable animation on these characters when they are moving or attacking. This does take some getting used, to be honest, and the minimal presentation is an acquired taste. Thankfully then the sound is suitably impressive, with groans, screams and sword swishes, bow twangs and goblin growls all present and correct.
Now, the way that Battle Brothers plays will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a tactics type game before. When a battle starts, the two opposing teams are drawn up on opposing sides of the battlefield. Each character that you control has a certain number of Action Points (AP) to spend, and they can use it to move, or attack, or maybe even both if they have enough. There are melee type characters, who have to be right next to an enemy to attack, and also ranged characters, who can use a bow or something similar to attack from a distance. Having a mix is usually a good thing in these types of games, however there are issues with this as I shall discuss later. Basically, what ensues is a series of turns where you try to kill the enemy, they try to kill you, and the winner is that of the last group standing. So far, so business as usual.
This one varies from the usual template in the parts that aren’t battle related. The world map gives you the ability to wander about at will, exploring the place, camping when the need arises to repair both equipment and people. As you wander, you will find new locations to explore, which can lead to either new fights or maybe even new towns to look in. These towns allow you to find new members of the band who can be hired, new weapons and supplies, and also bars to find rumours in, especially if you are willing to spend a few coins to buy a round. Looking around the towns will also allow you the chance to hunt out jobs for the mercenary group you lead, ranging from hunting down bandits to escorting supply convoys to their destinations. And obviously, every mission has the potential to lead to combat. As we all know, combat leads to XP which leads to characters levelling up and becoming stronger.
Now, the elephant in the room with Battle Brothers is found in the difficulty. Without a word of a lie, the learning curve is pretty vertical, and the enemies are absolutely brutal. When you start a game, the game itself recommends that you set the difficulty to easy and play the tutorial. You’ll certainly want to do that however this is a tutorial in name only, as there is absolutely no guidance at all about systems that power the game, or how to attack, even. I even started the game again as I thought I had chosen to skip the tutorial. Sadly, I hadn’t, and I was left to stumble through and kind of figure out what was going on.
When this lack of explanation is linked to a game where if someone dies, they are gone for good, it makes things a bit more difficult than they need to be. I still, to this moment, have no idea if characters can be healed in a battle.
The battles are so hard, and the systems are so obtuse, that the whole game is dragged down a little. In fact, at one point I ended up with only a single member of my whole company left alive, and he had to run to prevent the whole company being wiped out. The game is absolutely punishing, which isn’t normally an issue, but this time it just seems to be unnecessarily hard.
The other issue is that the flexibility that is normally included in those from the genre seems to missing, as a squad of archers will get roundly stomped in the first encounter, and the only way to keep people healthy is to make them melee fighters, equipping them with shields and the best armour you can afford.
But, Battle Brothers is rewarding – at least if you stick at it. But making a save before every battle is very much the way to go. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot to get involved in and there’s a ton of content to enjoy, but the difficulty sits in the mix like a wasp nest at a picnic – sooner or later something is going to sting, and it won’t be pleasant when it does.
By all means, if you want a challenge and enjoy a tactics game, pick Battle Brothers up. Just be aware that there’s a chance things may occasionally come crumbling down.
Battle Brothers is available to download from the Xbox Store