by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Dogs of War
Surrounded in blood and carnage, your leader and many others - both friend and foe – have fallen around you. Your surviving band of brothers look to you now, a wolf among warriors to lead this pack of wounded mercenaries back to its former glory.
After the briefest of tutorials, really all the help you'll get for the remainder of the title, Battle Brothers instantly pushes you into the fray of a tactical RPG. In a way reminiscent of the Mount and Blade series, Battle Brothers, is all about embracing low fantasy dressed up in a mercenary tale that plays out in a fluid way each time you take it on. Your story, your ultimate goal, is grounded in your choices of where to go, what contracts to take, and how successful you are at fulfilling them. Barring a few late game threats, the majority of the game is a clean slate for you to chisel your tale of greatness, or failure.
The first thing that struck a chord with me was the game’s art style. It's an enjoyable sight to look at, from the overworld map, to townships, to the battlefields themselves and of course the characters upon them. Where the art shines most is during the battle segments, where all characters on the field are represented as busts that display their face, general armor, and weaponry. It makes it easy to organize an offense or defense, and it gives reason to the fair amount of customization that you can incur on each of the twelve members of your party.
Despite lacking of 3D models for the characters I never found myself confused about who I was looking at or where they'd be most opportunely placed on the field. The unique representation also allowed me to keep certain members a bit further back from the action, avoiding the clear and ever present danger of permadeath in any encounter. It was pretty shocking the first time I saw a rather bloody decapitation in this art style - RIP spearman I hardly knew you. When you lose a party member, they're gone forever.
The overworld itself reminds me of a hand drawn version of many of the places we saw in the Mount and Blade games. Accompanied by a soothingly orchestrated soundtrack, moving from place to place, sometimes under dire circumstances, was an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Such is the tone for most of the game, which for all of its battles often feels more like experiencing an interactive novel than a tactical RPG.
That's not to say that text is in your face constantly, there's plenty to read in Battle Brothers but not to the point it would be off-putting to anyone. But with occasional clicks to maneuver, attack, navigate the overworld map, and dealing with a rather annoying and clunky inventory system, it did feel more like I was watching things play out with only interactions here and there. Granted, those interactions literally put me on whatever path I chose, but I'm a habitual clicker and I needed to slow my clicks down. That's not a negative in the slightest but if you are action oriented, you may need to restrain yourself a bit.
Greenskins, factions or the undead
As your adventure goes on you will either make your riches or find yourself in danger of going broke. Eventually you'll reach a point of catastrophe, an endgame event of one of three scenarios that gives you your chance to make your band of brothers go down in the history of the lands. A war between factions, an invasion of greenskins that plague the countryside as they quickly spill forth, or my favorite; the rise of the undead. In the latter scenario permadeath no longer applies and you may see former friends among the masses of rotting corpses laying waste upon the land, replenishing their numbers with each fallen soldier and citizen.
It can get a bit difficult to reach the end game events though. You will need a little bit of luck and a lot of planning ahead. Much like Mount and Blade, the morale of your troops and success of your adventures depend on the gold you bring in and on keeping your men fed and equipped. Going from town to town, sometimes I found myself praying not just for decent paying work; but close work. A few times I landed jobs with spectacular rewards for completion, but only after exhausting my troop during travel and losing some good men along the way. Blood money is the life of a mercenary, but it's usually supposed to be the blood of the enemy. In a game that is mostly a relaxing experience, the worry of starving or being unable to pay your men adds a good layer of difficulty.
A Fair Sum
Battle Brothers may not be a game that I think about months from now, but in the moment I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. It's a break from the fast paced games constantly bombarding me. If that sounds like something that would be up your alley, then don’t hesitate and start building up a mercenary band for an adventure to call your own.
Beautiful artwork, lots of freedom, epic end game events
Clunky inventory system