Battle Brothers has been another long time coming out of the early access scene. In development for several years, this challenging turn-based strategy game is finally out. While running a company of mercenaries may not be for everybody, we have what could be described as a gritty fantasy X-Com, and that is definitely a compliment.
Battle Brothers takes place in a fantasy take on the medieval era. You play as the leader of a company of mercenaries who takes over after the previous leader (and most of your group) is killed. Your mission is simple: Grow your company, make money and stay alive.
The world is randomly generated when you start a new game; with the geography, cities and quests shuffled each time. Battle Brothers’ gameplay is made up of the overworld of exploring the land and tactical combat.
Within the cities you may find shops to buy new gear, upgrade your mercenaries, recruit new people and more. Keeping your company going is a big part of the challenge and will require multiple resources.
Food is consumed each day and will spoil every few days. Each mercenary in your group costs an initial payment of crowns (the currency) and daily payments as well. Gear requires maintenance after battle and your crew will need medical supplies to recover.
Speaking of the last two, you’ll be doing that a lot, as combat is not for the faint of heart.
The tactical layer of Battle Brothers is where your company will rise as legends or fall to defeat. You can have a max of 12 units on the field per battle. Every weapon type in the game comes with skills associated with it along with its own stats.
Armor and shielding plays a huge role in survival on the battlefield. Wearing armor will absorb some of the damage that hits, but there are skills and weapons that go through armor. Shields provide a chance of completely stopping an attack, but heavier weapons can destroy them.
Damage in Battle Brothers is location-based, and the scars of battle can quickly add up. It’s possible for characters to lose an eye, get their hand split open, and a lot more injuries. Each mercenary comes with passives based on their personality and from any suffered injuries. While it’s possible to recover from some, heavy injuries can leave permanent effects on the character.
There aren’t any classes in the game; the only stats are a “melee skill” and “ranged skill” to denote expertise. Mercenaries can level up; allowing you to improve their stats and assign a new perk to them. The challenge of the game is that both gear and leveling up mercenaries are vital to winning.
Finding powerful gear can turn a mercenary into walking death, but you’ll really feel the loss of losing a high level character.
Besides managing gear, battles take place on randomly generated fields, with elevation playing a big role. You’ll start off fighting just bandits, but there are far worse enemies out there.
Battle Brothers’ best parts are found on the battlefield, with my only complaints being what happens off of it.
Battle Brothers is a hard game to play, and the game does not make it easy to learn. Without an in-game tutorial, you’ll find yourself spending your first several games just trying to figure out what is going on. On the strategic layer, you are really at the mercy of the randomly generated landscape.
Because certain facilities will impact what you can buy, you can be in deep trouble if you can’t find useful gear or a cheap way to repair or heal. Contracts are your main source of money, and are also random in where they’ll appear. Unlike X-Com which provides you with enough resources to bear the weight of a few losses, Battle Brothers is unforgiving on anything higher than beginner difficulty.
The reason is that it’s very easy to end a battle at a net loss. Every hit can cause wounds that can take days to heal or permanent damage. Gear can be broken; costing money or tools to repair. And of course death comes quickly.
To put it in perspective, early quests can give you around 200-300 crowns for winning, but just equipping someone brand new can easily cost that for basic gear. I think that the essentials should be far cheaper than what they are at the start to help keep the negative feedback loop from growing too big.
The combat system in Battle Brothers is designed around punishing characters without defensive gear or allies nearby. Shields are your friends starting out; providing innate defense increases and the ability to improve them further with the shield wall skill.
Attacks to a character’s head can cause massive damage and in most cases an instant kill if they’re not wearing a helmet. The more friendly characters around an enemy will give them a “surrounded” bonus and is crucial for the early game fights.
Starting out, prepare to scrap by for every piece of new gear. Take too much damage or suffer too many losses starting out, and you’ll find your reserves quickly emptying despite winning quests. I would have liked more ways to influence or perform actions at the strategic layer. Right now, you can live or die simply based on what cities you start out near.
Battle Brothers is not for everyone. This is a tough game with the odds stacked against you almost at every turn. But if you can learn the intricacies and rules, you’ll find a very deep game that I hope we see a lot more of in the future.
Ultimately, how well you can deal with a polarizing positive or negative feedback loop will keep you playing or retiring pretty quickly. For more on the game, you can watch one of my many videos on the YouTube channel.