Are you into hardcore round-based tactical combat in a dark fantasy setting? Would you like to take control over a rag-tag band of (so-called) mercenaries and lead them to glory? Take on contracts in a semi-random-generated low fantasy world with suspiciously German-sounding names and start with a poor group of pitchfork-wielding peasants? Careful planning and strategical thinking are what you need if you want to turn this group into an elite force of battle-hardened warriors. If all that sounds like a fun time to you, then this Battle Brothers Review might be the introduction you have been looking for.
Low on the story side
There isn’t much of a story to Battle Brothers. You can safely call it a sandbox game or at the very least one with sandbox elements. There are atmospherical elements such as events where one of your mercenaries might have something to say about a particular scenario, but that’s about it. There is of course the opening sequence, which works as a tutorial as well.
You are in the middle of a battle against a group of bandits and the company leader just got killed in combat. It is upon you to take the reigns and lead what is left of your group to victory. However, more members of your band die before your turn even begins and in the end, you will be left with a couple of members tops. You are, however, also victorious in your hunt for the bandits and can return to the city to reap your reward. Your group has now shrunk to a fracture of its size and is beaten down, weak and ill-equipped. But it is your group now, and it is upon you to lead it to glory.
The world is your oyster
So you have your tiny group, of which some might even be wounded and you just made it to whatever the name of your starting town is. The money you receive for the contract is a bit of a starting capital for you to reinforce your numbers. But your mercenary company has hit rock bottom. You have barely any food, let alone any useful equipment, and your men cost gold and food as time goes by. Some peasants who got tired of plowing the fields or somehow lost their job is all your finances can manage to stem at the moment.
However, every band starts at the bottom, and with wit and careful management, you might turn this group into something entirely different. It’s all about the contracts you take, the engagements you choose, and the battles you fight. There is a little bit of trading and alternative ways of money-making involved, but your path will always mean good old fashioned mercenary work. The jobs range from simple contracts like hunting a wolf-pack or finding and raiding a mercenary camp, to dangerous and terrifying expeditions into Orc or Undead territory. Each mission comes with different challenges and it is your job as a captain to know, what your company can handle.
All of this is enhanced by features like the possibility to be allied to a faction or the ability to set an ambition for your group.
The backbone of Battle Brothers as you might have already guessed is combat. Everything this game has to offer lies in its combat, the system, and the details that have been poured into it. You control your sellswords that all have their equipment and inventories, as well as a ton of individual stats. The game is brutal and unforgiving and one wrong move will cost your soldier his head. However, if you plan carefully and implement the right tactics, your squad can overcome even the scariest of orc hordes.
Implement strategy before you even enter the battle field
How your members fare in a battle often depends on decisions you have made throughout the game, and how well you were able to manage your band. There are a myriad of things to consider and plan upon. For example, what are the weapons your troops are going to use? Who is going to get what kind of armor or secondary-equipment? How will your soldiers develop? Battle Brothers’ combat-system is designed in such a way, that all these questions have a huge impact.
Heavy armor provides solid protection but might hamper movement. A good helmet might save you from a blow to the head but impair your vision. A shield will unlock certain skills like a shield-wall, but a spear can attack from a farther range. A big two-handed weapon can deal massive damage in one swing and sometimes straight-up behead multiple enemies, but it will leave your character wide open for attacks.
A brutal and harsh encounter
The world of Battle Brothers is dark and unforgiving. One wrong move or one unlucky roll and your oldest and most skillful companion might just get beheaded. Or they might be lucky and scrape by with a wound that is going to take some time to heal. Or they might become crippled and suffer the consequences of one of your wrong decisions. The point is: Battle Brothers does not put a lot of value in the life of your units. And neither should you. You are going to lose some of your soldiers and sometimes you will not be able to do anything about it (except savescum).
This game is all about how you deal with this harsh reality and the dangers of mercenary life. It forces you to think about which contract to take and whether the benefits are truly worth the danger you are putting yourself in. You might suffer heavy losses after going far and find yourself recruiting peasants in small towns again.
All of this heavily depends on your ability to command your units in battle. It’s good old fashioned round-based tactics. Make sure to implement proper strategies like smartly positioning your units and planning your attack and defense-moves. Be mindful of an element of randomness and how what dangers might come with that.
Path to glory
That being said, if you manage to survive long enough, it will feel immensely rewarding. You will have individuals that you have nurtured for hours, with an established skill-set and a variety of high-quality gear. Perhaps you will end up with an elite squad of carefully tuned killing-machines that routinely takes out hordes of Orcs and prints money from Mercenary contracts. A group forged in battle, trained in the art of overcoming death in the most unfavorable of odds.
Precisely this harshness of Battle Brothers is, what makes succeeding in this game so enticing. Your group is the result of every battle you have taken, every sacrifice you have made, and every enemy you have defeated. And if you become strong enough, you might find the bravery to delve into the deepest and most dangerous parts of the world and see, what secrets there are to uncover.
The gist of Battle Brothers is your troops. Each unit is going to have a name, a backstory, an inventory, talents, traits, attributes, and much more. Some things like the background or talents are set from the moment you hire your newest brother, while others will only develop as they fight and gather experience. Other aspects of character development are based on the encounters you have faced and the events you have played through. some of these might not be changeable, while others solely depend on the decisions you make. You can pick out certain perks and put your brother’s skill points into the attributes you like. It is your job to guide your band and plan what their role in combat is going to be.
All of these elements make growing a character really fun and engaging. Plus, eventually, you will have built a connection to them. You have your guy that you have picked up as a peasant and who has grown several levels, has acquired multiple perks, and perhaps even gotten an epic sounding title like “The Rock” or “The Champion”. You have bought or found multiple pieces of high-quality equipment that he is wearing now and are always keeping an eye on him in combat. Either because he is one of your strongest combatants or because he is your most valuable asset. Perhaps even both.
It can be exceptionally bitter if you lose a character like that, which probably is why Battle Brothers atmosphere feels so authentic and engaging.
Battle Brothers is made by the German Indie Studio Overhype Studios and has started as an Early Access title. A lengthy but steady process of development supported by a loyal fanbase has yielded an official release and multiple DLCs, while another one is in the making. Playing it will reveal, that this is a passion project. It is truly a labor of love, and rightly so.
I am sure that not everyone will enjoy a game that is rather slow-paced and requires tactical thinking and careful planning. However, those who are into that type of gameplay will enjoy the hell out of Battle Brothers. It has everything you could ask from a tactical RPG in a low fantasy setting. And it’s hella addicting. Whether you die and want to start again (or reload) and make it better this time, or you succeed and want to push your company further and further, it is extraordinarily hard to stop playing once you are in a run.
Even so, the best thing about Battle Brothers is, that it does not try to be more than it needs to be. It has a certain goal that it tries to achieve as a game, and it will stick to that. Overhype Studios will deliver an authentic, harsh Tactical-RPG experience, and everything in this game just aims to enhance said purpose.
The release of Battle Brothers and it’s first DLC have yielded some attention, but in my opinion, it is even in 2020 still an underrated game that is not known by nearly enough people. I urge you to give it a try and see for yourself. Check it out at Steam or the Humble Store
If you have bought the game and looking for a guide, consider checking out this very in-depth 80+ pages guide over here.