It’s been over five years since the release of Battle Brothers. In the time since, I’ve found myself coming back to it repeatedly, especially when the game gets major updates and DLCs. I’ve only picked up the free DLC, Lindwurm, myself, but the other three are great additions to the world of the base game, from my understanding. Today, we’ll just be talking about the base game and the one DLC I have.
The game was developed by Overhype Studios, a small team from Hamburg, Germany that actually focuses on making games that are by gamers, for gamers. This passion, along with a very flavorful Germanic mythology, really makes this game interesting, challenging, and immersive. Helping with that immersion are the musicians that compose the amazing soundtrack, Breakdown Epiphanies.
If you enjoy tactical, turn-based RPGs, this is a challenging one. Even with the difficulties set to Beginner, you will find yourself faced with uphill battles, losses, starvation, and ambush after inconvenient ambush. As someone who was not fond of Goblins as a creature long before I picked up this game years ago, my hatred for them is amplified now. I really cannot explain to you how much I would prefer to fight the Orcs, Necromancers with hordes of Wiedergangers (Zombies), and even the deadly Lindwurms before fighting Goblins.
There is no repetition in the gameplay as far as your opponents go. Each enemy type follows basic archetypes, but with the procedural generation of the maps that you fight on, the random generation of their gear, and the roll of the dice involved when you actually fight, there is no guaranteed way to keep all your men alive. There is a surefire way to win every battle using the right gear and tactics, but the thing about incurring losses during these battles is that you’re meant to be the leader of a Mercenary Company.
So you might start off being very concerned about each loss. After all, your original men are often your best men due to their gear being slightly better in the early game and, naturally, because being around longer typically means more experience points, which means more skill points and perks. You might find, however, that the more you play, the more new men you pick up that are cheap, the more accustomed you become to throwing them away or shrugging off their brutal deaths on the battlefield. To be honest, my effort to maintain sanity could afford no other path.
As the game itself lets you know early on, losses and comebacks are part of the game. You’re meant to struggle, to lose your best men to weak enemies. I recently had a full health, high level, well-armored man take one hard swing from an axe-wielding zombie and lose his head. When these losses happen, you take what gear you have left, you hire the men that you can to replace whoever you can, and you build up with small jobs again.
See, most games follow a linear path. You go forward, you progress to harder enemies, you eventually beat the game, right? That’s half true here. You can do quite well and keep most of your men, reaching the end game with zero to few losses and never having to go back to lower-level jobs. Even on the easiest settings, you’ve done well if you’ve accomplished that. However, there is no shame in having to start over from basics with minimal men and gear.
The longer you go, though, the more likely you are to find higher-level enemies and groups, meaning the roads become more and more treacherous. Guarding a caravan on day 60 with a 4-day journey? Good luck making it all the way through. I recently tried such a mission and fought through 5 battles on my way. I scoffed through the groups of raiders and brigands at first, they were nothing after fighting Orcs and Goblins, but by the 4th encounter with them I was close to short on men, and the men I had were battered and bruised. That 5th encounter was with three Lindwurms, and even with the target city just a quarter of a day’s travel away, I had to leave the caravan to its fate.
Such is the life of a Mercenary.
All the assets are designed by one man, and with that being noted, they’re exceptional. They look and feel handcrafted. Every weapon, every enemy, every man has their own unique feel and look, all the way down to the grime. The ambience of the world mirrors that grime, a typically dark overtone laid over every map like you’re playing out an episode of Game of Thrones every time you do battle. It really adds to the feeling that you’re always fighting an uphill battle, sometimes literally.
The colors are all just right, the lighting level looks appropriate for all hours of the day and night, even the blood pops in just the right way. It’s easy to get lost in this game because of how immersive the art allows for it to be. The unique flavors of the enemy models contribute to that as well. It really feels like its own world, the way the Goblins and Orcs (Greenskins) are portrayed. Even the Undead have this really unique look to them that inspires dread the way your men must feel it.
The soundtrack is great, to say the least. I never find myself humming it, but I also never find myself getting tired of it. There is soft music that keeps an even mood, and when you’re in battle or being approached by enemies, the mood shift is palpable.
In battle, the sounds of weapons clashing, men screaming and bleeding out, and even the language they made for Greenskins to use all feels and sounds so visceral. It’s always really interesting to me when games manage this level of audio immersion, and for it to be accomplished in this game by such a small team is admirable. There is nothing about it that makes me pause nor is there anything I can fault it for.
Replayability & Originality
As you might figure, this game is heavily replayable. Not just because you can beat it and try again and have a whole new experience, basically, but because you’re almost going to be guaranteed to start over when you lose your whole group. That’s especially true if you play on Ironman mode, as the game is intended to be played. It’s fun to try new tactics, new strategies for outfitting your men with different weapons and armors and different ratios of ranged and melee fighters, etc.
As for originality, we all know of a few other tactics games that are similar to this. That doesn’t give it a low score here, though. Not to me. The Germanic flavor to it, the incredibly accurate medieval theme, the mechanics, they all have clear inspiration attributed to older games, but they’re all done in their own way.
Overall, this game is like a breath of fresh air. It’s like someone took an old genre and gave it a new life using old parts for inspiration. Like someone took a reliable old car and remastered it with all new modern parts but it still drives with that same, familiar feel.
So what is the final score?
Not perfect, but close to it. The only thing that could have given this game a perfect score, I reckon, is if it was bigger and had more to it. Maybe that’s more appropriate for if you have all the DLCs and add a few mods?
But that’s up to you! What did you think about the game? Do you have any mods to recommend for others to try to improve their experience?