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Battle Brothers is an open world, procedurally-generated, sandbox-focused strategy/RPG hybrid with turn-based tactical combat by Overhype Studios. I know, it's a mouthful. Prior to its release, Battle Brothers had gone through a successful Early Access period during which I've heard nothing but good things about the game. As I never play games while they are still in Early Access, I waited patiently for the full release, filled with hopes and high expectations.
Don't expect anything and you'll never be disappointed is a good rule to live by, but in this particular case, my expectations didn't end up working against me. As a strategy/RPG, Battle Brothers can provide you with plenty of enjoyable - even, if at times, frustrating - challenges.
In Battle Brothers you play as the leader of a mercenary company that's fallen on to some hard times. In a scripted event, most of the company gets killed, including the captain, and you have to take the reins, rebuild, and bring glory to your company's name in a low fantasy medieval setting. This means that, apart from the ordinary bandits and arrogant nobles, you'll be fighting ghouls, orcs, goblins, and a plethora of undead. That's the fantasy part. The low part comes from the fact that you won't be recruiting wizards or clerics, or creating your own private hoard of legendary swords. Magic in the world of Battle Brothers is extremely scarce, and therefore the rare named items are just well-crafted pieces of gear, not vorpal blades.
To begin your journey, you first need to generate a world. The topography, all the settlements, the enemy encampments - it's all randomized, with a few common elements that persist. No two worlds are exactly the same, but certain places of interest and the general balance of power are constant.
With the release of the version 1.1 patch, the game's difficulty is highly customizable. You get to choose the combat difficulty, economic difficulty, and your company's starting funds, with an optional Ironman mode on top of it. You can also pick an end game crisis you'll be dealing with or leave that decision up to chance. And if you've generated a particularly interesting or challenging world, you can send its unique code, or "seed", to your friends and they can play in it, too.
This world you create is represented by an overworld map where caravans and peasants traverse the roads, other mercenaries take care of business when you aren't present, and nefarious individuals and creatures of the night try to ruin it all for the good hard-working folk of the land.
The village elders, the affluent pillars of the community, and later, the nobles, all have their problems. Problems only someone good with a sword and plentiful in numbers can solve. This being a sandbox game, you're free to take on any contract you want, accept or refuse any job, or even be a free spirit and just roam the wilderness hunting bandits, exploring ruins, and keeping the greenskin population in check.
I'm not usually a fan of sandbox games as they tend to feel too big, too open, and typically contain pointless filler, but in Battle Brothers, you always have something to do. Contracts provide short missions; ambitions, like rebuilding your company or gathering a certain sum of money in order to expand your inventory, fulfill the role of mid-term goals. And the aforementioned end-game crises that come in the form of a war between the nobles, a greenskin invasion, or a necromantic plague, plunge the realm into chaos, shake things up, and provide a soft win condition for your campaign. On top of that, thanks to the plentiful random events, something is always happening. Everything pulls at you, requires your personal attention, and there just isn't enough time in a day to cover all your bases, especially early on. Your mercenaries require daily salary and they need to eat, and they need someone to tend to their wounds and fix their deteriorating equipment. There's no time to be bored by an open world, dealing with all these logistics.
And while all these things, as well as the abundant and high-quality for a procedurally generated game writing, create an illusion of a living and breathing world, the simulation feels somewhat lacking. It's like the developers knew what they wanted to put in the game but either didn't have the time or the resources to finish it, so they left the basic placeholder model.
For example, the game has a trading system. Depending on the world's seed, towns can have access to a variety of trading goods. The prices for these goods on the marketplace are dynamic and depend on the current events. If you protect a town, its prices become more favorable. If it gets raided, the goods skyrocket in price and become limited in their availability. The unfortunate part is that there doesn't seem to be a way to trade in bulk, send out caravans of your own, or have a decent idea where your particular goods will fetch the best price. It all mostly boils down to buying a few stacks of lumber, traveling across the map, and selling it to a town without a forest around it, hoping to get a decent margin.
Then, there are the provisions. You have access to all kinds of different foodstuffs from dried fish to cheese and to edible mushrooms, but this variety doesn't seem to matter much. As long as you have enough to feed your troops – you're good. The only benefit to having a balanced diet is that at some point it opens up the possibility of a random event happening that can raise the morale of your company. Once again, an intricate system that lacks just a few touches to be fully satisfying.
And, of course, the biggest thing about the simulation is the way you deal with the neutral parties on the map. Now, this may well be a tinfoil hat moment, but I've managed to finish my first campaign by overcoming the end game crisis without even realizing you can interact with non-hostile parties in any way. But later, playing the game some more after a few patches, I've started noticing a loading screen tip that told me that you can CTRL+click on the neutral parties to attack them. I'm fairly certain this tip wasn't there in the initial release version.
Even so, attacking or not attacking is not what I would like the full extent of these interactions to be. It would have been so cool to actually have dealings with the other mercenary companies. Talk to them, form friendships or rivalries, organize joint raids on places that are too well-defended. Maybe even an option to double-cross them when a raid is finished, or get double-crossed by them. And the game actually has a system in place where multiple parties can participate in joint combat if they just happen to be nearby, so that isn't a problem. It's a shame that the developers didn't go all-out there.
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