Battle Brothers (Early Access) Review – Gritty, Filthy, Fun

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Battle Brothers (Early Access)
Overhype Studios

When you begin a typical game of Battle Brothers, you are presented with an opening screen which asks you to choose a banner from pre-rendered designs, as well as name your company of mercenaries. I dubbed mine the Filthy Battle Swine, and promptly began the opening scene. This opening act consists of your motley crew of mercs being ambushed by an even more scurrilous gaggle of thugs, who proceed to waylay your captain and slit his throat. This of course, leaves you in charge as you fend off the malevolent malcontents.

This first battle gives you an overview of Battle Brothers’ gritty brand of combat. There is no hand-holding here and players will have to figure combat tactics out on their own. Fortunately, just about everything at your disposal is represented by a shiny icon with full descriptions about what it can be used for. I quickly gleaned, that out of my four men, the two with shields could set up shield walls, reducing incoming damage, while even stacking defensive capabilities with each other. Meanwhile, my ranged specialist, a crossbowman, could either take a quick shot, which was better at shorter ranges, or a carefully aimed shot which was more accurate over longer expanses but required more effort.

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After dispatching the thugs, (their leader escaped however) my mercenaries sallied into the local town and accepted a mission to track down their boss and end the menace once and for all. I hired a few more men, and it was then that I noticed the attention to detail that was put into each of their backstories. One man was a peasant whose wife was brutally murdered, and was really rather distraught and aimless, and therefore recklessly threw his lot in with the Filthy Battle Swine, since he really didn’t have many (if any) other options in life. Another was an orphan whom was left on the local temple’s doorstep. He’d slipped up somewhere in his religious life and ended up bedding down some harlot. After being guilt-ridden, he decided to try to redeem himself (or perhaps punish himself?) by joining our rugged band. The men’s murky pasts made me care about what happened to them in their rather dangerous adventures.

After tracking down the bandit’s leader and promptly lopping off his head, we returned to the fishing town (with head in tow) and collected our reward, which allowed us to upgrade our weapons and equipment. From there, I realized how open-ended Battle Brothers is. You can pretty much travel to wherever you wish to on its great looking, main overland map, stopping through the world’s various towns, and looking for contracts that you fancy. My band decided to travel north of the fishing town and seek out more lucrative contracts within some of the larger cities, which I eventually found out can also be more dangerous to take on.

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On my way to one of these places, I was set upon by a large group of bandits. In this particular eight vs. eight engagement, I lost one of my two archers, and another couple of my men received some pretty serious injuries. Therefore, I changed my strategy and stopped at a smaller, nearby town in order to rest up and heal. Before I got there, however, we encountered a feral dog that seemed to be following us. One of my men, my best melee fighter, approached the wayward mutt and proceeded to get one of his fingers chomped off. The dog then trotted off, happy with his impromptu digit hors d’oeuvres.

After refreshing my men back to fighting strength, I took on a contract involving a graveyard that had plenty of undead cadavers haunting it, which were threatening the nearby areas. I outfitted my men as best I could and proceeded to travel to the graveyard in question. I quickly found out that I’d bitten off more than I could chew as a large pack of ghouls and zombies commenced to rise from the corrupted earth and gnaw on my mercenaries. Initially, I thought I could handle this shambling horde, but then I discovered that each of my men that went down from the enemy’s bites would just get up again, only as undead foes.

Even though I went down fighting to my last man, I had a blast doing so. Battle Brothers really draws you in with its low-fantasy/medieval setting, and gritty, unforgiving combat. There are no respawns for any of your men, and no handy healing spells either. This forces players to carefully consider each and every order that they issue to their mercenaries—before they do. One rash move can spell doom for your entire band.

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I was also really pleased with Battle Brothers’ art style. Although, mechanically speaking, it plays like a Jagged Alliance or a X-Com game, its graphics reminded me of another excellent indie game, RimWorld. Each character or creature is represented by a bust-like depiction, along with whatever armor, weapon, and shield (if they’re carrying one), as well as any headgear they’re donning. What’s great about this more close-in graphical style is that you can see each character’s face much more clearly, along with any wounds or conditions they’ve sustained.

Another thing that I loved was that each game of Battle Brothers is procedurally generated, so no two games are ever the same. In fact, I was so impressed with my first game (even though I bought the farm) that I quickly started a new one, knowing that it would be a totally different experience, with new towns, different characters, and distinct scenery. Battle Brothers really packs a ton of replay value.

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Like any great open-world game, Battle Brothers can be played at your own pace—you can delve further into the main storyline, which is about a large army of mysterious marauders that are attempting to take over the lands, or you can see fit to take on assignments as you wish. This also gives Battle Brothers tremendous opportunities for emergent storytelling, as your novice band of mercenaries become more hardened, and gain veterancy.

Simply put, Battle Brothers is an exceptional squad-based adventure game, with outstanding tactical combat mechanics, eye-pleasing graphics with their own unique art style, and virtually limitless replay value. I’d heartily recommend picking it up, since not only is it a blast to play, but the developers, Overhype Studios, are constantly releasing updates and patches. Needless to say, I’ll be following this game closely.

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SCORE: 89%

Battle Brothers offers highly detailed visuals that suit its gritty, low-fantasy theme. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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