Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Quite well reviewed pain in the ass

This post is a second opinion on Battle Brothers, after one of my commenters said that he had it on his Steam wishlist because it was "quite well reviewed", but my post made it sound like a "pain in the ass". And I took both of these phrases for my title, because somewhere the problem is that Battle Brothers is both.

Why is Battle Brothers "quite well reviewed"? I believe it has something to do with the state of modern gaming. Some of the triple-A titles we get these days are highly polished and smooth. There are games that supposedly are about adventure, but these games are designed to never inconvenience the player, but rather to offer him a highly scripted smooth ride that will be identical to the highly scripted smooth ride that everybody else playing the game will experience. I have Assassin's Creed Valhalla installed on my computer for a year now, but only played it for 2 hours, because it didn't feel all that interesting. So there is a counter-movement to these smooth games, with Elden Ring probably being the prime example. Battle Brothers, like Elden Ring, throws unbalanced crap at you and asks you to deal with it. That can be very frustrating and annoying, but it is also challenging and interesting. And so I am already 34 hours into Battle Brothers, and ended up buying the DLCs.

Having said that, it took like 10 hours or so before I actually started to have fun in Battle Brothers. This game is rough on new players. There isn't even an in-game tutorial to explain basic controls to you, just a button that leads you to tutorial videos on YouTube. And with the first tag on Steam being "Tactical RPG", I went into the game with wrong expectations about it being a game with a story, like Final Fantasy Tactics or Triangle Strategy. In fact, Battle Brothers has even less story than Elden Ring. Instead it has a procedurally generated world with villages and cities connected by roads, trade caravans moving between them, and bandits and monsters threatening this civilization. The story that Battle Brothers tells is one of a group of mercenaries, controlled by you, that interacts with this world. And while there are small scripted random events, the overall story isn't scripted at all. You could help those villages, or you could rob their caravans. There isn't even an end to Battle Brothers, although later patches added the option to "retire" and get an ending that is based on how much renown you collected and how many "late game crises" you solved. Typically you can self-identify as having "won" by retiring after the first crisis, but it is purely up to you.

In the current Steam Summer Sale you can buy the base game Battle Brothers for €14. Or the bundle with all DLC for €42. Strangely enough, I would recommend the latter. Because there is no main story, this isn't a game where a DLC just adds another side quest and area. The DLCs of Battle Brothers add new game mechanics, new monsters, new weapons, new backgrounds (starting conditions) and make it a far more interesting game right from the get-go.

And I would also very much recommend the Battle Brothers Nexus Mods to change the game. Sometimes it is better to mod a game, rather than to either become frustrated, or end up save scumming a lot. For a game which is very much about recruiting and training mercenaries to build a good team, Battle Brothers has some infuriating design decisions around that recruitment. The money you pay for recruiting somebody only to a small part reflects how good that mercenary is, but to a much larger part depends on what gear he is wearing, because you basically "buy" his gear when you recruit him. In Battle Brothers even a very friendly city only pays you a fifth of the official value for gear, and frequently charges you more than that value if you buy it. So buying gear is rather expensive, and bundling that with recruitment is terrible. Especially since you only get a very rough idea how good a recruit is before you hire him from his background. So it is perfectly possible that you spend a large deal of money to hire a new recruit, only to find that he is totally unsuitable, and you just bought a bunch of expensive gear you didn't need. I added two mods to Battle Brothers to change that, one that allows me to hire mercenaries naked, without any gear to pay for, and the other to see in advance the stats of a recruit. That makes the game a lot smoother than saving the game, hiring a recruit, finding he isn't good, and reloading the save game. There are also some nice quality-of-life mods, like auto-pause on you seeing an enemy.

Fun in a game often resides in a small band on the challenge scale, where the game is challenging enough to be interesting, but not so challenging as to become frustrating. The core repeating gameplay of Battle Brothers, the tactical battles on a hex map, is very good. With the DLCs adding more variety and the difficulty settings and mods enabling me to find the fun spot on the challenge scale, Battle Brothers actually becomes an enjoyable experience. It does however take some work to get to that point.

Note that if you don't care much for procedurally generated worlds, but would like a similar gameplay experience to Battle Brothers with a group of mercenaries in a low-fantasy world doing challenging tactical battles, I would very much recommend Wartales.

Your description reminds me of Darklands, a very old PC game (VGA-time), did you play that and can you give some comparison? I liked Darklands, so I may like Battle Brothes (with the mods you indicate, ofc, because save-scumming is not my mechanics of choice.....)
Sorry, I never played Darklands.
LOL, as the commenter that inspired the title of this post, I feel honoured! :-)

You've certainly redeemed my opinion of Battle Brothers somewhat, and it remains on my wishlist for now. But €42 is a lot for a game I might bounce off of. I rarely buy DLC, most games have enough content that I am happy to be done with them and move on to the next. I have easily over a 100 "good" unplayed games already purchased, and my wishlist is another 100+ long. A fair number of them being well ahead of BB in terms of pecking order. Then there is the now probably couple of hundred random titles I've accumulated on the Epic store through their weekly freebies, of which I have played maybe two of so far... And I still bought 4 more games just yesterday off the summer Steam sale, including Solasta and The Forgotten City. So many borderline games just never even get bought, and many bought ones I'll never get around to playing. Wartales is already on my wishlist, but I'll happily wait until they get out of early access. I also explored "Kenshi" yesterday, and wishlisted it for a tentative eventual purchase. I mention it because it sounds a lot like BB and Wartales in the you run a squad in a very sandboxy open world without any real guidance. The plot is supposedly completely emergent.

@Helistar: I bought Darklands full price soon after release (on floppies, in '92, yes, I'm that old), and remember being pretty disappointed and only playing it a few hours. It was incredibly buggy at release and kinda "random". It's something of a revered classic now, I don't remember much of it. With some patches & tweaks it might have been fun. Patching was rare & difficult back then.

My current addiction is Underrail, an interesting turn-based sci-fi RPG that I've wondered if Tobold's ever looked at. It's tough to recommend generally, but it's my jam. Basically very Fallout 1-2, very indie. The graphics are mid-90s at best, no voicework, bare-bones presentation. Isometric, non-rotating, minimalist engine. Decent UI, and very well balanced and debugged having been out many years. The game is 90+% combat, with detailed crafting and good exploration. The combat system is one of the most detailed and best thought out ever, and I've played most of them going back 40 years now. Very long game, although there doesn't seem to be a ton of content, it takes quite a while to get through it, as the game is quite difficult. Very easy to make terrible choices of stats, skills, and feats, and no respec whatsoever. You either have to do a LOT of research up front, or expect to have to restart at least once. I was brave (foolish?) enough to play this on hard, when normal is tough enough. So far so good, but I've never save-scummed anywhere near as much as in this game! I've also never died this much in a game. I've probably already died 10x more in this game that just about any other I can remember! It's ridiculously unforgiving, and also I'm playing a complete glass cannon build with minimum constitution. Just about any enemy can still waste me in a single round if they get the jump on me. And most fights are vs 3+ opponents at once. No squads or sidekicks here, you're almost always alone. I'm a super-sneaky sniper that basically has to extremely carefully scout out & plan every engagement or I get horribly mauled. I love stealth games, and this one has a great system. This has been extremely fun to me, but YMMV. I'm about 70% through and only now I'm starting to feel like I know the game well enough and my build is strong enough that I'm beginning to breeze through most encounters. In some ways the game reminds of NetHack in that if you know enough tricks and game mechanics you can survive nearly any situation. But it's lethal for newbs.

Sorry for the wall of text, it's not everyday I inspire a post by my favorite blogger. :-)
Proper challenge level can be tough in some games. The last one where I had issues with this was the most recent Star Wars Starfighter PC game (I am spacing on the name, but it was free from Epic or Amazon one month). Gorgeous game that was probably the best fighter sim I have played since Tie Fighter in the the 90s. However, to my tastes the difficulty settings were either slightly too hard (at least during occasional more difficult mission steps) or boring (such that a toddler could probably play it).
@Perkus: yes, I read that the first release was unplayable, I discovered it later when it had been patched and was not consta-crashing, but it had some interesting mechanics (like the saints providing spells and the entire reputation/fame system). I think I finished the storyline, even if it involved a lot of grinding to level your party.
I just "won" my first game, which is to say that I got the "leaving a mark" achievement for retiring after successfully solving one late game crisis. Then I checked Steam and was told that only 14.6% of all players of Battle Brothers got that achievement. 85% of players never "won" the game.
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