The latest DLC for Battle Brothers, Beasts and Exploration, adds even more tests for your mercenary band.
Battle Brothers came out in 2017 and immediately grabbed me as a fantastic little game. It’s a classic roguelike experience (although you can save and reload!) presented in a tactical strategy manner. It takes place within a low-fantasy world populated by noble houses at each other’s throats, vicious bandits prowling for an easy mark, mercenary warbands, peasants trying to get by, and monsters drawn straight from European mythology.
From the get go you are thrust into the role of a mercenary leader, with a beautifully thematic tutorial as a fading band of mercenaries fights to survive a skirmish with a bandit mob. Comparisons with Game of Thrones are easy to make, especially with events and dialogue written so you’d believe it had come from the latest episode, and if you enjoy the tactical combat of something like XCOM, the management aspects of Battletech, and fantasy worlds that draw a distinct parallel with real European history, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy the core game.
It’s been served since 2017 with the Lindwurm DLC, which added dragons as a rare endgame monster, but it has now received its first real expansion pack in Beasts and Exploration. The DLC massively expands the game world, adding legendary locations to find in the wilderness, new monsters, a crafting system and customisation for equipment. All of this comes alongside more equipment to collect, as well as more contracts to pick up, events which can be positive or negative, and ambitions (little mini-goals you pick from as the game goes on which give a stronger sense of direction to gameplay).
I’ll cover the new monsters first, as these provided me with both some interesting new challenges and some real new frustrations. The five new monster types added to the game are the Unholds (big yeti-like giants), Waldschrats (the trees are talking, Merry!), Webknechts (giant spiders), Hexes (witches), and saving the worst for last, the Alps (some kind of horrific sleep monster).
The spiders, yetis, and tree people are all pretty fun to fight — the tree people and giants require you to work to flank and whittle down their high health and use the battlefield. They’ll hit hard, but you’re fighting a giant creature. The tree people are also able to grow shields on their arms, and this feels like a cool thematic piece to make the fights more interesting. The largest groups of these I encountered were only three monsters strong, so the balance felt about right against my full complement of brothers. The spiders are much like the existing direwolves, except they have eggs to spawn new enemies throughout the fight and can poison you — a fun and challenging fight in wooded terrain against an unarmoured but quick enemy follows.
The witches and alps are, for me at least, the absolute worst, and a number of reviews on Steam highlight others’ frustrations with these mobs. Alps (at least during my play when the DLC came out) caused me to rage quit due to their ability to put brothers to sleep and attack them at will using summoned shades. They’re also fast, and the best strategy (garbage for roleplaying!) is to strip your party naked and sprint at them with spears and knives. When you’ve spent so much of the game building up a strong party of armoured knights, these fights felt like a slap in the face and did spoil the fun. The problems with alps do seem to have been patched out since my first playthrough however — they now summon small groups of ‘nightmares’ around your party, which can be killed in one hit rather than the old sleep mechanic. There are also mods available to debuff them further, so these guys shouldn’t be seen as a reason not to get the DLC.
Hexes are annoying with their ability to mind control your party, but have low armour and will turn to mush if you hit them, but long range spell casting against which there’s no real defence isn’t too fun either. Thankfully, they don’t seem to be too common and I met them briefly. Like with a lot of things in Battle Brothers, it’s your choice as to whether you want to engage them or not and take contracts relating to them.
The new monsters, and the existing ones, do add to the new crafting system, and battling them will drop components in the party loot screen. These can be used to make new items, potions, and poisons, as well as being made into paint for customising your gear. All you have to do is collect the bits you need and find a town with a taxidermist. On the randomly generated maps the game uses this can be a bit tricky but is well worth it, with items giving you bonuses in battle and on the world map, depending on whether they’re applied to your gear, or to your battle brothers themselves. Creating a fur mantle out of direwolf skins which adds durability to your gear and frightens any enemies you’re in melee with is just one of the many options, and it’s well worth experimenting to see what works best.
New items for sale have also been added, and these include some great little nods to real arms and armour of the medieval period. Adding metal plates (drawn like besagews — little metal circles to cover the armpit joint) to plate armour to increase its durability is a lovely little touch, and I enjoyed seeing my men develop from men in padded jacks to fully plated knights. There’s also new armour and weapons, and all of these have been beautifully imagined in the fantastic art style the game has. It looks traditionally drawn and the character in the little men you command, and the equipment they wear helps to bring the grim world of Battle Brothers to life.
The legendary locations were great fun, adding depth to the world, and a nice reward for going exploring. Whilst moving my party between towns looking for work, I decided to send them off the road. To our great surprise, we found a ship in a tree, and clicking through a series of well-written events ended up with us finding the golden goose. I wasn’t able to find any more during my playthrough but a quick glance at the wiki shows that there’s eleven to find in total. I’m sure each will give a neat little event chain, and from reading (I don’t want to spoil them for you!) some seem like they’ll create pretty cool scenarios for battles, including the kraken (okay, one spoiler!)
It was hard to pick out which contracts were new, but it certainly felt like there was more variation than on release (you’d pretty much spend your life killing bandits, delivering letters, and guarding caravans until an endgame event) and I didn’t get bored of finding dangerous well-paid work for my band of ne’er do wells.
The events too helped to bring more flavour to the world, and the ambitions felt more varied and gave me great goals to work towards. These are essential in a game as open ended as this one, and they do give you somewhere to go next rather than just living in permanent pursuit of better weapons and armour to hit things with better.
Whilst the DLC did have its frustrations, Beasts and Exploration is well worth the money. It fleshes out the world, gives you more things to do, more things to fight, and adds much needed depth to running your ragtag band of mercenaries. I had a lot of fun starting my review playthrough and using the new options to improve gear and the more varied contracts, and it really adds a new lease of life to the game. If you like mercenary management games with a deep tactical combat layer, especially one which nods so clearly to medieval history and mythology, Battle Brothers should go on your list. In fact, after writing this, I’m going to dive right back in and see what trouble I can find (and get paid for)…
Battle Brothers, and it’s Beast and Exploration DLC, are available now for Windows PC.