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Jagged Alliance With Skellingtons: Battle Brothers

A Fighting Fraternity

Mercenaries are great. I've never met one in real life, mind, and don't think I'd want to, but they're invariably great when they pop up in games. Perhaps part of the appeal is that their apparent amorality lets us play soldiers without considering politics or aftermath - whatever the reasons may be, I'm usually glad to see a band of guns/swords-for-hire. Whether they're a shortcut to short-term success in a strategy game or the delightful bastards of Jagged Alliance, the mercenaries of gaming are alright with me.

Now we can add Battle Brothers [official site] to the list of Good Mercenary Games. Currently in Early Access, it's a very lovely thing indeed.

It's entirely possible that you've turned your nose up at the mention of Early Access. Turn it back down again. No, that's too much. Now it sort of looks like you're glowering at me.

Here's the thing - Battle Brothers is already capable of providing good times. Every new game begins with the creation of a world, made up of settlements for shopping and quest-gathering, and other places for actual questing. You'll hire your band of brothers (sisters may be added before full release), each with their own background, traits and skills, equip them, and then take a job.

Some of those jobs are escort missions. You'll click on the target location and watch as your squad trundle across the map, hoping that they don't encounter anything unpleasant. Or, if you're anything like me, you'll hope that they do encounter something unpleasant so that you can play around with the excellent turn-based tactical combat. It's simple enough, with ranged weapons, melee skills, elevation and flanking advantages - everything you'd expect - but it's all pitched just right. Maps are small, encouraging swift resolution and focus on the fine details, and the graphics are crisp and clean.

At first, you'll be fighting bandits and the like, but darker forces soon come into the picture. We're talking skellingtons and other unpleasantries. There's no overarching story at the moment, although one will be added later, but there's a decent sense of progression even though the current version (updates/fixes have been almost daily since the launch last week) doesn't have a great deal of content.

The stuff that's already there is great, though. Each class of weapon has a unique attack rather than simply changing stats and combat is brutally tense, as a perfect blow can kill even the mightiest mercenary. You'll spend a lot of time replacing fallen brothers, as well as gear that deteriorates over time, and even though you'll see the same text cropping up again and again, the backgrounds and traits of your soldiers are just detailed enough to hang stories on. You'll miss them when they're gone.

All of this is to say that even in its current state, Battle Brothers is well worth a look and certainly one to keep an eye on as development continues. Hurrah!

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