Battle Brothers: Warriors of the North Review29 Jul 2019 0
Battle Brothers: Warriors of the North Review
Released 09 May 2019
It’s barely the start of a new campaign and I’m already hopelessly surrounded. Freshly hired fishermen and veteran warriors alike will all die in service to Davkul, the one true god. Still, this was a bit sooner than I’d anticipated. Perhaps sacrificing one of my brothers in a ritual to appease the cult, and thus throwing all morale my non-cultists once had, was a poor idea in retrospect.
It’s not like I had a choice though, this whole company origin is about building a cult with ritual sacrifices! After the slaughter of my company I sigh to myself and boot up a new save. I can already tell I’m in for a real long-haul doing research on Battle Brothers: Warriors of the North, assuming I survive long enough!
The toughest thing about writing when it comes to a game like Battle Brothers is that it is damn hard, almost oppressively so. It manages to ride that fine line between frustration and fun. Making mistakes and having brothers die is pretty commonplace when you’re playing recklessly to experience new content. I wasn’t allowing myself to save-scum, as I wanted to do this research via the way the game is meant to be played, on Ironman. Luckily for me, Warriors of the North, the most recent expansion to join the fray, comes loaded with multiple new company origins to make the sting of loss less painful. There’s a plethora of options from cultists to trading caravans, northern raiders, or even starting out solo. Unfortunately, I’m concerned that these starting conditions begin to fizzle out once the standard march towards inevitable doom or glory begins.
Initially, the unique aspect of some origins made testing and research feel like entirely new game experiences. While playing as the northern raiders, your start includes three experienced barbarians and one monk. The monk chastises you for pillaging human settlements and challenges you to become a sellsword instead. Humorously, as I walked by another settlement I was beset upon by the local militia. Despite a fairly one-sided victory, a wayward blow resulted in my monk having everlasting brain damage after the fact. Naturally I took this as a sign that this run was either already doomed to imminent failure, or this was a sign from the northern gods and would rampage across the land plundering anything I saw fit.
Starting the game out with more experienced fighters and the immediate enmity of northern cities felt like a fun idea, and I enjoyed raiding helpless trade caravans or smaller bands of men as I made my way south. However, once you get past the initial intrigue of most of the starting setups, Warriors of the North doesn’t really fundamentally change too much of the game. Depending on your viewpoint, this may be perfectly fine or mildly disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s quite a lot to like in this expansion. New weapons like the Shamshir, Bardiche, and Battle Whip offer an increased amount of utility or interesting ability combinations. Making a giant Orc drop his massive battle-axe because I disarmed him with a whip from three tiles away is oddly satisfying. The Barbarian faction are just as terrifying as the Greenskins while having a unique flavor and design to call their own. Suddenly being run down by all of their units using Adrenaline and starting off at the top of the next round can throw a real twist in the works right when you thought they were cornered. These harsh men of the north brandish war drums, weapons crafted from animal parts, and heavy throwing axes. While still technically Humans, the AI plays in a much more aggressive manner against you, befitting of their reckless personalities.
There are new events, contracts, legendary items, and more. Essentially, if you love Battle Brothers as-is, you’re almost assuredly going to want to pick up this expansion. Warriors of the North is simply adding a little bit more of what you already enjoy to various portions of the game, like any decent expansion really should. My only concern is that outside of some very specific origin events like the cultist sacrifices, the overall core gameplay loop doesn’t see much of a change depending on what company origin you choose. Survive, find contracts you feel you can succeed at with minimal casualties, raise funds, get better men and gear, rinse and repeat until you die or make it all the way to the late-game crisis and beyond.
I want to be very clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that from a design philosophy. Overhype Studios understand their game and their core audience, and this expansion unquestionably will cater to most of their die-hard fan’s tastes. Just for me personally, each optional start began to feel like more of the same grind with some additional spice and window-dressing after a few hours. The Lone Wolf start for example sounds intriguing at first, being an experience knight with nothing but decent armor and a claymore at your side. If you die, your run is over.
In practicality however, you immediately go searching for new brothers to hire because attempting any jobs solo is a death wish in this action economy. Likewise, if you die, practically speaking your company is already screwed regardless of the immediate loss condition, as you are unquestionably the only talented unit you’re going to possess during the start of the game anyways. As a result, fundamentally nothing has really changed about the game other than you starting on somewhat of a backfoot, further reinforcing the notion of starting novelty. I suppose in fairness to Lone Wolf if your knight was suddenly decapitated on day one-hundred and your run ended that would be a unique experience, but I can’t say it’s something that I’d be actively looking forward to seeing first-hand.
In summary, Warriors of the North is a successful expansion to Battle Brothers in that it is strictly adding on additional options without disrupting the core gameplay in a significant way. Personal taste aside, it’s hard to argue that isn’t what an expansion should be doing at a base level. Just note that outside of some unique Barbarian flavor or Cultists shenanigans, this isn’t offering any fundamental changes to how you are going to play Battle Brothers once the reality of the scenario’s difficulty sets in. For you diehards out there, rejoice in your newfound glory! For those looking to see a little more variance, your mileage may vary depending on what starting scenarios pique your interest.