Topic: Experience Feedback from roughly 2000 hours of play

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    Avatar photoLedgren

    Hello BB Crew! I’ve been playing this game for so long that I may as well be considered a hobbyist rather than a player. I’ve been playing since it was in early access days, and I’ve been here through all the additions and changes. Like when armor wasn’t really armor if you guys remember what I mean. Firstly, I want to say congrats to the devs for their success with the title, and then a thank you for creating such a cool game. I see in your most recent blurb that you’re still working on BB content on the side, and I wanted to give a summation of thoughts of a loooong time player of what’s keeping this game from being absolutely perfect. Even if you can’t use it for BB, maybe it’ll be useful on future titles. I won’t make many content additions suggestions per se, but I will be talking about what’s in the game as it stands and what the problems are as I see it.

    Keep in mind while you read this that BB is probably my favorite strategy game of ALL TIME. Without question I’ve put more hours into it than any other single game I’ve ever owned, and I’ve played a lot of games. I don’t criticize out of hate or spite, but because I love the game. The first few sections will add up to a conclusion that I think massively undercuts the full potential of this title.

    This is meant as comprehensive feedback from a long time playing. Don’t read this if you don’t have the time. I won’t be apologizing for how much I’m putting down.

    Prologue, The positives or : Things I love enough to gush over like a little girl covered in the blood of her enemies.

    I have always loved the writing in BB. I’m under the impression that the author of events changed at some point and there’s been at least 2, writers for events. Overall though, it’s often subtle, clever, and tone appropriate. 9/10.

    The worldbuilding. The player is presented with just enough information about the world to make it seem really interesting. Who is Dakvul? How far is his reach. Do the old gods and The Gilder have the same real sway over events that he seems to. Who is the PC? Everything is subtly introduced and just enough is left unclear to keep a sense of mystery intact.

    There is infinite replayability between the procedural world and the configuration of perks and bonuses.

    Experienced players can have legitimate disagreements about the usefulness of perks. There are massively popular guides with advice I flat out disagree with, and the authors still have good reasons for their choices. It makes the game feel really unique depending on play style and preferences.

    Similar with the weapons, the depth of the gameplay choices is its greatest strength, and I’ll disagree with anybody who tries to shoe-horn a single “optimal” path because there are almost always circumstances where alternative choices are superior.

    Enemies are (mostly) uniquely tuned to do one thing well, and players can counter these strengths with thoughtful planning and builds.

    The art is gorgeous and the overall art direction/package gives the game a unique and coherent sense of identity.

    The Negative
    Section 1: Vibe Check
    Overall the game has a slight undercurrent of “My OC, do not steal” vibes for the entire world. By that I mean that the design decisions are meant to make the world seem like the most rippenist, tearinest, hostile place only for the most hardcore of the hardcore. A gary stu of grimdark. This appears to mostly justify a few decisions that hamper the overall game experience. To be clear, I do not think that the game is “unfair” in the way some players do. A well built team can roflstomp any threat once the player understands how the threat works. I will flatly reject the idea that Orc warriors, Necrosavants, necromancers, undead legions, schratts, bandit marksmen, goblin ambushers, and even the dreaded barbarian chosen are overtuned. Necrosavants have a worldmap speed problem, but thats it. The devs have given the player enough tools here to counter their advantages and the only challenge they offer is really whether the player’s team is properly built to take them on or not. Some fights should be avoided is a tip screen sentiment I can absolutely get behind. Some fights can’t be. I’m looking at you Usain Bolt looking Necrosavants.

    The thing is, I’m an idiot who loves banging his head against brick wall challenges. I’ve got stupid hours of experience to figure this stuff out. Most players might not want to deal with this shit. Most of the strategies required are not suggested or hinted at by the game. Some of my best “Aha” moments only came 1500 hours in.

    The gameplay itself does not suggest that most of its challenges can be overcome fairly. And some cannot. When the devs do things like… make patches where schratts and lindwurms can no longer be netted with no in universe explanation as to why, a terrible conclusion suggests itself. Any advantage the player could possibly have for these encounters is nerfed into oblivion because the challenge is “supposed” to kill you. Schratts are not actually that bad, but for lindwurms and the kraken, where an obviously repeatable strategy does not present itself, it flatly comes across as though the devs are simply siding with the game killing you because it’s “their OC, do not kill”. I’m not the only one thinking this either. FilthyRobot and Splattercat are streamers of the game that I follow. Free advertisement to you. Splattercat is the reason I bought the game. Both have echoed the community sentiment that the kraken fight especially is an RNG nightmare that doesn’t even approach fair design. By my estimation, unless the players team is tailor built for the fight, you’ll be losing quite a few guys if not wiping entirely. It can be brute forced with a non-tailored team. But the win is almost dependant on what tiles your brothers spawn on. A wholly RNG, luck based, outcome.

    Finally for the “vibes” section is a criticism I’ve leveled here before. I love challenging games. I have been competitive in multiplayer games like gears of war, shadowrun (xbox version) and a bevvy of titles. I’ve been that asshole that says “1v1 me” and walked out on top most of the time. Beaten games like Ninja Gaiden, Sekiro, Xcom, and more. I’ve played enough to trivialize the challenge in these titles and make them look like cakewalks. I do not mind losing in the slightest in most of these titles, and it’s half the fun. I never feel like the world has cheated me in most of them. All of that to say this. If you have to tell the player that losing is fun in your game. It means that the game itself, does not achieve that sense of fun during a loss. It’s the same idea as with a joke. If you have to explain it, it was never funny. No amount of “you just don’t understand” changes that.

    There are some moments where losing is genuinely fun in BB. Taking a holy war defense quest and beating up an ungodly assault only to see another army approaching on the horizon is some serious 300 vibes. You also have the option to run like hell. However, when the mechanic making you lose appears to violate the game’s world rules, it feels cheap, and unearned. A serious “My OC, do not win” moment.

    Section 2: Inconsistent world rules ruin the feel of the game.
    You’re leading your mercenary party across the world, choosing the rough terrain of the hills instead of the road to avoid the mass of bandits and goblins that plague this region. Suddenly you’re surrounded by mercenaries, demanding the package that you’re transporting for your client.

    This set-up perfectly encapsulates a massive flaw with the game design. In most cases, any and all enemies are visible on the world map. Even if one bandit is running around, you can see him from miles away. This allows for some player control and counterplay. An astute player can avoid forests where visibility comes too late, pay attention to the screen, and as a result finish some quests without many hassles. The game here is rewarding the player’s planning. So when a heavily armed troupe of mercenaries materializes out of nowhere to steal your package or the head of a bounty – in direct opposition to every rule that the game has established about the worldmap – I as the player feel cheated.

    The only places where this is less of a problem is the crystal skull quest where you’ve quite literally summoned the evil to you by your actions or the caravan quest where the baddies were among you the whole time. This latter one has some other issues I’ll get to in a moment, but the point is the same. The lesson I walk away with in this instance is that difficulty in BB is mostly artificial, and the developers would rather break their own rules for a gotcha than reward the player for smart choices.

    Even the Caravan quest, the presence of the necrosavants the whole time is fine. Explains the sudden appearance. But the ok’ness of this is diminished by the fact that these teleporting bastards will immediately be able to hit your protection targets. Sometimes they spawn right beside them, other times, they’re one blink away from being in range. There is absolutely no counterplay possible at all in this instance. The moment the caravan event suggests Necros, the only reasonable thing a player could do is walk away. Why risk your bros for a quest that you literally cannot win?

    Another place where this problem leers at you like the grinning skull of your freshly dead battle bros is during the undead sieges. Anyone who has completed a single caravan quest knows how conservative and “cowardly” the poorly equipped human AI is. They’ll sit back and watch a brother die rather than dive in and help him most of the time. Players who have done raider defence quests know that the computer can cede control of the AI pieces to the player no problem.

    With these two things in mind, why the hell is it that during undead siege quests, the standing militia suicidally throws itself at the enemy, hurting your quest score and giving the other side potential allies to resurrect? There’s no explanation for it, and it again comes across as though the devs and the game contrived a scenario to be artificially difficult. Against previously established rules and norms. Without sufficient in-game explanation.

    My favorite inconsistency is very much the Ifrit. In a world where it’s very much established that closing distance usually stops the ability to engage in ranged attacks, these asshole can STILL lob each other clear across the map. Also just a bit of a boring fight, and uninspired design, I can’t stand Ifrits.

    Section 3: Dueling Design Philosophies.
    Cards on the table, I think that Xcom suffers from some of these same design problems, so I can’t hold it up as beacon of perfection. Though, it’s narrative and gameplay is constructed in a way that greatly mitigates the problem of feeling cheated . In xcom, you’re frantically running around a few vital locations in the world as events pop up that demand immediate attention. The game is a scramble from the start, and there are constantly opportunities to replace downed soldiers with new ones. The randomized stats these soldiers get are not game breaking or game defining. The game is overall consistent enough that I don’t mind playing on Ironman and getting wiped.

    BB seems to have an identity crisis between Rogue-like and long-form campaign. It has elements that suggest you should lose often and try again. The text after a crisis literally tells you as much, the emphasis on ironman, and the achievements available hammer the point home. Even the decision to include so many backgrounds suggests that you should be trying a lot of different things across playthroughs. This would have made a lot more sense if beating the game with a certain score would unlock options for new playthroughs, but the team didn’t commit to that either. I don’t even mean background unlocks. Maybe choosing company bonuses independently, like faster repair speed or insta-levels for starting bros.

    This seems to be at odds with other design elements. The band establishes long-term relationships with clients. Some of these take many many quests to establish. Great equipment can take a long time to accumulate. Brothers are visually customize able, equipment can be painted, names can be changed, builds can be very specialized as your brothers level, and levelling is a big time investment. This last part is not nearly as bad as it used to be. There are now a ton of tools in the game to powerlevel your bros and get the job done quickly. The take-away is that it takes a long time to become “established” and get the ball rolling.

    It feels almost like there was a general disagreement among the team about which style to go with. BB does not have the same excuse that xcom has. Battle Brothers places you on a large worldmap with full freedom to roam in the same way that other games like mount and blade do. But games like Mount and Blade are almost exclusively designed around long-term play cycles where players get fully invested in a single go-around because everything takes so much time. Do you see the problem? It almost feels like the team wasn’t sure what they could code as a young studio, and took certain inspirations without thinking completely through how they would mesh together. The result is two core philosophies at odds with each other. A strained marriage of ideas. Then when the dueling ideas came into conflict, the team had to use text to tell the players how to feel about the game, because the game itself didn’t do that organically.

    Now I can imagine someone typing on the keyboard now saying “But Ledgren, Mount and blade now has ironman settings in its single player”. This is true, but the level of RNG present in BB does not allow the player to make informed decisions. In Mount and Blade the player is operating on much more complete information and simply gambling that the consequences are acceptable. Even so, “losing” in mount and blade does not have the same types of consequences than are in BB. In BB, between the enemy team compositions, variation within the same skull quests, skulls adding events to quests, fog of war around enemy comps in a location, the player is shooting in the dark most of the time. It’s not the same.

    The team didn’t seem to know how to handle it when players expecting long form play complained about the inconsistent elements. So they added some helpful and some grating “tips”. They had to explain the joke. This is just my read of the situation though. Really the core tension between these design principles and the previous criticisms leads me to the major problem with the game. This may be controversial to the most hardcore of our community. I will lone wolf, underdog die on this hill though.

    Conclusion: Battle Brothers does not deserve your Iron Man Effort.

    This will be the shortest section, since everything before this sums up the reasons why. If a game expects me to play it on a setting where every success (potentially 40 – 100+ hours) can be permanently undone by a single mistake, I have a few expectations of the game. The primary one being that it should be so tightly designed and so internally consistent, that any loss I incur is very clearly from a mistake that I made. It should not be because necrosavants with the highest worldmap speed spawned on day 5 and chased my party down, an event without counterplay.

    I cannot bring myself to take something seriously if it makes it exceedingly clear that it does not take itself seriously enough to follow its own rules.

    How should playing iron man feel? If the game insists so heavily on using gambling odds to keep the player hooked, I’ll use a gambling analogy. It should be the difference between Blackjack and the slot machine. If I’m playing blackjack, I’m sizing up the cards on the table and accepting that saying “hit me” without a proper estimation of the odds will screw me. I’m making somewhat informed decisions and choosing to live with the consequences of what I don’t know. If I make enough smart choices, I can still come out ahead despite losses due to the aggregate of those choices. If I’m playing the slot machine I only know that it’s programmed to occasionally spit out money so the casino can hook the player on unpredictability. That’s all I know. The control is otherwise out of my hands.

    Done right, the game should stack the deck, make the rules clear, and let poorly prepared players hang themselves with bad choices. Not change the rules on a dime when it feels like inconveniencing the player.

    Miscl: RNGeezus Christ, why did you do this? (Nit Picks)

    A few things have always bugged me. This is more a short-form rant and not core problems. None of these by themselves are experience breaking, but taken together with the other issues they still form a problem.

    In my opinion, your players should never. Ever. In the entire existence of the world from the big bang to the heat death of the universe, be gambling 2000+ gold on recruits that could have terrible stats or a huge debuff like a bad lung or stump foot. This is less of a problem late game, when the player should have a pretty good gold reserve, but is still on its own a bad mechanic. I can’t think of a single reason vanilla BB’s recruitment has to be the box of chocolates gamble-a-thon it is now. Other than someone reading a psychology book and trying to use the occasional dopamine release of a half decent bro to keep the player going. The approach the game takes is far more arbitrary than it is justifiable in-universe, and I can tell you now the only thing the implementation has done is inspire the installation of mods. It adds to this idea that many design choices were made purely to create an artificial sense of difficulty. Artificial here meaning that it breaks common sense, simple solutions, or world consistency to achieve the difficulty.

    I understand that you’re trying to give the player a sense of forming really unprepared peons into gods of death (or as close as they can get) but this isn’t how you do it. I’m ok with bad stats If I’m hiring some peddler or ratcatcher. I’m not expecting a complete nightmare if I hire a hedge knight for over 8000 gold that took me hours to save. At the very least there should be an option to hire a brother without his equipment to reduce the cost to the player, since the game is forcing the full price purchase of the equipment and then requiring the player to sell it at the players considerable markdown to recoup some of the cost.

    Less of a problem, why can I not choose my ambitions from a large list of ambitions instead of the forced 2-3 options? The game clearly already prevents options that you don’t meet the requirements for. Why the tiny selection pool?

    I also don’t fully understand why I can’t take a package delivery quest and make a stop in the arena at the same time. It’s a short stop, the package will be fine.

    The entire northern lord politic system seems like an unfinished idea. The members of the council for the factions add nothing but flavor text. Choosing a house to work makes no meaningful difference beyond color codes and maybe a few map access advantages. Negotiations are still painfully flat and are a mechanic that can be entirely ignored. There’s even a whole quest (escort envoy) that changes absolutely nothing even though it purports to try to.

    During the greenskin invasion and the undead invasion, the southern cities don’t give any quests at all related to them. This creates a really weird feeling in the world, where the impression you get is that the south would be absolutely fine if the north part of the map was wiped away. It makes the two seem like disconnected pieces existing in slightly different worlds.

    A few suggestions :

    Make it possible to hire a bro without equipment.

    Make It so that top tier brothers can’t be complete garbage. You may be able to do this with a perk that lets you choose which stats a brother gets stars in, at the cost of a valuable perk point. You could call it something like “intense conditioning” or somesuch. If that’s overtuned, it can just be limited to re-rolling a single star category.

    Redesign the kraken fight in a way that brother tile spawns don’t determine your odds of winning. As it stands right now, it’s a beatable challenge. But it sure as hell aint fun. The indom nerf makes it way more of a pain, furthering that feeling of “My oc, do not win”.

    Create a camp follower that can let you see enemy comp estimate if you’re diving camps, or just give that buff to the scout. Initiating a fight you immediately realize you have to run from slows the game down way too much if you’re insisting on Iron Man.

    Add a “Pause on sighting enemy group” option. The game can clearly auto-pause, and has an audio cue already for sighting enemy parties. Leaving this option out also seems like an arbitrary difficulty choice. Forcing the player to stare at a traveling party when nothing happens MOST of the time does not help the experience.

    If you’re going to make Lindwurms such a pain in the ass, the most useful drop they give, the scales to make the cloak attachment, should have a 100% Drop rate. This isn’t monster hunter, and I’m not going to farm these assholes for a tiny chance at 1 useful drop.

    A “Prestige” option similar to Modern Warfare. After several years as as a mercenary and over 100+ kills, it doesn’t make sense that a peddler is still only a peddler. I could see a “reset” where veteran brothers of a specific level change background depending on certain conditions and incur a higher upkeep cost as a result. Even resetting to level 5 or 1, having base stats updated, and changing their star advantages.
    Aiming even higher, it would be really cool if brothers you dismissed who were above level 11 encountered the crew again during an event, either appearing as enemy champions or offering to re-join with updated backgrounds and stat pools. Having to fight the murderously powerful hedge knight you really liked but let go to save money would be the type of amazing memory that defines a game.

    Despite all of my bitching, BB really is close to being my idea of a perfect game. I love it to bits, in spite of the wrinkles and in some very rare cases because of them. Great job with what you’ve achieved, and good luck in the future.

    New profile, old player.

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