Review: Braveland

By Sean Clancy 26 Mar 2014 0
Ah, yes, who can forget The Battle of A Handful of Rock Piles. They still teach that one in [LOCAL MILITARY ACADEMY]. Ah, yes, who can forget The Battle of A Handful of Rock Piles. They still teach that one in [LOCAL MILITARY ACADEMY].
Braveland has a lot going for it, on paper. It's all “hex-based squad tactics” and “sweeping epic,” “branching paths” and “leveling,” “gear” and “statistics,” “special abilities” and “kind of looking like Cyanide & Happiness.” That's great (except the last bit). Given all that, if I were to tell you this is yet another game of archers and mages in the back, hitty-stabby fellas up front, and one where that strategy is the strategy 90 percent of the time, you wouldn't necessarily be put off, right? Classics are classic for a reason.

The question isn't whether or not Braveland sports these elements—it does. But to what degree? I'm almost certainly paraphrasing someone brighter than I when I say this, but: in order to design a game that feels big, that comes off as truly epic or expansive, you have to create things that players could very well never encounter, mechanics they might never engage with, routes--literal and figurative-- they might never travel. Braveland... well, Braveland might be a touch too thrifty for that.

Things open up with raiders attacking your peaceful farmstead home. You're the Hero, trained by some sort of village elder to be just the gent to lead a ragtag bunch of farmers and woodland archers (later: real knights and too-cool-for-school crossbowmen) in a populist campaign against the bandits (later: a more sinisiter, better equipped force).

Travel is accomplished via an overworld map, from which you select locations to visit. Some of these will be shops, recruitment centers for troops, or magical obelisks and the like, with these latter locations giving your hero (and, by extension, the troops serving under him) a permanent boost to one of their stats (basically just strength for damage, as you'd expect, and endurance for soaking damage, as you'd also expect). Most locations, though, are plagued by ne’er-do-wells you'll need to smack about in order to progress further.

This is still, somehow, what the weather in Boston feels like right now. This is still, somehow, what the weather in Boston feels like right now.

Here's where we switch to that sweet, sweet hex-map. Your troops on the left, enemies on the right. Early on, you'll essentially be fielding your local high school's forestry club, with pitchfork-wielding farmers and so-called “pathfinders” forming the bulk of your troops, along with the ever-useful archers (in the back!) ready to plink away at your foes. Squads are handled in a stacked fashion, meaning that while you'll only ever have one pathfinder or peasant “unit” to move around the battlefield, in actuality their relative strength and health is denoted by the number beneath their avatar, that number in turn referring to the “true” number of slop-stained plebs still breathing on the field. No splitting stacks or anything like that—you just get the one, and while it can wax or wane in terms of health and hitting power, you can't spread any one unit of a type out. Nor can you recruit over a certain limit for any one troop type, as it happens.

Your thievin' foes sport many killers similar to your own, as well as more colorful bads with equally flamboyant special abilities. A certain wolf enemy, for example, can howl to frighten one of your units, temporarily cutting their damage in half. Assassin enemies can poison you from afar with crossbow bolts, bandit leaders and certain bandit archers can buff themselves or the troops around them, and enemy mages have area-of-effect blasts which force you to keep your units (at least those of a different type) spread apart. Neat.

Meanwhile, your own archer has a... power shot, which does more damage. Or pathfinders get an occasional throwing dagger, which lets them... do the archer thing, sort of. Knights, once you acquire and train them, get a stunning attack, which is fairly nice, but overall the special moves for the supposed good guys are lacking. Battles, with their limited scenery, usually rely on clogging up one or two choke-points with your high-defense (knights and the like) or high-health (throngs of easily cut-down peasants) units, and whittling down the enemy with agile attackers like pathfinders, as well as your archers and crossbowmen, all while healing your own units up with the curative powers of water mages.

"Vagrant?" Come on, man. He has a bow. He's going okay. "Vagrant?" Come on, man. He has a bow. He's going okay.

One might assume the optimal tactic would be to focus-fire down particularly tough units first, hitting enemies one at a time and working one's way down the figurative totem-pole, but in practice I found it more effective to chip away at the enemy as a team, worrying less about finishing units off and more about weakening everyone equally. Since attacks on units will trigger counter-attacks, and since any one unit's damage is, at least partially, influenced by how big that “squad” is, there is a sort of attrition to Braveland's battles, though it's hazy and imprecise.

Our viking-esque hero does have another trick up his non-sleeves, beyond his troops' feeble special abilities. Friendly units who get hit build up the rage meter, a resource which can be spent to deploy unlockable global powers ranging from damaging fire arrows, to a defense buff, to increased allied initiative. The rage meter is a nice idea, and a smart way to balance things out if players hit a tough bump-up in difficulty but, again, these abilities are just a little too safe to stand-out.

That's what I keep coming back to with Braveland: nothing about it really stands out. It utilizes all the necessaries for a game of its stripe, has all the features one expects, but it never even tries to go just few steps beyond what, by default, is required of it. It's a game I kept expecting to open up into something bigger, but it never did.

Okay, so whenever a wizard character says "fools," you have to chug a beer...

The paths of the overworld branch some, true, but those are only diversions from the main route, and overtly so, too. There are shops to encounter, with pairs of (literally two) items that increase one or two of your stats in some invisible but vaguely important manner, as well as occasionally offering boosts like a 10 percent increase to Pathfinder damage. Battles require some moment-to-moment intervention on the player's part, when a swift enemy decides to break rank and shoot for your archer (in the back!), but for the most part things just... play out, and Braveland's "minimalist" approach to map design means that there's not much in the way of geographical texture to muddle things up. It's just, like, a rock. Or two rocks. Or a tree.

Braveland doesn't ever do anything wrong, necessarily. That's one way to look at it. Another is to say that it doesn't do anything wrong because it never reaches far enough to make a mistake. It's good enough at what it tries to do, and it has everything it's meant to have, but that's diminished by the fact that everything it has is, well, plain to see from the get-go.

Braveland was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review.

Review: Braveland

Available on:



Log in to join the discussion.