While many video games place you in the role of a singular hero, some cater to those who’d rather be a leader or a general. Look far back enough and you’ll find King’s Bounty, the predecessor to the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Braveland is a loving homage to the games of that period with a fun, turn-based combat.
As with countless games before you begin as a young man in a sleepy village that comes under siege by bandits. Unlike most of the townsfolk however your father was an adventurer in his day. With his old armor and some battlefield training you set forth to save your people. You begin to amass followers, initially archers and pitchfork-toting peasants. It’s always nice to see a hex-based game as it’s a more realistic and less limiting model for movement. Navigating the game world is simple. The battles play out in a more or less linear fashion across a map with branching trails providing optional paths that lead to various rewards. The battles are turn-based and easily understood.
The first few battles predictably are a cakewalk, dispatching a few wolves and low level bandits. During the first boss battle I discovered that my standard tactics weren’t going to be applicable in this game. Most tactical games these days focus on microcosms of battle with individual characters going toe to toe. Though each unit may look like a singular individual, they’re actually representative of a group of units. The biggest impact this has is unlike most games where a wounded character is capable of dishing out the same amount of damage a unit that takes too many hits will lose members and eventually become ineffectual.
By the end of the game you’ll have to make a few choices in regards to party members. There aren’t a wide enough range of options that you’ll be paralyzed by indecision. In fact it really comes down to whether you’d rather have a larger number of weaker units or a few heavy hitters. There’s a touch more to the strategy than simply picking which forces to field. Though your hero never enters battle he can still be outfitted with equipment that boosts his underlings. Some give across-the-board benefits to attack or defense while other items specifically boost a certain unit class, making it easier to maximize the usefulness of your favorites.
In addition to the special abilities of each unit (only the lowly peasants have no helpful powers) you obtain an amulet that allows you to utilize spells on the battlefield. To cast a spell you need to accumulate fury, which you obtain every time your troops take damage. There are a few offensive spells and some utility powers that boost your defense or allow a unit to travel a little further on its turn.
The battles are challenging, particularly the optional boss battles scattered throughout the map. Usually completing one of these gives you access to a magical obelisk that bestows a permanent boost to your troops or some other perk. A few of them are almost impossible to complete when you first come across them but as you increase the size and power of your army the previously insurmountable obstacles will be far easier. What makes the game challenging is completing missions with a minimum of casualties; each one of your troops that dies is deducted from your reward at the end of the mission which means that the better you do, the more troops and items you can purchase.
Braveland opts for a simple, cartoon style that somehow doesn’t seem to look exactly like the dozens of other similar games out there, which is a refreshing change. It manages to be cute without trying to be cutesy, while not having the semi-sarcastic, self-aware tone of so many retro games. In short, Braveland is a sheer delight. My only complaint is that the game is too short. Not in the sense that it’s over in twenty minutes and you feel cheated of your money, but the game is such an unalloyed pleasure to play that it’s a disappointment to roll through the final boss and not have anything left to do, beyond starting a new game on a higher difficulty.
The ending of the campaign says it’s the end of Book 1 so hopefully there will be more of Braveland to come, but what’s there is a fun time that is at once an homage to older games but still enjoyable and accessible to modern audiences.
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With a simple, straightforward style and an unusual take on strategy this is a top contender for your attention.