Backlog Beatdown: Braveland

For the video review of Braveland, be a magnificent bastard and check it out here:

The backlog isn’t going away, and neither are these reviews.

Today we’re going to talk about Braveland. Braveland was released by Tortuga Team in March of 2014.

It’s fairly standard fare for a fantasy turn-based strategy game. You make your way across a slowly expanding map with various vistas and nasties to kill. You hire on bigger and badder troops as you fight bigger and badder enemies. You gear up your general, you kill a few bosses, and BAM: the game’s over. Wham, bam, thank you Sam… Wise.

The plotline cuts straight to the chase: you’re on your way out to bring some wandering mercenaries to justice and then POW. You’re the world’s only hope. Funny how that happens. One day you’re hunting down goat thieves and the next you’re bringing an endless monstrosity to its knees at the tip of your broadsword. Ho hum, roll the credits: just another day at the Gygaxian office of turn based strategy.

The combat system is about as deep as a ferret’s purse and the difficulty isn’t the sort of thing that’s going to leave you analyzing and strategizing as time goes on. You choose a unit, swing your weapon, rinse, repeat, get the hell out of my shower. The game is short and sweet from start to finish. It took me about four hours to beat the campaign. And honestly, when you consider that it’s a five dollar game at full price and also has an endless survival mode that you can get lost in, that’s a bit of a steal, particularly if you can pick it up during a Steam sale.

No—Braveland isn’t a bad game at all. It isn’t a particularly great game, either. Nothing about it stood out or demanded that I take notice. To be frank, its features and style seem to suit it better to an iOS audience. The sort of simple, fun adventure that you can drag out over one visit to the toilet after another. In many ways it felt like “My First Turned Based Strategy”: a gateway game you would let your kids play before they got into the black tar heroin of Dawn of War and Starcraft.

It’s followed by two sequels: Braveland Wizards and Braveland Pirates. The Braveland Trilogy, the developers are calling it. From what I’ve seen in screenshots and videos, it looks like more of the same, with some tweaking in the art style and mechanics. Not a massive reboot, to be sure, but if you had fun with the first Braveland, I can see you picking up the other two and finishing out the trilogy.

Was it enough for me to finish out the trilogy?

I don’t know. It’s possible that I’d play Braveland Pirates. I am an absolute sucker for a decent pirate game. But without that factor, I just don’t know. You see, the complete truth here is that, while Braveland offers next to nothing in the surprise and delight category, I really wanted to love it. This had less to do with my general enjoyment of tactical roleplaying and turn based strategy, and more to do with the fact that I could tell that Tortuga Team actually put some effort into this game. The art style is cute and well made—the music isn’t bad at all. The mechanics and story had absolutely nothing going for it, but we live in an age where shovelware and asset-flipped games are getting more and more common on Steam, so the idea that a story was attempted in the first place is sort of charming. When I find something made by developers who actually seem to give a damn, I can’t help but attempt to throw my hat in their corner.

But how much of a positive is that?

Should I actually be lauding a game based on the fact that the studio went out and tried to do their job, as opposed to the weasels and scumbags out there who are trying to nickel and dime their way to free rent through games that one couldn’t say were designed so much as cobbled together with wood glue and spit?

Ten years ago I would have said, “Hell no.”

Now it’s 2016 and while I still lean in that direction—I find myself wondering. There are so many games in the world now—and that’s a good thing. Ultimately, I mean. We have more choice and more options as consumers and that will always be a good thing. But from a critique perspective, it sort of shifts the goalposts. If it weren’t for the constant flood of shit that keeps getting shoveled onto the PC doorway on a weekly basis, would I be less inclined to have enjoyed Braveland?

I don’t think so: as much as I talked about it doing little in the way of innovation, I won’t act like it was a horror to get through. It was fun enough. It did its job nobly.

I suppose it’s just the age of gaming that we live in. It would be silly to act as if all games were of the highest caliber and beauty before indie gaming came into its own. That would be a bald-faced lie. A really huge, unbelievably naïve lie.

But I can’t help but feel that with sudden access to small team indie developers, the past few years of critique technique has shifted a little bit. Maybe the game is average and a little boring at times, or maybe it’s a crude cash grab meant to separate you from your money. The latter will always be the worse—that much is certain. But I just find it amusing that we’ve gotten to this point.

What does that mean for Braveland, you might ask?

Well, for those who just can’t get enough turn based strategy in their lives, Braveland might just be the itch to scratch on a Saturday afternoon. It’s simple, it’s accessible, and it’s got character. Those who are looking for something more in depth and thoughtful would be happier elsewhere. But no matter what way you slice it, Tortuga Team at least made an effort to put some heart into Braveland, and that counts for something. It’s worth a look—and it’s worth an afternoon of slicing and dicing bandits.

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