Blazing Deserts is the newest DLC released for the popular tactical turn based role-playing game (RPG) Battle Brothers (BB). Like previous DLC, “Beasts & Exploration” and “Warriors of the North”, it adds a mixture of additional features and additional content. Not only is it the largest DLC yet, but it’s the first to expand the boundaries of the map. In this review, I will focus on the specific areas of expansion and the various pluses and minuses for each.
The traditional BB map is pushed farther south with three large, rich city-states added. Each of these cities may be built in a manner similar to cities in the northern part of the map, but give access to a number of the features that are unique to the south. These new features include things such as weapons, buildings, armor, new backgrounds for hiring, and new quests. While these areas exist primarily for the purpose of tying the new features of the expansion together, they are flavorful and provide a region with Middle Eastern flavor that is integrated well within the overall Battle Brothers experience.
The Blazing Deserts DLC adds two new buildings to the game: the Alchemist and the Arena. The Alchemist is located in all three of the city-states and houses many useful items. Its stock includes a mixture of new equipment (bombs, guns, and gunpowder) and things that any experienced BB player will recognize, such as antidotes. Some of these new items also can be crafted at the Taxidermist if you have the Beasts & Exploration DLC. Considering the expense of these new items, I usually prefer crafting to outright purchases. The various bombs offer some effective damage, which are an especially potent tool on tougher battles in the hands of a brother with extra bag slots.
The Arena is one of the best new features of the DLC, since it allows for an alternate mode of combat. Rather than bringing your entire company, instead you field a group of 3 and fight a quick battle with a similarly-sized or slightly larger enemy group. Before combat, you’re told what you will be facing, which can be groups of beasts or humans. Winningthese challenges rewards you a reasonably-decent amount of money. Alongside money, every so often a bonus piece of (good) gladiator equipment is provided in the prizes. Rarely, the arena offers the opportunity to participate in a three-round tournament where you deploy five brothers and can obtain a piece of famed gladiator gear as a reward. It’s challenging, but worthwhile.
Bottom line? The Arena is fun. It provides an alternative to traditional quests where you trade your ability to level up your entire squad with having a consistent and repeatable source of gold from one location. It also creates an entirely-different battle experience by focusing on smaller-scale encounters even as you get later into the game. The Arena is also tied with one of the new BB starts: Gladiators, which allows you to start with three experienced gladiators at the city with the arena. If you desire, you’re allowed to just hang out in this city and do arena fights for awhile before reaching the point of feeling like moving on or interweaving other kinds of fights into your days.
Retinues are another new feature of this DLC and represent the non-combat followers that join your company. These people are essentially purchasable special abilities with a thematic tie to your mercenary company. The scope of bonuses which members of your retinue bring cover almost every aspect of the game, and serve as a good way to specialize your company to whatever aspect of the game you want to focus on. For example, if you plan on tackling many mercenary contracts and building alliances with noble houses, there are ways of building up your retinue to enhance your ability to do just that. If you want to explore the wilds and find enemy locations to plunder, there are followers who will help you there as well. I’d say this feature is an effective and flavorful option that is not too overwhelming to understand and manage while still providing real choices and opportunities to individualize your company.
Like the other DLC features, these new enemies are only featured in the new portions of the map and consist of a new enemy human faction (nomads) and three new varieties of beasts. I quite enjoyed my bouts with Nomads. At their core, Nomads are basically variants of the bandits common on the rest of the map, but have a larger focus on dodge and take advantage of whips alongside some of the new weapons introduced in this expansion. They serve as a welcome change of pace from other enemies as well as a good source for obtaining the new DLC weapons.
The other new enemies are hyenas, ifrits, and serpents. Hyenas are essentially reskinned direwolves. This is not to say they are bad per se, but it feels like somewhat of a wasted opportunity. Ifrits are earth elementals, which are immune to status effects and capable of merging with adjacent ifrits to form larger versions of the creature. Their other capabilities include launching a ranged attack that splits them into their smaller ifrit parts which potentially can throw some into your back line. I find ifrit to be an enjoyable challenge, since they force you to break out of the monotony of a frontline/backline split and think about how to defend against potential mini-ifrits showing up by your archers. The last new enemy is the serpent, which boasts the unique ability of grabbing a target and pulling it over into the swarm of enemy serpents or even behind the serpent lines. Similar to the ifrit, this enemy forces you to rethink how you’re going to handle the disruption to your battle liens. Thankfully, while these enemies may force you to switch up tactics compared to previous content, it’s not so strange or different that it’s not related to the rest of the game. On the whole, I find the beasts to be a good addition. At worst, the hyenas are a missed opportunity, but the other two are a nice alternative option, which I’m quite happy to include with the best of the beasts from Beasts & Explorations.
Origins and Backgrounds
If you have the Warriors of the North DLC, then there are three new Origins: Southern Mercenaries, Manhunters, and Gladiators.
Southern Mercenaries is essentially just the normal start except you start in the south with one of your brothers having one of the new weapons.
Manhunters increases your starting squad size and your maximum squad size, while imposing the restriction of making it so over half your members have to be Indentured, one of the new backgrounds from Blazing Desert. Non-indebted are able to use a whip to buff indebted, but indebted are nerfed to make them into true fodder. They are unable to go above level 7 and are much more likely to die than other characters.
Gladiators, the last of the new origins, is equivalent to Warrior of the North’s Lone Wolf background. Unlike Lone Wolf you start with three characters, rather than one, but like it you start with a higher tier background, if all of your starting characters die you lose, and you can have no more than twelve individuals in your squad at a time. Though this is considered an advanced background it seems to mostly make things easier. These gladiators are quite strong with enough power to give you an edge in early encounters. Their maximum group size of 12 downside only becomes relevant if you try to complete multiple crises. It is more difficult without having flex/backline slots for characters that are not good for one or more crises or post-endgame content. If you are going for some smaller subset of content the drawback will be overtaken by the advantage of having such strong brothers early on.
In addition to the Manhunter, Indentured, and Gladiator backgrounds, there are two other new backgrounds to choose from; both of which are high-tier and worthy of facing end game content. The first of these is the Nomad, which generally have high stats and medium gear. They tend to be relatively inexpensive, but have good enough attribute star ratings to potentially be worth turning into endgame characters. Assassins are rare and have stats which push them toward nimble roles relying on dodge for survival. Indentured, outside of the Manhunter campaign, are low tier recruits who start with no gear but have an added bonus of having no maintenance cost. Manhunters are on the upper end of inexpensive hires. They have pretty good stats for their price, and while they aren’t going to be the best of your end game units, they have a chance to make it that far without being optimal. Gladiators have the stats to compete with other end game backgrounds, but are also very, very expensive. You have to have quite a bit of money to justify hiring one, but if you can afford their cost and maintenance, they are likely to be worth it.
Blazing Deserts has plenty of new gear. Some pieces are simply additional options for specific categories of gear, but a few weapons enable you to take advantage of their characteristics for completely new builds. The first of these is the swordlance, which has good but not amazing damage, but provides the ability to do area of effect attacks at range two. This property can allow your character to become a killing machine which can cut through numerous weakened enemies and then attack again; either hitting the same group of enemies again, or even hitting other targets somewhere else in range.
The second significant weapon is the handgonne, an aoe ranged weapon that has a wide damage variance and the potential for hitting up to 4 enemies with a single shot. Early builds appear to be focusing on using it to trigger morale checks, however, it will be interesting to see if player are able to make a build with it that is competitive with the top-tier weapons.
There are also a number of new consumables with Fire Pots, Flash Pots, Smoke Pots, and Acid Flasks being the most-prominent of these. Each of the pots creates an area effect that hits everyone inside of it. Fire Pot is straightforward as it provides a couple of rounds of damage. Flash Pots provide a dazed debuff. Smoke Pots are the most interesting of these bombs, giving everyone in the area of effect the ability to ignore attacks of opportunity when moving through a space next to a melee opponent. The Acid Flask is a single-target effect that eats through a target’s armor over the course of a few rounds with a small chance to splash and hit other units adjacent to it as well. Considering the lengths that people will go to avoid destroying an enemy’s armor so that they can capture it for their own, this seems like the least useful of the new consumables.
This is the first expansion to add a new late-game crisis of Holy War to the three existing ones: Nobles at War, Greenskin Invasion, and Undead Scourge. In effect, this crisis is most like the Nobles At War. It will not ultimately result in attempts at the destruction of civilization, but instead a clash between human factions, specifically the southern city states vs. the rest of the map with the goal being control of three different holy sites that mean different things to the different cultures. This crisis is a great showcase of the new units and weapons available to the southern city-states even in games with a more northern focus or start. It also has the added benefit of lengthening the game for people who enjoy Battle Brothers so much that they like to go through a “full crisis” game, then tackle legendary sites and additional post-endgame content.
There are a lot of other bells and whistles added too:
- New music for the southern locations
- A free update that comes with the DLC provides additional thematic battlefield obstacles
- Existing contracts and events are reskinned for the south and an additional type of contract focused on fighting against rebelling indentured servants has been introduced, including an option to switch sides if the revolt has a particularly persuasive leader
- There are some new banners to represent southern mercenary companies. They are just as attractive and thematic as the previous banners and are a nice touch
- There is a new legendary location, but I admit in the time I had to review the DLC I did not get a chance to find and conquer the location.
I consider Battle Brothers to be a great game, but one I was no longer actively enthusiastic about. I would play for a bit whenever a new DLC was released, but would eventually grow bored and move on to something else. I was competent with the game but it was never something I was driven to master like I’ve done with some other turn based tactical RPGs. I expected this would be the same with Blazing Deserts, but I was wrong. I am actually not quite sure what it is about this expansion that changed things. Perhaps it was the retinue’s customization options. Maybe it was the fact that they expanded dimensions of content that they had not touched since the game was originally released. Perhaps just the total sum of options available with the expansion was enough to make me fall in love with the game all over again. Whatever it is, this DLC has reinvigorated my passion for the game and my intention is to finally master the game, to really understand what makes it tick, and to understand it at a level that indicates expertise. I consider Blazing Deserts a must-have for any Battle Brothers player, and suggest each and every one gets it as their time and finances allow.