Coming to Menace from Battle Brothers, you'll immediately notice two things. The first? Someone's gone and replaced your gritty, vaguely European medieval warfare with a load of spacemen and laser guns. The second? Someone's gone and added a whole other dimension: The paper cut-outs that made up your infantry in Overhype's previous game have been replaced by troops that extend sumptuously along the Z-axis.
But those trifles aside? Menace seemed very much like an evolution of the Battle Brothers formula at this year's Gamescom. That's not to say there aren't significant changes, but that I think anyone who poured hours (and hours, and hours) into that game will soon find themselves at home in the new one.
Menace trades in the grim, bloody drudgery of medieval warfare for the exciting, bloody spectacle of sci-fi violence. You play the head honcho of a mercenary company sent into a region of space—the Wayback System—which has lost contact with the rest of the galaxy and has no particular interest in resuming it. There's a way in but no way out, and your job is to bring the region back into the fold by engaging the local factions: To bludgeon, harangue, and cajole the wayward remnants back into civilisation and unify them against the titular Menace, an ever-spreading cyborg threat. They aren't enthusiastic about the prospect.
Menace has more of an emphasis on its narrative than its predecessor game, but Overhype's Jan and Paul Taaks were keen to point out that the game is still very much focused on its sandbox, choices, and emergent storytelling. The tactical maps are procedurally generated, there are around 26 different leaders you can pick up and mix and match to helm your squads, and making nice with one faction risks angering another.
Plus, Overhype tells me that your ship—effectively your XCOM base layer—has around 40 different upgrades but only 10 slots for them, so hard choices are afoot. It sounds like there are still plenty of variables meant to keep the stories you swap with your friends fresh.
But there is a narrative, and with it Overhype to offer some sense of direction to those players who bounced off Battle Brothers when that game left them to fend for themselves in its medieval warzone, pointing them at objectives and giving them a clear sense of urgency with its always-ticking doomsday clock (again, think XCOM, specifically the Avatar Project timer).
A lot of the Taaks' presentation on Menace focused on how they tried to find a balance between this aspect of the game and the challenging, perhaps grognardy appeal of Battle Brothers. They think they're managing it, though. Sure, there's a story now, but Overhype still wants you to obsess over your kit and builds and the game will have a "very high skill limit," I'm told. There are still plenty of stats for you to delve into as you dole out weapons and armour to your assembled grunts, and the progression you'll experience will be mostly a "lateral" affair rather than a string of straightforward upgrades.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the factions you'll be trying to butter up, you'll have to choose between missions that offer different, but equally valuable strategic rewards. It all sounds quite agonising, basically.
Life is a battlefield
In terms of combat, Overhype is calling Menace a "hardcore" turn-based tactics game. You gear up your squad—consisting of three to nine hapless rubes—give them a leader (one of the aforementioned 26), and you're off to the races across procgen tactical maps. Intel will be crucial, the devs tell me, and knowing where your enemies are going to be before you even set foot on the battlefield will be essential to pulling off flawless victory. Then again, you can always destroy chunks of the environment to uncover them.
So it'll be tough, but hopefully not unfair. The Taaks told me that in their previous game, it sometimes felt as if "Battle Brothers was punishing you for no reason," a feeling they want to avoid in Menace.
Your troops won't have classes; you'll be free to equip them with whatever gear you think best fits the occasion, but the type of gear you have access to will change the longer you spend in the Wayback System. The longer you're there, the more you'll have to rely on the weapons and gear wielded by the region's native denizens, and the more sophisticated will become the cyborg threat you're meant to actually be warring against.
The war to come
So consider me interested. We won't know how these pieces all fit together until the game actually hits some time next year, but everything Overhype is saying has me excited to get my hands on the studio's take on XCOM. Everything I ever played of Battle Brothers ended in all sorts of gore and tragedy. I expect my time with Menace will be much the same. Past or future, some things never change.