The best stories in gaming aren’t written by developers, but by you. The best stories in gaming are often enabled by developers who set the table, who provide the environment, but then let you drive the narrative and its ultimate conclusion. In more open-ended MMOs this happens often (EVE), and it can even happen in more controlled environments (WoW). In single-player games its a bit more difficult to achieve truly memorable player-driven stories, often because the game won’t allow it (on-rails dev-written story), but other times also because the events just aren’t that memorable (your events in one game of The Sims are likely pretty close to the events of another playthrough, just with some details changed up).
The best single-player game to deliver memorable stories IMO is Mount and Blade: Warband. It has the setting, it has the scope, and it has the high consequences for success/failure. Given that Battle Brothers is very much inspired by M&B, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that it too has already given me a very memorable story, and here it is.
Every new mercenary company in BB starts with three members, and these three members are the foundation of your group. They are generally stronger/better than most recruits you will get, and because you start with them, there is a certain emotional connection you have with them compared to the more random villagers and city folk you will ultimately recruit. Two of the three are melee fighters, while the third is more intended for ranged combat. Their specific traits and strengths are random each game, but again overall they are strong and very capable, so they are special and worth protecting.
In my first game since the big final update, my original three survived and thrived in dozens of battles, and while other fighters around them would go down and need to be replaced, they remained. And not only did they remain, but they avoided any permanent injuries as well, something somewhat rare after so many battles. The world of Battle Brothers can often times be brutal, and even the best plans tend to go sideways.
It wasn’t until one mid-game battle that the archer of the three took a critical-hit crossbow bolt to the head, killing him outright. It was a devastating blow, crushing my own moral as I finished up the fight. I had gone so many battles keeping the three alive, and yet here, despite solid planning and not making a mistake, one of the three went down.
Yet as the fight ended, hope was returned. Looking at the loot after the battle, it seemed this particular site contained not one, but two special named pieces of armor, an extremely rare occurrence. Not only that, but both suits of armor were incredible powerful, especially for a mid-game warband. The remaining two original members were each given a suit of armor, and this would make them true juggernauts on the battlefield, able to hold the front line while withstanding considerable damage. (The armor I found had over 200 hp on each piece, while at the time most of the armor I was using had between 50 and 110hp).
Despite the loss of an original brother, thanks to the new armor the mercenary band did very well for itself for some time, building a great reputation and undertaking contracts for the nobles of the land. The band had gold, they were well-supplied, and other members of the company were catching up in experience and abilities.
But the world is a harsh place, and just as you start to feel comfortable, disaster has a tendency to strike, and strike it did. Accepting a risky contract, the mercenaries found themselves in a loopsided battle against the undead and a necromancer. Individually each member could handle his undead opponent, but being so greatly outnumbered, they simply couldn’t cut through the horde and reach the necromancer in the back line. As the battle dragged on, fatigue was becoming more and more of a factor, and slowly control of the battle was slipping away.
At the center of it all where the two original brothers, holding strong and putting down undead left and right. They were tough and experienced, and fatigue wasn’t a factor for them just yet, nor was the quality of their armor, as the inexperienced undead had trouble landing a hit, let alone ones strong enough for serious concern.
While the center of the battle was going well, on the edges things were not. One by one brothers were going down, and as each fighter fell, the task of reaching the necromancer and stopping him from raising more undead got harder and harder.
Taking a risk, an archer moved closer to the front line to attempt shooting the necromancer. The chance of landing a shot wasn’t great, but with his cloth armor, the necromancer wasn’t the most durable of combatants. After a few rounds, finally enough shots landed to take him down, and to put an end to his dark magic. At this point however many of the brothers were either dead or critically injured, and at the end only the two original members survived to kill the final enemy.
It was a victory, but one that crippled the fighting power of the mercenary company going forward. New recruits could be hired, but seasoned fighters are very expensive, and that was beyond the financial capabilities of the band. The roster was filled out with farmers, common workers, and a ragtag collection of peasants; hardly the seasoned fighting force the company was prior to that fateful battle.
Costs and upkeep remained however, so more contracts would need to be accepted. The band still had its glowing reputation, despite losing so many, which meant the nobles expected great things, and lesser tasks with easier foes were not common. Given the choice between starving or taking a risk, the band took a tough contract against another lair of the undead.
As the battle started, it was clear to the two veteran members that this was be the bands final stand. The numbers were too much, and the enemies far more experienced than the average mercenary. Additionally, among the undead were a few ghosts, which quickly cause fear and panic among the ranks. The mercenaries never had a chance as a whole, and the new recruits were quickly cut down in brutal fashion. Worse still, the two original members, seeing the carnage around them and with ghosts wailing in terror, started to lose their moral and would soon break.
In a sad twist of fate, they didn’t die together fighting a tougher foe in heroic, but rather were slowly nicked to death by shambling undead as they attempted to flee in terror. And so marked the end of that mercenary company, crushed by a cruel and harsh world. But another band would arise, to make new memories, and to push further towards glory.