Libra: Broken Lines (Switch)
Libra is a series which provides first impressions of games before their full review. These are generally spoiler free, however, some base plot points – as well as some mechanic/system reveals – could lurk ahead.
Back at PAX East, I had the chance to watch a bit of a gameplay demo for Broken Lines, a World War II-themed strategy title. Though it had already been released on the eShop, it was the first chance I had to see what made the game unique, and it certainly did not disappoint, in that regard. Something I’ve been seeing much more lately are strategy titles with free camera movement- whether they are grid-based or not, this allows developers to play more with environment topography and an increased focus on unique combat scenarios. Now having played the game for a bit myself, I’d like to share some initial thoughts and impressions, as Broken Lines is most certainly not your standard, run-of-the-mill strategy shooter, for better or worse.
Broken Lines is a strategy RPG that implements a multitude of different features in order to stand out from its contemporaries. Though turn-based, this really only applies to the unit action input, as battles play out over a series of eight second periods of time. In between these, you can queue up a new series of actions for each of your active squad members, which are given a time estimate on the queue line to help you gauge where certain characters will be at certain points. Though it might be an utterly bizarre comparison, I was reminded of the combat system in The Caligula Effect: Overdose, except the actions that your units can perform here are much more straightforward and synergistic.
Seeing as this is a skirmish-based wartime game, all of the tactics mimic those of realistic gunplay, which means you’ll have the option of shooting while moving, crouch walking in order to stay behind cover, and sprinting to get where you need to go faster, but at the risk of drawing enemy attention. In addition, the game’s extensive tutorial teaches you about how to pull off suppression and flanking maneuvers, as well as the potential benefits of high ground and specific kinds of attack options. You can take a much more measured, single shot with high accuracy and damage, or be more liberal with your gunfire. In the same way, certain weapons have specific effects, like the shotgun’s knockdown capability that… sounds great in practice, but doesn’t really stick the landing.
The only area of the skirmish gameplay that I would knock is its control scheme- you’ll be holding down movement and action buttons in order to bring up option wheels, stick-clicking to read about specific environmental information, cycling through characters with the bumpers, and the game’s free camera- while liberating, in a sense- doesn’t offer an ideal perspective of the action. The option wheels in particular are irksome, as you’ll need to hold down the corresponding button and the directional input before letting go of the former, which sometimes doesn’t always register. Likewise, the cursor is not always very precise in its confirmation of movement pin drops. Although missions really only take around 3-4 minutes of in-game time, this is based on clocking the eight second action periods. You might spend seven-to-eight times that length in your tactics menus.
Despite its strategic fundamentals, there’s also a bit of roguelike flavor on display, in the form of morale ailments and deceased squad members. Your squad of eight can die if not handled properly, or develop Darkest Dungeon-esque morale debuffs if put under mental duress for extended periods of time. The latter is usually caused by being fired upon relentlessly or taking damage too often, but there are certain support conversations that take place in between combat scenarios that can have negative impacts. You’ll need to side with the varied perspectives of your squad members in these dialogue sequences, with some results offering a benefit for the squad and a morale decrease for a specific member. If your entire squad should perish before reaching the conclusion of the narrative, it’s game over, man- for real. You’ll need to restart your campaign in order to make things right.
Not that things have a tendency to go terribly wrong, mind you. There is a fog of war in effect, but once you’ve either spotted or been spotted by an enemy, the game will force a turn reset, offering you a chance to evaluate your current actions and reset, if necessary. In this way, much of Broken Lines combat is forgiving in a predictable sense, though the word takes on a new meaning. As long as you’re mindful of what weaponry enemies are carrying and how they might react to certain events, you shouldn’t encounter too many problems. A tactical error or two can be salvaged, but they can also result in severe losses.
Outside of the very unique gameplay mechanics, there’s not much else to discuss. The game’s graphics are serviceable- depicting European landscapes and soldiers in a rudimentary fashion that looks fine from a zoomed out perspective and loses its charm if you get too close. The character portraits are full of cartoonish, but distinct details, giving each squad member a distinct look and personality. Similarly, their dialogue evokes particular voices and personas, though the writing is not necessarily standout. As window dressings for a novel game concept, they don’t do a great job of making this title feel more distinct than, say, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, but they get the job done.
- Inventive take on turn-based strategy
- Gunplay and tactics grounded in realism
- Well-integrated roguelike mechanics
- Serviceable, but lacking aesthetics
- Complex control scheme that requires precision
As Broken Lines’ campaign doesn’t seem particularly long, be on the lookout for my final thoughts on the game soon. Have you ever played a strategy game similar to Broken Lines? Let us know in the comments below.