Broken Lines: A Tactical RPG That Risks It All
08 Feb, 2020
Something happens when a game lets you risk everything. When any character can die, when civilians can be lost, when you can fail – in Broken Lines the stakes are raised and every choice demands your total conviction.
This is what PortaPlay set out to create when they began working on Broken Lines: a new story-driven tactical RPG that puts you in charge of eight soldiers stranded behind enemy lines.
The game is set in alternate history WWII, in an unknown part of Eastern Europe where gas-masked soldiers haunt the countryside and a sickening mist seeps into the towns.
When a transport plane carrying recruits, medics, officers, and radio operators crash lands under strange circumstances, the squad are cut off from their chain of command and, without orders, must find a way to deal with the horrors they face alone. And that’s just where the problems start.
Broken Lines takes inspiration from strategy classics such as XCOM and Frozen Synapse, but also from the character-driven storytelling of games like Banner Saga and Darkest Dungeon, where in the harder game modes characters can be lost forever due to the decisions you make.
It’s a design choice that puts all the pressure on the player and leads to unexpectedly tense moments in the heat of battle: Sherman is close to breaking, his hands shaking on his rifle, but you know he’s the only one with the skills to fix the radio tower.
King’s already taken a beating, with blood on his face and not much left in him, but an enemy officer is just within reach – and if King can take him down, the rest of the squad will be safe for another round.
For me, it was Hailey: the only soldier in the field with a chance of patching up her squad mates, but sending her out to revive the fallen ended with a grenade to the face. When you lose your medic, do you start over from the beginning, or tough it out and have the rest of your squad learn to cope with the bandages they have left?
These are the choices that Broken Lines faces you with. It’s tough on any player that finds themselves invested in the story, but it’s also a design choice that puts pressure on the developers themselves. After all, how do you tell a story where any of your characters could die at any time?
Like Banner Saga, story events can be encountered each night as the squad make camp, and the choices you make there can shape the soldiers for better or worse.
Traits can be awarded or inflicted upon soldiers as result of your decisions, as per Darkest Dungeon, and depending on how many squad members remain, their morale levels, and which previous events have already occurred, new stories will emerge.
Characters even change depending on how you handle their interactions, leading to deeper camaraderie as you strengthen their relationships with squadmates, or to friction on the battlefield if tensions spill over into arguments. So just one playthrough won’t reveal all the secrets Broken Lines has hiding.
Telling a story where anyone can die also means allowing the player to reach unsatisfying endings, and this puts pressure on the player both in the long-run and in the heat of the moment.
Broken Lines uses a We-Go style tactics system, mixing up the traditional turn-based and RTS approaches to strategy. Here, the player sets up their moves during a planning stage, then must execute them simultaneously with the enemy NPCs.
So with each pause the player has to question what they’re willing to risk to move forward, and to strategise against enemies who can react on the fly.
How Do You Want To Play Broken Lines?
This risk of failure is also what pushes the player to question the kind of ending they’re after. Do you want the squad to survive, even at the cost of civilian lives? Would you do what you thought was right, even if it meant sacrificing a squad member?
And at the end of the day, were your choices any better than those of your enemy? Keeping the player in the dark can be frustrating for both parties, but it’s also one of the most interesting, and honest, ways that war can be depicted. Sometimes you have to live with the decisions you made in the moment, because in real life there is no right answer.
Play Broken Lines
Ultimately, Broken Lines is doing something new, with turn-based strategy that can challenge seasoned tactics players and a story that dares to let you fail – and then asks you to live with your failures.
With multiple endings and hundreds of events to uncover, Broken Lines is a game for strategy players looking for a story worth exploring. Broken Lines is set to release in Q1 of 2020 to PC and Nintendo Switch, and is available now to wishlist on Steam and GOG. For more information, head to https://brokenlinesgame.com/
Interested in learning more about the best free indie games on Amazon Prime and how to play Amazon Prime games for free, check out this article on Into Indie Games.