BattleTech (2018) – PC game review
The [BattleTech games](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BattleTech) were a feature of my school days! The [board game](https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1540/battletech) originally published by FASA was an epic universe that combined the fantasy of huge Mech battles with the story universe of a futuristic Dark Ages set in space. I remember having epic gaming sessions with friends, making stomping and pew-pew noises as we fought giant tabletop battles to determine the outcome of Great Houses and later, to defend (or conquer) the Inner Sphere from the Clans (a long lost remnant of the ancient Star League).
The Battle universe spawned countless fiction books and various rule sets, and I was an avid buyer of them all! I was completely immersed in this universe of intrigue, of Great Houses, mysterious invaders from the past and noble future knights riding the fabled BattleMechs into battle! I remember when my Dad taught me how to do some basic coding, I tried to embark upon a huge project of trying to pack the rule-sets of the game into a text simulation. Needless to say, it was just too ambitious for a teenage first coding project!
Earlier this year, after a long absence of BattleTech games, [Harebrained Games released their take on the BattleTech universe](http://battletechgame.com/). When they launched on Kickstarter, I was in the first wave of backers, and after a great deal of playing (you can see the [end game here](https://steemit.com/dlive/@msearles/3ba8e75e-8935-11e8-aa9e-0242ac110003) on my alt account @mcsearles), I am ready to write about the game and what I think about the experience!
When computing power had caught up with the ambitions of a teenage mind, there were the releases of the original “fps” BattleTech games, the first of which was called [MechWarrior](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MechWarrior_(1989_video_game)) and was published by Activision. Later additions to the franchise were cunningly titled [Mechwarrior 2](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MechWarrior_2), [Mechwarrior 3](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MechWarrior_3) and [Mechwarror 4](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MechWarrior_4). The franchise finally failed with Mechwarrior 5 being cancelled around 2010. These were the best known attempts to simulate the Mechwarrior experience on PC and they were hits among the board game fans, and also gained a large following with PC gamers in general.
These simulations placed the player directly into the cockpit of the BattleMech, and simulated the actual piloting of BattleMechs as they traversed the universe and navigated the various “differences” between the noble houses. However, for those who were into the true simulation experience, I remember video arcades having networked (up to 16) booths that simulated the battles of the Mechs, these were known as [BattleTech Centres](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BattleTech_Centers).
A later entry into the PC gaming franchise of the universe was the MechCommander games, MechCommander 1 published in 1999 by MicroProse and MechCommander 2 published in 2001 (FASA Interactive), these were more a Commander’s eye (top down) view of the battles, played out in real time. These were a closer recreation of the board game, as it simulated the running of a mercenary company, with salvage, administration and ongoing damage being a critical concern between battles. These games are now abandon-ware and available for download at [Mechcommander.org](https://web.archive.org/web/20061027060034/http://www.mechcommander.org:80/downloads.html).
This brings us to the current BattleTech game, which was published this year (2018) by HairBrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive. Hairbrained Schemes was best known for it’s adaptation of the Shadowrun universe (another board/RPG game) to the PC (and other stuff that try to be gaming machines…), whilst Paradox are best known for their epic huge span history/universe simulations!
I had played the Shadowrun games on Android, and I wasn’t too impressed, they were good but a bit too linear for my tastes. On the other hand, I’m not sure I gave them much of a chance, perhaps it is something that I will need to revisit. However, the involvement of Paradox had me convinced, the idea of an epic long running game of running a mercanary company in the BattleTech Universe (dealing with the minute details of salvage and contracts) was just too promising!
… and so it was that I was on board with the first Kickstarter wave, eagerly awaiting the release of the game earlier this year! If I had been a student again, it would have been a game that was finished within a week of non-stop gaming. However, these days, I’m a father with other responsibilities, and so my gaming time was spread out much thinner.
The story missions (which are completely optional, but do advance the universe forward allowing you access to a larger area on the star map) put you in command of a ragtag mercenary company running aboard nearly derelict Leopard class dropship. You are soon contacted by an old employer (Lady Kamea Arano), who in the tutorial mission was betrayed and dethroned, presumably killed.
You are suddenly backed by a mysterious benefactor who soon points you in the direction of an ancient LosTech Argos class dropship. From there you are free to roam and complete contracts as a freelance mercenary or to pursue the story missions to attempt to restore Lady Arano to the throne of Aurigan Reach.
The meat of the game was the implementation of the BattleMech ground combat, and this was the part that I was most impressed by, seeing that the mechanics of the game hewed closely to the original board game rules. Movement, Initiative, Facing, Combat, Line of Sight and Heat Management all play a huge role in the way you plan your tactics. However, despite the closeness of the rules, there were some real problems in the implementation that led to some not ideal game systems and incentives which will become clear later in the review.
Movement, the faster (or if you jump/sprint) you move, the more you can dodge incoming attacks and the better you can gain a favourable angle onto the weaker armour facings of the enemy. This was good for some time based missions as well, where you were racing against a timer to complete objectives or if you had jump jets you could get some really favourable shots from high and behind enemies.
Initative was also a promising implementation, with lighter (or skilled pilots) Mechs moving first in the the 5 round initiative order. There were also special pilot skills (or events like falling) that could degrade an enemy’s initiative for a turn.
Facing was critical to the mechanics and tactics of the game. Flanking (or firing from an elevatation) allowed for better chances of hits on weakly protected areas, combined with targeting skills you could easily take down heavier or similar classed enemies relatively easily, whilst if you went head to head, it would be a more arduous affair to achieve the same result (with the indiscriminate damage also reducing your available salvage).
The principal classes of weapons in this game were Energy, Ballistic, Missile and Support. Energy weapons being the lasers and PPC’s with decent damage/range and high heat output; Ballistic being especially useful with vehicles/turrets with a high stability damage; Missile with indirect fire capability and high stability damage but diffuse damage; Support being miscellaneous short range melee weapons with varying special effects.
The Line of Sight in this game was really very well handled, with the ability to easily see how it was affected with the movement/facing (dotted lines showing the resulting LOS direct or indirect, with them turning red if weapons were able to fire). The front aiming cone and the targeted facing indicators were also really well done, with intuitive indicators showing up the direction of the facing and which parts (front/side/back) of an enemy your weapons would be targeting.
Heat management was one of the defining characteristics of the BattleTech boardgame, acting as a risk/reward mechanic for firing your weapons. You could offload all your weapons (alpha strike), but at the cost of higher heat output which (depending on the heat dissipation ability of your Mech) would impact heavily on your options for the next turn. The types of weapons that you would choose to fire (Energy being the most heat intensive) or various environmental conditions (polar, desert or standing in water/lava) would also affect the combat ability of your Mech. Overheating would carry the grave penalty of damage to your internal structures and in extreme cases, lead to a complete shutdown of your Mech unit.
The greatest problem in implementation is the lance restriction on each mission. You are allowed to bring only 4 Mechs (from your bay of up to 18 battle ready Mechs on your dropship) along on each mission, and as I will discuss later in this section, there is a huge disincentive to bringing lighter Mechs along. To me, it is crazy that in a war as a mercenary company, you are going to leave decent hardware sitting at home, hoping that you brought enough firepower with you. This is even more galling when the enemy doesn’t stick to the same rules. If the limit was the 18 Mechs of the ready to drop mech bay, that would make sense, but a single lance of 4 does not.
This leads to the perverse incentives of just dropping with the heaviest lance that you can field, and to just ignore scouting and other types of Mechs.
The implementation of movement modifiers for targeting and the initiative system were good ideas. However, in practice, the protection afforded by moving fast or acting first was not enough to withstand an incoming barrage (especially as you lighter faster Mech would have less armour to begin with anyway), so the speed aspect was not as useful as hoped. The best that you could hope for would be that an enemy Mech would waste a combat turn on ventilating your little Mech instead of targeting a more significant target. It only mattered if you were of a similar weight class as your target, if you just moved first and you were a light/medium Mech, then getting that first shot in didn’t mean much more than a mosquito getting a nibble in before being stomped on by an elephant!
These issues would have been resolved if you could drop with a full complement of varied Mechs, instead of only 4. If you had a greater number, then you could assign a couple to spotting and scouting roles, or harassment without losing too much firepower and protection whilst gaining the all important placement and LOS bonuses. However, with 4 Mechs, to lose a quarter of your force to a scout was just too much of a hit to your effectiveness.
At the beginning you are just traipsing around in a pretty bog standard Leopard class dropship. However, soon after beginning the story missions, you discover and take command of a LosTech era Argos-class dropship.
This is when the game starts to open up, as the ability to upgrade the dropship really starts to open up the possibilities of the Mechs that you can field.
The main page of the game (see the dropship picture above), is pretty much a glorified menu system that allows you to access the various parts of the administrative meta-game of running a mercenary company.
The market menu is where you can buy and sell salvage for C-Bills with a markup or markdown depending on your reputation with the faction that is controlling the planet you are orbiting. You do end up with a great deal of spare salvage, more than you can equip, so it is a good place to dump unnecessary gear or Mechs. If you are particular lucky there may be a piece of better than average equipment for sale (indicated by the + signs). If you see one of these pieces, it is a great idea to snap it up for it’s combat bonuses as these are pretty rare finds.
Likewise, you can augment your roster of pilots with various vagabonds that are hanging around the planet.
In the Command Center tab, you have access to the various contracts that are on offer. When you accept a contract, you are able to negotiate a preference for more salvage/reputation/money. You are also able to see the amount of travel time required to get to the target planet, with the JumpShip bills tending to be paid by the employer.
Now, I found this part the most disappointing part. The missions on offer were of little variety (boiling down to escort, defend or destroy missions), and there were only 2 or 3 on offer at any one time.
As pilots fight and survive missions, they gain XP to level up various skills in the broad categories of Gunnery/Piloting/Guts/Tactics. Each branch provides certain bonuses and at high enough levels unlocked specialised skills that affect the flow of the tactical game.
Seeing as you often could only field 4 Mechs, you would often use the same 4 pilots unless there was injury, so there was little use in a large roster of pilots, other than to increase your salary overhead.
Repairing Mechs or just tinkering with new loadouts, this was done via the Mech Bay interface. At the beginning you could only have 6 ready to fight Mechs, but with a fully upgraded Dropship you could have 18 Mechs ready to drop (but only 4 allowed on a mission).
Tweaking (or fixing Mechs) requires time and C-Bills, with the time component being the most critical. Meaning that the best time for tweaking your loadouts was during the long interstellar voyages between missions in different star systems.
This part was really one of the central elements of the board game, making sure that you had the right gear and hardware on board the Mechs to ensure that every possible advantage was in your favour. This part was handled really quite well, although I wonder if it would be a little opaque to those who hadn’t experienced the board game.
This was a pretty bland yet important menu. The bulk of your C-bills would go towards upgrading and maximising the performance of your space home. All the upgrades are pretty useful and in some cases, almost essential to the smooth functioning of your mercenary company.
Most of the time, you would be just following contracts (the 2 or 3 on offer) around as the employers would pay the costs of the JumpShip rental. However, if things got too tough (or you wanted a better challenge) you could relocate at your own expense (including the lost working time) to a new star system. Another reason to do this would also be to relocate to a system with Star League ruins or a thriving black market to try and get some of that sweet LosTech goodies!
The last menu hides the cosmetic customisation options for your Mechs, but also contains the reputation and financials for your company. These are important indicators, but they were also summed up on the main dropship page, so there was no need to visit these more detailed pages.
From a graphical standpoint, the tactical map was pretty and was completely functional in the information that it needed to convey. The cutscenes were cartoon-like in style with many still frames, but they were pleasant to watch.
On board the drop ship, most of the crew interactions were static images with menu options for conversation. Everything looked very nice, but there was very little interaction, and the little there was was quite shallow.
From a performance viewpoint, there were quite some long load times and the game in general pushed my system quite hard. This was quite unexpected for a tactics game that didn’t have that much in the way of fast rendering graphics! You can see below the specs of my machine, it is something that normally can chew up most of the most demanding games at 1080p with no problem.
To say I was waiting eagerly for this game like a kid before Christmas would have been an understatement. I back a few games on Kickstarter, but there have been few that I have had so much hope and nostalgia for! In addition, I rarely buy games on release these days, so the fact that I went full (kickstarter) price on this game was a testament to the hopes that I had!
Did it live up to all the hopes? No, and yes. The basics of the core tactical game are all there, likewise, the mercenary administrative metagame is okay.
My biggest gripe was that the implementation of the tactical game was horrendously let down by the 4 Mech limit on missions, which biased the choices of Mechs to be heavier and heavier, with little advantage for choosing lighter faster Mechs. Otherwise, I was overjoyed with the way that the tactical game was handled!
On the mercenary dropship side of things, again, the basics of the game were there. Mission variety was poor, as well as the number of contracts that were on display. Choosing between 2 or 3 missions at a time (of which 1 would be a story mission) doesn’t give the impression of a troubled universe rife with tension and simmering on the edge of war.
It is my hope that, the core of a great game is here and that with some add on packs (maybe even introducing the Clans!), it will make the game rise to it’s true potential. Until then, I’m happy to have played and completed the game, but I am not likely to continue the freeform sandbox.
Played at 1080p on:
Intel BX80662I76700 Core i7-6700 Prozessor (3,4GHz) 6GB EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 SC GAMING GIGABYTE Z170N-WIFI Ballistix Sport LT 16GB DDR4 Samsung 960 EVO M.2 512GB [S4 Mini Case (NFC Systems)](http://nfc-systems.com/s4-mini/)
Screenshots are by @bengy
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