A quick bit of research suggests that the BattleTech universe has spawned over 30 computer game titles over the years, not bad for a cult pen and paper game from the 1980’s. Many of you will be familiar with the first person shooter versions of “MechWarrior” and perhaps the RTS “MechCommander”. It seems that with games like Titanfall and the highly anticipated “Anthem” on the horizon, giant robot battle suit war is becoming pretty vogue again. So 2018 sees the release of “BattleTech” and later in the year “MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries”. As a Kickstarter project, BattleTech was highly anticipated. For starters it’s the first game in a while to carry the “BattleTech” tag but also it’s the first game to truly try bringing the pen and paper RPG to life. As turn based pen and paper was BattleTech’s true form you could argue a turn based strategy game is BattleTech’s true incarnation. With Paradox studios on board, (my personal favourite studio following the downfall of Bioware when they released Dragon Age II, yes I said it and went there) things are looking good.
If you are not familiar with the BattleTech or MechWarrior universe here is a brief run down. In the near / distant future man discovers the capability to explore and colonise the universe. A provincial government called the Star League is founded, civil war over succession results in the Star League heading into deep space leaving humanity to wage war for territory and power. These wars are fought primarily with massive mechanised battle suits called “BattleMechs”. With the departure of the Star League the technology and resources to create and maintain these mechs is lost. Leaving the remaining factions to fight an ongoing civil war for dystopia with a deteriorating resource. Mercenary and pirate factions are rife as everyone tries to make profit from war. MechWarriors and combat have become the new rock stars a fully integrated media service called Comstar uploads highlight reels of mech combat for people to view at home. They even have established gladiatorial Mech combat games on a planet called Solaris VII. This dystopian universe is akin to a fall of Rome Sci-Fi. At one point in the time line the barbarians (clans) even arrive!
BattleTech sets you off on a standard tutorial mission where you have to do the usual gumph then throws you very quickly into the action. I have to applaud the game for giving you the basic feel in 5 minutes rather than a long drawn out couple of hours (cough Xcom 2: Wotc cough). Following the first tutorial mission, which is not entirely a cake walk you are set up as a commander of a mercenary band and it’s up to you to decide what mercenary contracts / missions to take. There is a strong meta plot of missions which I will not spoil but the game gives you the leisurely approach to these rather than giving you that rushed feeling (Xcom 2 once again?). The difficulty curve is quite friendly and allows you to pick missions depending on the level of challenge you require. You can farm easy missions for months even years, or push yourself pretty much from the get go. For me this meant that I could properly take the time with my unit and take missions that kept me financially afloat (mercenary work is a serious business!) rather than go for the thrill of all out mech combat and risk losing mechs to the repair bay. A full refit or repair of a mech can take an in game month, if your best mechs are in the repair bay and you risk going into a fight horribly unprepared /armed and getting caught into a downward spiral. That said after a few months of careful planning you should be in a position to challenge yourself quite comfortably and deal with any fall out.
Every mission comes from a faction who requires your help, as you perform more tasks for each faction your reputation with them increases. You can negotiate each contract to give you more money and less salvage rights or less money and more salvage rights. Salvage is really important in BattleTech as this is how you collect new weapon systems and mechs. By salvaging the burnt out chassis you can put them back together and field them yourself on the battle field. This is a really interesting mechanic as you can find yourself trying to cripple or head shot a mech rather than all out destroy it. The game also gives specialised rare weapons which will do increased damage or have other effects, these weapon systems will have + signs next to their names, for example PPC ++ will show a rare Particle Projection Cannon (these are very good weapon systems.)
The BattleMech’s are fully customisable but you have to be aware of what hard points / weapon platforms you can mount. At first I found this frustrating as the game wasn’t letting me mount an auto cannon where I clearly had the space, I quickly realised the mech didn’t have the capacity for cannon weapons. I guess it was like me trying to mount a Sub-woofer on the back of a moped, no space or connections were going to happen! Once I got around this the customisation is easy. You have to regulate your weapons based on the hard points, tonnage of your mech, availability in your stash AND the heat generated in combat. You have to be able to give your mech enough punch in combat but also ensure you don’t fry the systems or drop armour to create a glass cannon. If you heat your mech up too much you will shut down on the battlefield this will result in a free called shot on your mech which is a death sentence in most cases. I am also sure you can imagine the outcome of a lightly armoured mech!
The Mechs have armour ratings which reflect how much punishment they can take, generally you want to face everything full on because a hit to the back is deadly and a hit on the arm can cause you to lose a weapon system. Early on, or when your strapped for cash this is catastrophic! Simply by losing an arm you will cost yourself 10 days plus in the repair bay with a hefty repair bill as well. Also the weapons system will be lost so if you don’t have one in your stash you will have to buy from the overpriced market or perhaps worse not be able to replace the weapons system. This is pretty frustrating and you will understand early on what I mean if you allow your Vindicator’s PPC to get destroyed! I can also note that if you’re on your first run through and see anything that has multiple LRM5 or LRM10 as a weapon system (long range missiles) be afraid. If you see LRM20 prioritise this over the 50 ton medium Mech flanking you, (you can thank me silently for that later!) nothing quite beats having to eject your almost dead pilot out of your newly repaired 50 ton centurion Mech because you ignorantly figured it could wade across the map at an LRM carrier! (Yup talking from first hand experience here!)
MechWarrior pilots are not very customisable outside of their 4 skill sets of Gunnary, Piloting, Guts & Tactics. This has been the cause for complaint from a few people. You can however pick up randomly generated guys at almost every spaceport. The graphics for the faces are alright, the voice acting not so great and the call signs random. That said you have to remember this isn’t a pilot RPG this is BattleTech and one of the slogans in game sums it up perfectly “Kill the meat, save the metal” or in other words, it’s the robots not the pilots which make you the money. You can put any mug behind the controls of an Atlas and splash light Mechs for fun. This all being said the studio has already released a first patch, I believe that pilot customisation is coming in this patch or the next, but as noted the studio is aware and rectifying this.
One of the real joys of the modern Xcom style (is this a genre in its own right now?) game is the emphasis on cover and flanking systems. BattleTech puts in a steep learning curve involving terrain and a really neat mechanic called “evasion”. The evasion mechanic somewhat forces or encourages you to keep your machines on the move at all times, you stay still you die. This for me is the real jewel as it gives you the feel of fast paced combat but slows it right down and makes the turn based aspect believable. In many ways this game has probably come the closest to capturing the spirit of the BattleTech pen and paper game out of all of the prior MechWarrior titles.
Having mustered over 30 hours of gameplay now I feel it quite fair to say that the meta story is good but there is a repetitive element to the game play at times. A contract will be a battle, escort, base attack or base defence, this is enhanced by a randomised map but after a while the mission parameters can become predictable, this said it does not take away from this being a fine game. There is something deeply satisfying about releasing an alpha strike (firing all weapon hard points) on a fresh unit and utterly one shotting it into oblivion. This honestly NEVER gets old. The tactical aspect also means that you can go into a mission not actually knowing what enemy mechs you might face. It might be nice to get a few side mission DLC or some new mission types at some point. As the game is distributed by Paradox who are pretty on the ball with their DLC and updates (read my CK2 review) I’m sure we will be seeing DLC soon which will even address this and take BattleTech to a further level.
The graphics are average / good, but maybe that’s harsh as BattleTech is not trying to give us a totally interactive world and universe, we have a dystopian future setting which focal point is the mechs themselves. They look old, worn out and in need of a lick of paint. Its not all shiny and false new (think Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) it harks back to (Star Wars New Hope) the fact that your playing a faction who is always on the move and repairing systems on the hop. Personally I find this graphical style, as well as the art work used in the cut scenes really atmospheric, gritty and quite stunning. Given the top down view I can’t really see what they could have done to vastly improved the graphics.
Over all BattleTech is a fine game which will tickle the fancy of anyone who enjoyed Xcom or Battle Brothers. It’s a solid storyline tactical title which has a steep and unforgiving learning curve yet it’s easy to play. There does seem to have been a slight community backlash in regards to the game allowing you to select gender titles for your character. There are three options, He / She / They. Personally I commend the designers for creating a inclusive aspect of character development and don’t really see why people have got so upset over this. I’m really enjoying BattleTech and feel excited already about DLC and sequels. The fact that they set the game pretty early in the universal timeline hints that they perhaps want to go on and explore other elements of the BattleTech universe in the future. In a recent interview with PC Gamer it was stated that they will drip feed any timeline progression rather than throw the clans right at us, this is extremely promising as the clan invasion could be a whole standalone game in its own right! All I can do is once again echo “Kill the meat, Save the Metal”.