Battletech Is Pretty Good

Released on PC last week, Battletech is a new strategy/tactics game by Harebrained Schemes (Shadowrun). In the absolute simplest terms, it's kinda like XCOM, only you're in control of some giant lumbering mechs.

Battletech is a game of two halves. You'll spend most of your time doing turn-based battle on 3D landscapes, but there's also a strategic element to the game that you need to manage between combat missions.

Let's talk about the tactical battles first, which are a blast. They might look like your standard turn-based stoush, but there's a lot more going on here than most other games of this type are attempting.

You're free to move in a sort of mesh over the landscape, rather than being restricted to a grid, which is not only more interesting but allows for maps to be far more realistic than if they'd had to be built with squares in mind.

The heart of Battletech's tabletop game experience has been adapted here, and it takes some getting used to.

Engagements aren't decided by a handful of well-placed shots, because the mechs are sporting heavy armour; instead, fights are about wearing down your opposition with the correct weapon choices, flanking moves and considerations like which direction your mechs will be facing when they end their turn.

When battles are over, you're returned to that XCOM-like strategic view, where you're placed in charge of a mercenary company and are responsible for stuff like hiring pilots, refitting mechs and making sure enough money keeps coming in to pay the bills.

It all looks great, but it's a bit of a shame that the game is so slow. Tactical battles can drag thanks to animation decisions (some of which can be turned off) and turn cycles, but the strategic section of the game also suffers from poor time management.

On the one hand, there's a lot of drudgery that should have been automated, like the ability to save mech loadouts; instead, every time a mech is damaged, you need to go in and drag all of its weapons, ammo and gear back onto it.

On the other hand, while at some points there's too much work to do, at others there's not enough. Repairing mechs and healing pilots takes time, as does travelling to systems to perform a job (and there's not much else to do other than that other than chat with your crew), so a lot of the strategic section is spent simply waiting for a clock to spin forwards.

I initially found Battletech surprisingly difficult, even given my experience with turn-based tactics games, but I'm now on top of things enough to have made some decent progression, picked up some quality mechs, got my bank balance under control and mastered the basics of combat.

In a refreshing change of pace for a game like this, much of the management of the game gets easier as it goes on, not harder.

Combat, however, never fails to challenge and surprise. The fact each mech is made up of a number of individual limbs and components, instead of just a single health meter, makes each encounter a fascinating struggle between firepower, armour, elevation, cover and terrain.

Some mechs can take an absolute pounding and remain in the fight, while at other times a glancing blow can sever an arm, sparing a unit's overall health but potentially eliminating its primary weapon.

And while this can be frustrating, it also really opens the game up and broadens the number of tactics available to you.

Mechs don't have to be destroyed. You can knock them over, slow them down, disarm them ... you can even try and snipe their cockpits, killing the pilot but leaving the mech intact.

Of course the same can happen to you. There are few things as gut-wrenchingly agonising as watching one of your own trained pilots, assumed safe beneath the armour of a well-protected mech, killed instantly by a 1:1000 shot from the AI.

I'd also like to give a quick shout-out to the game's art. While most of it is of course constrained by the needs of the licence, Battletech takes a few pages out of Relic's creative handbook and renders its cutscenes as partially-animated 2D art, ala Homeworld.

It's cheaper and easier than animating expensive cinematics, sure, but there's also a simplistic charm to it, one that lets us appreciate the art that went into the game within the game itself.

I've been having a good time with Battletech. While there have been a few rough edges when it comes to the UI and strategic management, its tactical combat has great depth and flexibility to it, and it's great to see the franchise back up and running on PC after the demise of MechWarrior Tactics.


Comments

    I read on reddit that someone said it would be fun to play as a clanner during the invasion and all I could think of was why? Why would you want to take a game about struggling (sometimes against bs glitches) and make it super easy. I think the idea of managing losses is way more interesting as a member of the innersphere.

      The clans have some cool mechs, is what I assume most people think. Personally I just want AMS back on the menu and not stuck as lostech.

        Cool mechs, yes. But OP. Way way OP.

        Playing clan would be playing on Easy.

        Mind you, as a clan mech you should be heavily outnumbered, as they were far rarer than the inner sphere.

          Bt would essentially become Dynasty Warriors where you cleave through tonnes of Inner Sphere mechs, then some cut scene starts where you fall for the dumbest trap ever and subsequently die.

        Seriously, everyother weapon in the game has counterplay, but lrm are god tier the second you get seonsor lock. What is balance?

          Good point.

          Having a decent missile mech sitting out of site with a properly set up mechwarrior firing multiple LRM20 barrages at targets it can't see is devastatingly effective.

          And hugely fun.

            The flip side is that later in the campaign the enemy not only has lrm carriers, but multiple lances of mechs that include at least one lrm boat. Which then feeds into the issue of sharing damage between units being near impossible.

              (channeling my inner Monty Python, which is never far from the surface)

              RUN AWAY!!!

      Mechwarrior 2 Mercenaries had the best Clan introduction and finale. First fighting them in a Periphery contract, and then a year later in game you face off in the Battle of Lucien. What a battle, the only thing that marred it was aerospace assets didn't work even though you could buy them.

    Just in case anyone's reading this to get an idea of the game, the "sort of mesh" Luke refers to that you can move on is just a hex grid. It just looks a bit different because they show you the dots in the centre of the hexes and hide the borders, but it's still a hex grid, same as the tabletop.

    Also, "Mechs don't have to be destroyed" isn't given the weight it's due. You ideally shouldn't be destroying mechs at all, you'll get more salvage if you take out the pilot instead - head shots are difficult, but pilots also take damage if the mech falls over from stability damage, and I think one or two other mechanics.

    I think the most accurate point raised here is the game is slow. It'd be great if there was a way to auto-resolve movement in interleaved mode (combat mode basically) or at least fast forward it. At its core this game is a tabletop game and there's basically nothing that can happen in-transit during a move.

    But it's still a fun game, and worth the play. The initiative system and reserving are good implementations that are quite effective if used well.

      Yeah, you'll want to go for head called shots, the legs, the side torsos and just knockdown in general to incapacitate to get max salavge against the mechs you're fighting. That way you can leave the moon with a kinda shiny kinda new heavy mech. Unless you negotiated all cash, then yeah, no salvage for you.

    I backed on KS and so far have been enjoying it - it very much does what it says on the tin and like Harebrained Shadowrun games it's got soem great writing hidden behind a slightly budget interface. My main character got messed up int he first mrec battle and took nearly a year to recover by which time I was compeltely broke so I started over which meant I needed to do everything again, including the tutorial intro missions. That was a little frustrating but I'm doing much better (and saving more often).

      Yeah, I did the same. If you don't have enough to get the first mechbay upgrade after it hits 2+ skulls you're gonna start bleeding C-Bills pretty badly after every mission.

    The only negative thing I've heard about the game is that the director is a huge asshole.

      Do you mean the person who made the game or the antagonist in the game?

    I can attest to how fun this game is. I have sunk a HEAP of hours into it already (Like 30 hours already). I am hooked.

    One thing I did learn pretty early on, if you were like me and tend to reload when things go pear shape it isn't much fun... Just play the game, only reload if you have to. Make it your challenge for this game.
    The risks involved by not reloading (Mechwarrior recuperation and repair costs) make you play in a lot more creative ways then simply running in and hoping for the best.

    For example the old me would go in with 4+ 50 tonners or better and try and muscle my way through (which you can do if you really want to), but the new me takes an improved sensor-ed smaller mech to scout and and sensor lock someone as well as 2 brawlers and a heavy support mech

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