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Battletech

Battletech

Written by Dawfydd Kelly on 21 Mar 2019


Distributor Paradox Interactive • Price £34.99


It is the year 3025. For half a millennium the kings of the battlefield have been the bipedal engines of war known as Battlemechs, and their pilots – Mechwarriors – latter day knights.

In the centuries since the fall of The Star League the great houses of the Inner Sphere have waged a series of Succession Wars to assert their nations dominance, whilst lesser houses and minor nations struggle to survive and the general populace try to eke out a living, even as much knowledge & technology has been lost.

 In one small realm of The Periphery, a wandering Mechwarrior will find his destiny bound to that of the heir of the Auriegan Reach and will have to forge a ragtag band of survivors into a mercenary company able to wage a war of liberation, who might one day be counted amongst legendary units such as The Kell Hounds, Wolf’s Dragoons, The Gray Death Legion and The Northwind Highlanders…      

So some questions – Do you like tactical squad shooters ala the X-COM series but find things lacking a certain element of heavy metal? Do you like your mecha but want something a little more thoughtful than the more typical 1st or 3rd person action games they tend to show up in? Then Paradox Interactive’s Battletech (2018) – developed by Harebrained Schemes - might be the game for you:

Battletech is a tactical strategy game where you take command of a fledgling mercenary company and must manage the company’s mechwarriors, battlemechs and finances whilst completing missions, ensuring your lance comes through without incurring more damage or pilot injuries than the company can cope with whilst building the company up to take part in key story missions.

Gameplay takes the form of 2 main interfaces – Company Management and Combat.

Company management is where you can visit various areas on your company’s dropship & speak with advisors to get their opinions and advice. This includes managing your roster of Mechwarriors (including their experience & skills), firing them if needed and recruiting replacements from the current systems Hiring Hall (always worth a look for unique Mechwarriors or some cheap fodder if you’ve taken a lot of injuries); Purchasing upgrades to your dropship (vital after a certain point); Managing your Battlemechs, repairing damage, refitting or amending loadouts and deciding whether to move them from active to mothballing them or selling excess ‘mechs for C-Bills (or buying mech parts, weapons and equipment from the local markets); Navigation where you can look up details on star systems (things like the typical environments, faction influence, and with the first expansion available Flashpoint engagements – more on that later); Deciding on missions to accept, negotiating contracts between pay, salvage and influence (money is nice but salvage can offer up lucrative Los-tech gear or parts for complete battlemechs – often worth far more than available pay- and you can forgoe some salvage and/or pay for a boost to your reputation with the faction you are working for..); Allowing the ingame clock to progress, covering travel time, ‘mech repairs and recovery for Mechwarriors (a nifty feature of this is that random events can occur whilst time progresses requiring you to step in as the company commander – these can be quite varied and impact on company operations, be it money, resources or morale,  and you can get unique options for outcomes dependent on the choices you made in creating your commanders backstory, as well as the abilities & history of your crew); and at the end of each month you need to ensure your companies accounts can cover the operating costs of the monthly Financial Report, paying the wages of your pilots, support crew, upkeep on your ship and on you’re the mechs in your hanger 9but handily not for any mechs in storage…) And finally you can launch an active mission, settling on what combination of Battlemechs and Mechwarriors to deploy, which leads to:

Combat. Initially this runs in pseudo real-time controlling each of your Battlemechs in turn, up to the point an enemy contact is detected wherein it switches to a turn-based system where units activate in initiative order. Initiative is graded from 1 to 4 with 1 representing light units (typically scouts & skirmishing units from 15-35 tones) and 4 representing the heaviest Assault chassis (85-100 tonnes). A units place in the initiative order can in turn be affected by several factors – passive abilities the pilot might possess moving them up the initiative order (handy for getting a heavier chassis to activate earlier for a quick alpha-strike), actively choosing to hold a units activation till later in the round, using the Inspiration ability to boost your pilots place or a Precision Strike to push an enemy mech down the initiative order, or even just knocking a Mech down – either by taking out a leg or just inflicting enough hits to cause them to fall over – which in turn makes a Mech a sitting target for incoming firepower. Now a lot of missions do come down to pitting your Lance of mechs into the meat grinder, but equally there are chances for attacking & defending bases, escort missions, ambushes, head-hunting specific target mechs, and a lot of the time once you complete the main objective you can direct your team to the missions evac point to be recovered. Very handy if your lance is out-matched and a stand-up fight is too risky, or if you want to cut your losses.  However if you can slog things out you will typically end up with bonuses to the mission pay, and better or more varied salvage. For example: In one early mission my team got lucky and head-shot an Awesome, one of the sturdiest, beefiest Assault chassis in the game, using a heavily out-gunned lance of light & medium Mechs. As a result we could salvage all three pieces needed to add the chassis to our Mech Hanger, and it proved an equaliser in those early missions when things could have been far trickier and let us take on some riskier missions. The risk/reward element of the game is really nicely implemented in that regard, as is the option in most mission to cut your losses if things are not going your way – in some cases if you have at least achieved the missions primary objective you can come away with part of the negotiated rewards and a minimal loss of reputation with the faction the mission was for.

In terms of guns most Mechs will be armed with several weapons drawn from the categories of Ballistics (autocannons & gauss-rifles), Projectiles (short & long-range missiles), Energy (lasers & particle projection cannons) and Point Defence (machine guns, flamers & small lasers).  In turn each of these weapons has specific size & tonnage restrictions that must be matched to the available slots on your battlemechs, and in several cases you need to balance having enough ammunition for the weapon. In addition each weapon generates heat which if not managed can build up causing a ‘mech to shut down, suffer structural damage, cause injury to the pilot or, in extreme cases, cause stored ammo to cook-off and explode – in most cases a terminal reaction for most mechs. The most common counter to heat buildup is the number of heat-sinks a mech carries that can radiate the excess away, but no mech can ever have enough to run completely cool so a balance must be struck, sometimes necessitating you only fire some – or even none – of a mechs weapons, sometimes you may be forced to risk that all-in Alpha Strike and pray the pilot and the mech can handle the heat. Thankfully melee attacks do not generate heat, so represent an alternative that keeps you in the fight.

Most mechs come with one of several default loadouts but one of the joys of the Battletech franchise is getting to play around in the Mech-lab. That can range from simply swapping out a weapon for a variant you picked up as salvage that has some stat bonuses, to going for full refits swapping out gear for a custom loadout you want to experiment with, and the games setting means there is a greater emphasis on recovering Los-Tech and making do with salvage, rather than the dizzying array of variant tech that becomes readily available during the 4th Succession War and Clan Invasion periods that take place soon after. You will also need to take into account what environment you are deploying into, some will mean you have to really work to get your battlemechs to overheat, others may mean you have next to no means to get rid of heat buildup. It adds another layer of strategy to the pre-deployment and asks you to consider maintaining mechs for specific environments that might only get occasional use but could be a real trump card in the right situation.    

Over the years Battletech has been translated into several videogames, most famously the Mechwarrior series of 1st person combat simulators (currently represented by Mechwarrior Online and the forthcoming Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries), the MechCommander RTS games and the MechAssault series on the original X-Box, produced by several different developers.  Battletech represents the first time that the tabletop ruleset has been truly translated to a videogame, and it’s an effort that has a real heft to it, even if it can appear to be nothing more than a re-skin of X-COM.

In reality it is the first true representation in videogame form of one of the most enduring franchises in tabletop wargaming, which has deep links to the anime boom of the early ‘80s – in its original incarnation the design team at FASA licenced several of the iconic mecha from Macross to represent several iconic chassis (due to some well-documented legal disputes these have since become known as “The Unseen”), and whilst Battletech treats its battlemechs as slogging behemoths where most fights come down to chewing through tonnes of armour plating to get to the chewy interior and nowhere near as disposable/dynamic as those found in most mecha shows, the setting itself of The Inner Sphere has more than enough melodramatic politicking and characters with grand egos  (no seriously, the Battletech universe is pretty fascinating – I highly recommend checking out the novels if you get the chance but be warned – at one point the only franchises with more prose tie-ins were Star Wars & Star Trek, so it’s quite a rabbit hole you are diving down).

The game itself can be a bit crunchy to start with, but rewards persistence. The story that your company weaves in and out of is a bit cookie-cutter, but does a decent job introducing the Inner Sphere and the Succession War period for gamers unfamiliar with the setting, and for fans of the franchise by adding a bit of new lore. Some of the set-piece missions are genuinely thrilling, especially the few that require consecutive deployment so you have to pray your Lance makes it through the first part of the mission relatively intact. Otherwise you have a huge amount of freedom to accept missions in different star systems and build your rep with various employers from the major factions of The Sphere. Post-game missions initially seem a bit sparse and you may find yourself jumping to a system hoping to find some contracts on offer, but the first of the three planned paid expansions – Flashpoint – goes a long way to mitigating this by throwing you into short mini campaigns of linked missions that can offer some juicy rewards if you can see the deployment to its end, normally with some decisions to be made along the way that can affect the overall outcome (won’t deny, I got a bit of a fanboy moment taking on missions for Justin Allard and Morgan Kell –if you know the franchise these are A BIG DEAL).  

In terms of presentation the game looks fantastic, with your ship featuring some lovely 3d modelling, whilst in-mission the mechs make use of the updated design philosophy that the franchise has been working to since the launch of Mechwarrior Online that retains the flavour of the setting whilst looking much more modern and less like something  designed in the 80’s  9nothing wrong with that, but some of the battlemechs designs have not aged well, to put it kindly. Or at least how those designs were translated to artwork and miniature form. The current aesthetic looks far more cohesive and like these titans A) could work and B) share technology. If I had one complaint it’s that out of a huge range of biomes you can find yourself fighting in, there is a distinct lack of purely urban environments. I’m hoping that’s something that gets added in the remaining expansions as city fights are always incredibly tense in the Battletech universe.

Gameplay is also not perfect: It would be nice to have the option to deploy a second lance in some missions – far too many missions find your plucky band running up against enemy reinforcements with no way to call in backup of your own when you might have enough pilots and mechs to easily deploy at least one more lance. Tanks and AFV’s feel far too powerful, or at least did. It would appear that Harebrained Schemes  remain committed to the games ongoing development and fine-tuning though with regular patches and updates since the game launched that have improved performance & gamelplay, in addition to the remaining two expansions that are scheduled. There are also some lingering signs of the games origins on Kickstarter, mainly (and this is just me being spoilt by AAA games in general) the lack of voice acting when talking to your advisors and during briefings, but the text is very well written. Some may also find themselves turned off by the cut scenes that make extensive use of manipulated still images but I found them exceptionally atmospheric, and the music superb.

I should note that this only covers the core single-player mode of the game. It does feature a procedurally generated Career mode and a vs multi-player that I have not tried but have generally been received positively. Additionally whilst at present the game does not feature mod support (something I can see being implemented once the final expansion is released) there is a thriving modding community who have (inevitably) added a lot of the battlemechs not in the game, including several from later time periods, as well as additional weapons, equipment, and new gameplay modes & tweaks. Just be aware that at present a lot of these mods will need re-installing if the game updates and saved games that used them may not work until re-installed.

Overall though if you fancy something a little bit different but still want a fix of giant mecha combat you can do a lot worse that Battletech, and it is a game that rewards the time you put into managing your company. Possibly worth waiting either for the core game to be on sale or for the inevitable Game of the Year version once all three expansions are in the wild...

Battletech is available on PC via Steam and GOG, 

8
Crunchy, weighty Batllemech combat that will have you obsessing over managing your band of mercenaries

Dawfydd Kelly
About Dawfydd Kelly

Wargamer. Anime fan. Giant robot enthusiast. Congenietal absorber of science fiction & fantasy. Dawfydd is most definitely too old for this ****, but see's no point in stopping now. If only he could cut down on his use of the words 'dude' and 'groovy' in everyday conversation...


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