Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Release Date: 24 April, 2018
Platform: Windows / OSX
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
By Chris Picone, 30 July 2018
I backed BattleTech on Kickstarter back in September 2015. I had previously backed Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun Returns releases on Kickstarter and loved their work, so I had some idea what to expect. And I’ve also been a long-time fan of the MechWarrior universe, so I was understandably excited when BattleTech finally released. The game offers a campaign mode that’ll give you at least 50 hours of gameplay that involves managing a mercenary company and chasing contracts, as well as a skirmish mode for when you just want to get out there and shoot lasers at big stompy robots.
You play as the leader of a small mercenary band in the middle of an interstellar succession war. There’s not a lot I can say without revealing too much, but following a betrayal that leaves you for dead, you ally your little company with one of the noble houses and find yourself fighting for the Restoration. While the premise is simple enough, the journey is anything but as you discover LosTech, negotiate mercenary contracts, and encounter deception after deception as you are drawn into the civil war.
The graphics are top-notch, with Mechs and battlefields that are as picturesque as they are detailed, and gorgeous stylistic backgrounds and cut-scenes in between. Unfortunately, the graphics are also incredibly inefficient. When I first played the game on my old laptop, which I had played games like Fallout 4 on, I could only run BattleTech in the lowest setting and even then it would frequently glitch out or freeze (hence the delay with the review). I’ve since bought a new laptop, which boasts the latest generation CPU and one of the biggest graphic cards out there, and although I am now running the game in Ultra, the loading times can still be quite lengthy, and the graphics still occasionally jump when alpha striking. Just something to be aware of if you aren’t running a top-end machine.
The music doesn’t stand out, it just quietly does its job in the background while the sound effects take precedence, which is as it should be in a game like this. You spend most of your game listening to MechWarrior pilots confirm orders and shout damage reports amidst laser and missile fire, which helps add atmosphere where music may have detracted from the heat of the moment. The sound effects themselves are excellent – the missiles whoosh away, the autocannons sound like they’re crashing into large metal objects, and the lasers sound like supercharged, superheated light. The character voices are less than amazing – the acting itself isn’t bad, but the lines are very generic, lack variety, and quickly become repetitive.
There are two primary aspects to BattleTech’s gameplay – the management phase while on the DropShip, and the actual battles. While on the DropShip you can repair and refit your mechs, upgrade your DropShip, fly to other star systems chasing contracts, train your MechWarrior pilots or hire new ones, buy new parts from the store, and so on. Mech loadouts are handled in the normal manner, where you must balance damage output against heat efficiency, agility, and armour, while trying to juggle tonnage, hard points, and slots. The equipment isn’t as extensive as it is in PGI’s MechWarrior: Online, due to the timeline and location, but there’s still plenty of variety. The tricky part is, everything takes time, and time is money. For example, it might take a few days to swap out the loadout on a mech, or several weeks if the mech is damaged and needs to be repaired. Travelling from one system to another can be very expensive in terms of lost time, as it may take several days to travel from planets to JumpShips, and the JumpShips themselves take five days just to wind up their engines. A multi-jump expedition may take several weeks or a month. In the meantime, you are billed every month for the DropShip’s running costs, your pilots’ wages, JumpShip fees, and so on.
The fact that you’re playing the game as a mercenary changes more than you might realise. No longer are you the “Hero,” fighting to bring your nation to victory at any expense. No, you’re here to make money, and sometimes that means ejecting your pilots out of the fight or withdrawing from a contract if it looks like your combat losses are going to cost you more than the payout. Paying for repairs means you actually need to consider how to preserve your mechs and pilots – if you can’t keep them alive and functioning, you go bankrupt. Game over, man. So if you want to get ahead, you need to be smart about it.
I’ve always called MechWarrior “the thinking man’s shooter”, and I’m going to extend on that now to declare BattleTech “the thinking man’s strategy game”. The battle aspect starts on the dropship, when you are choosing which mechs and pilots to deploy. Different worlds offer different environments, which must be accounted for – lasers are probably the most efficient weapons in terms of damage output per ton, but they also generate a lot of heat, which makes them inappropriate choices when deploying into a hot climate. Autocannons and missiles are cooler options, but are heavier, and are reliant on a limited ammunition supply which is also prone to exploding if critically hit. You also need to strike the right balance between close-, medium-, and long-range weaponry, depending on the field of battle and mission objectives. Speaking of which, BattleTech offers a very decent range of mission types – aside from the usual skirmishes and base conquering, you will also find yourself defending your clients’ territory and protecting their convoys, intercepting enemy convoys, performing assassinations, chasing down enemy runners, and so on.
Once deployed, like any strategy game, you must try to utilise the terrain to your advantage - high ground offers a greater line of sight and longer shots, hills and vegetation to provide cover as you move, and water or snow to maximise heat efficiency. Unlike most strategy games, it doesn’t stop there. Every single turn you must make decisions – should you alpha strike the enemy to try to bring it down faster, but at the risk of overheating and cooking precious (and expensive!) components? Or should you play conservatively, but at the risk of a longer, drawn-out battle? Your ammunition is limited, so do you use it to try to gain the upper hand in the early part of the battle, or do you try to save it for the bigger enemies out there? Should you concentrate your fire to try to take down their heavy mech, leaving their lighter mechs to slowly strip away your armour? Or should you spread your fire to take out the lights, leaving a deadly enemy free to hunt? Mobility also plays a key part in the game. Lights may not carry the huge armaments that the heavier mechs can, but they usually move much faster and have jump jets, making them more evasive, and letting you run circles around the enemy and fire into their vulnerable rear arcs. The game also likes to throw other surprises at you, such as enemy reinforcements, and false intelligence, forcing you to adapt to changing circumstances every battle. Finally, your pilots play their own part in the game, gaining experience through the campaign and letting you gain special abilities such as the sensor lock and precision strike. Decisions, decisions. Every mech, every turn.
Fun Factor / Replayability
I’ve always loved the flexibility and variety offered by the MechWarrior franchise, and BattleTech is no exception. One of the risks with strategy games is that they can get very repetitive very quickly, but this was never an issue with BattleTech. The range of mechs, loadouts, maps, and mission types, keeps things interesting. No two battles play out the same way and I never found myself leaning toward some kind of “winning strategy” – every battle, I had to adapt to the situation, and it always felt fresh.
I would love to say, “if you love big stompy robots, buy this game,” but it isn’t that simple. Turn-based strategy games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and BattleTech is larger and more complicated than most. If you’re into your strategy games and enjoy choice and consequence and aren’t scared of a tough game that makes you pay for your mistakes, give BattleTech a go. No guts, no galaxy!