“Watch and command giant mechanical bipeds to slug at each other, fire lasers like a 70`s disco, and explode into a fiery ball of melted heap!”
If I were to be asked to describe BattleTech in a single sentence, that is the one I`d give. Having seen the videos and teasers, I was exhilarated to say the least, at the prospect of the game coming out. It looks like X-COM, but with MECHS, making it a thousand times cooler in my perspective.
I have played Mechwarrior as a child, remembering that I gave up on the game as it was too complex for my prepubescent brain. So, I can safely consider that this is my first foray into the world of BattleTech. So, as a game, is it worth your time? Is it something to skip on? Or is it a game best forgotten and buried after hitting it with a shovel to the face? Read on!
The Age of Bipedal Tanks
Imagine a time wherein people have the technology to expand from our little blue earth. Then imagine them using that technology to further fragment mankind and establish a tribalistic society. Then and there, we have a brief description of BattleTech`s world, or in this case, universe.
This is a dark universe wherein war comes and goes in everything breathing moment. Conflict is resolved with the age-old solution of ‘kill ’em first before they kill you’ method. As such, mercenaries and other hired outfits flutter across the vast expanse of the galaxy, searching for the next fight and the next bounty.
Without spoiling much, the player is at first, a guard of the Aurigan Coalition with the simple task of escorting the state’s princess to a ceremony. But the should have been simple trip went haywire with a coup plotting to destabilize and replace the ruling class. Branded as a fugitive, the player, together with a team of mercenaries, escape the planet in search of their own fortunes. But then again, things in the past just don’t go away, and the player finds himself in a war for vengeance and justice.
Most of the story is presented in beautifully drawn cutscenes accompanied with motion effects and incredibly high quality voice overs. The story itself is your standard run-of-the-mill vengeance drama but the world of BattleTech doesn’t pull back any punches when it comes to the portrayal of cruelty and grimness of this era. War has its sacrifices and price, and BattleTech makes it sure to drill it into the player`s head.
As the leader of a ragtag team of mercenaries, the player must of course earn credits as these people don’t run on love and care. To earn, the player must undertake various missions scattered across the star systems. And in these dark times, jobs are not that hard to come by with conflict raging across almost every planet, and opportunistic pirates going round and about.
As an added weight, the player starts with a ship filled with holes and held only by few meters of duct tape. That, and the fact that the mercs start as being knee-deep in debt, this, aside from risking one`s life and limb, is also a priority for the player to manage.
Again, taking a job ain’t that hard in the universe of BattleTech. Once the player gets the hang of things, jobs are available to take on. Rewards come in three types: credits, salvage, and influence. Credits are the lifeblood in this age, the moolah, the dough. It is used to pay for the living expenses of your team and for the acquisition of good weapons and parts. Salvage is what you get when you finish a mission. You make things explode, they leave some unexploded things, you take them home. The last is influence. Taking missions is like aligning yourself to a side in a conflict. Assist them again and again and you gain favor in their eyes and enmity in the enemy’s.
Once the player has things running and the monthly salary and maintanance covered, upgrades can be done on the ship. These include bays to store more mechs, additional rooms for Mechwarriors, and tools for medical and tech repair. Each upgrade costs money and maintenance, so it is wise of the player to look twice at their financial status before committing to an upgrade.
As this is in the far fringes of space. Wandering around and zooming across galaxies isn’t an uneventful foray. There are times wherein the game throws events that the player must decide on. Choosing the correct option gives the player bonuses such as speeding up the repairs and healing process of downed crew members. On the other hand, giving the wrong answer would induce a temporary penalty which could be waited out. Choosing the same answer over and over doesn’t seem to work as there were times that I had incurred a morale reduction despite having correctly navigated the same dilemma before.
Pimp My Mech
The player has considerable amounts of options to tinker with Mechs. After each fight, salvage is collected, part of those loots are parts of Mechs. Once three parts are obtained, they can be assembled to produce one pristine Mech which the player can use. Now, these Mechs are blueprinted and you cannot build your own Mech from scratch. However, the equipment, lasers and missiles and all, are up to the player. There is a limit in place though as some Mech designs limit certain armaments and equipment such as boosters.
But it goes that whatever strategy you want to go with, you are free to do so. My configuration for my Lance is this: Missile Artillery, two Tanks, and a Fire Support. Mechs come with their standard equipment, but the player can remove those to make room for their own plans and designs. For instance, I made my character a pilot of a glass cannon Mech, equipped only with missiles for barrages, no close-quarter weapons whatsoever and armor kept at a bare minimum.
There is a catch aside from the limits. As Mechs have their own designated tonnages, managing weight also comes into play. Weapons and their ammo weigh something so in order to counteract that, some Mechs have to sacrifice protection and armor in certain parts of their body.
Surgical and targeted strikes play an important role here in BattleTech. For example, you equip your Mech with Lasers on his right arm. If that arm goes kaput in the middle of the fight, that Laser is rendered unusable for the rest of the mission. After, it gets scrapped and is bound to be replaced, given you have a replacement in stock. This also goes that Mechs with mangled legs move slower, etc. Aside from the weapons, equipment also fight for space inside Mechs. Heat Sinks manage the heat residue left after firing a high-powered laser. Overheating in the middle of a battle is not something you’d want as it would force the Mech to shutdown, thereby leaving it at the mercy of its foes. This here makes managing a Mech a chore before going into fights. Which brings us to what happens next.
Into the Battle(Tech)
Once you get on the ground, the fun begins. If you’ve played games such as the recent X-COM, you’ll definitely see the resemblance here. You control a “Mech Lance”, a team of four Mechs. Each Mech can be outfitted prior to the sortie, but all of that boils down to what equipment you have in stock, and what can be equipped by the Mech.
Most of the missions are variations of “Destroy X while Y”. With four mechs, the player must use the environment to outwit and outlast the AI opponents. Though not perfect, the game’s difficulty can be attributed to two things: you’re outnumbered most of the time, and RNGesus. You’ll find yourself in the thick of battles that mostly outnumber your lance with up to 3 to 1, A bit harsh in the early parts of the game, but empowering during the latter once you get the big guns. BattleTech relies on hit chances and the likes, so it’s not impossible to see misses even in point-blank range (X-COM flashabacks!).
Environment plays a key role in every sortie. Depending on the type of atmosphere, these planets offer advantages and disadvantages in the field. Say for instance, that the mission is in a Mars-like planet. Since tornadoes are plenty, they can provide additional cover for Mechs that are positioned in them. On the otherhand, they have a passive effect on the heat management of Mechs. For snowy battlegrounds, heat is not a significant problem, although the player should watch for slippery ice.
The player has the option to retreat. Given the grim setting, the outlook of every sortie is also grim (most especially if you’re new). Because this game has PERMANENT DEATH for downed teammates, it is sometimes wise to just press eject and pray to RNGesus. It’s also sometimes better to withdraw as there are missions that deliberately sucker punches the player, giving limited amounts of info prior to the fight. Then upon landing, sending in 12 Mechs at the same time to fight your team of four. Talk about fair.
BattleTech has the makings of a good, functioning, and fun game. While its lore is not something you can get in just a few minutes, the already established world can easily be understood even to those seeing it for the first time. Working as a mercenary in this turbulent times gives a great idea on how the feudalistic society of BattleTech works.
Next we go to gameplay mechanics. It has some rough edges, but it is something that works. Turn-based games are those that are run with rigid rules, those rules can either be fun or strict to the point that it becomes annoying. BattleTech plays within the safe limits of that. The game can be meticulous at times, but once you get the flow, you`ll be rampaging across the map with your mech. Or be the best mercenary manager in the known universe.
Last is how the game handles economics and management. I did find it amazing that it allows the players to manage and command their own mercenary outfit, but the cracks do show once the game enters the latter stages. I did find it weird to extend my Mercenary barracks as I only used six Mechwarriors, including my player-character.
Most of my complaints about the game are due to some Quality of Life problems. Menus are sometimes hard to navigate, and there is this consistent problem with the game slowing down once the number of save games becomes too high. Other than that, I did not experience any technical issues with the game, save for one crash.
To add, the developers have been very supportive of the game since the release. Just by looking at their recent AMA in r/Battletechgame/,you can see their eagerness to support the game beyond launch. This, I think, is a very good thing for me given that the developers being a small company. Which leads me to the point — BattleTech is expected to have a long shelf life as freeLCs, DLCs, or even expansions is planned to support it. The modding community is also expected to grow.
In a nutshell, if you want to “Watch and command giant mechanical bipeds to slug at each other! Fire lasers like a 70`s disco! And explode into a fiery ball of melted heap!” then BattleTech is for you. Everything just seamlessly fits, be it the management aspect, the battle map, and the story. Not to mention that it is incredibly lengthy and replayable! It’s not for everyone as is with turn-based games like X-COM, Civilization, and others. Battles can get long and dreary, but if you’re nuts for management, numbers, and cool-looking mechs, this is a no-brainer. GET THIS!