BattleTech – My Impressions

From Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 3, 2018

Over the weekend I posted a three sentence review of BattleTech:

“Oh, man, it crashed again!” (Checks clock.) “Oh, crap, I was supposed to go to bed an hour and a half ago!”

Three sessions terminated by a crash pretty much covered my first 5 or so hours playing the game. Since then, I haven’t experienced another crash, and they released an update this week specifically to deal with the problem. They also fixed another issue I ran into, with the saved games occasionally appearing unavailable. I freaked out when this happened to me, 15 hours into the game. I exited and restarted, and my saved games reappeared no problem, so that was not quite as horrifying of a bug as it first seemed.

So far, the patch hasn’t addressed the real problem: This game is dangerously addictive. I have to remember to set an alarm when I play this game, or I will blithely forget that I had  things to do (like going to bed) and completely lose track of how much time I have spent playing. If you ask me, I’ll say I’ve been playing for 45 minutes, when really more than 2 hours will have gone by.

That is the mark of a solid turn-based strategy game, in my mind. It’s dangerous to those of us with the peculiar quirk of loving strategy, whether it’s a turn-based RPG or a 4X Space Conquest game. Joking aside, it’s a good thing, we just need to learn to be careful about it.

BattleTech has been compared to XCom, which at first seems silly, but upon reflection makes sense to me. It’s not XCom–there’s a totally different feel and style. However, in the sense that the bulk of the game is made up of turn-based tactical engagements, but above that there is a whole meta-game where you run a space mercenary company, and the results of these individual battles all feed into the meta-game. You can fail (or face difficult times) at either level. Make poor decisions at the meta-level, and can go bankrupt, or at least end up fielding inferior troops and equipment on the battlefield, making your battles all that much harder. Fail on the battlefield, and you can lose Mechwarriors completely, or end up having so many of your team on medical leave and your BattleMechs getting repaired that you literally cannot accept any contracts. Either way, you end up in a positive feedback loop of suck.

The main meta-game campaign includes randomly generated missions across a galaxy of planets, with several different factions involved, as well as a storyline which appears to be something you could totally ignore if you feel like it. Of course, those storyline-based missions are extremely lucrative and provide you with equipment and options you would not receive otherwise, so it’s  worth pursuing them.  Besides being rewarding to the meta-game, these missions include some interesting storyline development, and the missions themselves contain some challenging twists and variations that you won’t find in a standard mission, as well as story-developments that occur mid-battle. There are also factions and reputation to consider, tweaking your merc company finances, buying and selling equipment (and Mechs), hiring and training your team, customizing your mechs, upgrading your ship (your headquarters), and dealing with certain story events that may have temporary impacts on … just about anything.

Then there’s the tactical game, and I could go on and on about this one. This is the deepest, yet most clearly-presented, variant of the BattleTech rules I have ever played. You don’t need to understand everything to be able to play (or even to play effectively)–you just move your Mechs around to get within range to shoot the enemy targets (including stationary turrets, buildings, ground vehicles, and of course other Mechs), and try not to get shot up too badly yourself or overheat your Mech. But as you get comfortable with the basics (and manage not to get your whole team slaughtered or run your company into the ground in the first few missions), the deeper game presents itself. You start worrying about turning your stronger armor toward the enemy, managing firing arcs, handling “status damage”, minimizing your chances of being hit, managing things like recoil and morale effects. And then you start figuring out how to get the enemy right where you want them, without you obliging the enemy the same way.

And more.

The variety of enemy war machines and Mechs (including your own), the inclusion of special equipment (including more-powerful versions of standard weaponry with bonuses), your evolving team’s special abilities, and the different landscapes keeps even the randomized scenarios entertaining. The challenges are never the same twice.  The AI seems to play a pretty good game. It will exploit weaknesses, take down the most dangerous mech first, sensor lock you and pummel you with long-range missiles mercilessly, outflank you to take advantage of weaker rear armor, and kick you when you are down. It also LOVES the Firestarter Mech design, and is pretty good about using them. You learn quickly to get away from those guys before they close to flamethrower range. It also likes to employ them in pairs…

The game also feels a bit like an RPG at times. While the dialog and most of what goes on involves the “fixed” NPCs of your leadership team and allies, the randomized events sometimes pull in some of your Mechwarriors into the situation. As you can train them in categories and certain special abilities, and they do come with a pregenerated bio and a nice variety of voiceovers, it does feel a bit like an RPG. On my squad, I have a character named “Glitch” who has a pretty dark background as an assassin, but she makes hysterical comments in battle. In snowy terrain, she quips, “When we’re done, we can build a snowman!” In forests, she says, “Do you think we’ll see any bears?” Another character comments when he is responsible for a particularly messy destruction of a Mech, “We can still salvage that.” Little things like that make them feel like characters and not just bonuses on a battlefield.

So – bottom line: I love the game. Harebrained seems to be aggressively patching the issues that I ran into the first week, so I feel okay passing along my recommendation. Maybe turn-based games with giant robot-tanks bristling with weaponry isn’t your cup of tea. But if it is, I think this is a more than worthy addition to genre… and to the legacy of BattleTech / MechWarrior games.

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