BattleTech: Yes, It’s That Good

Bill McDonough 2018-05-09

Header Art by Smultar.

“GOD DAMN IT. YOU FUCKING SON OF A BITCH! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOU JUST…. Holy fuck, I wish I’d never heard of Jansen’s Hold!”

Right now, some of you are expecting some kind of dive into lore and RP and… I dunno what. But that angry rant has nothing to do with lore. It has nothing to do with roleplay. And it has nothing to do with story. It has everything to do with BattleTech; a game good enough to piss the player off.

The outburst came after some damned NPC Victor cored my beautiful, pristine, every-god-damned-piece-of-advanced-tech-still-working Atlas. A mission earlier, on the same godforsaken rock in the Periphery, another jackwagon in a Schrek PPC carrier blew the also-advanced-tech-laden arm off my Highlander. And now some of you get it. Some of you know BattleTech. The rest of you should.

The Road So Far…

The journey to Jansen’s Hold started two weeks ago, when Harebrained Schemes’ new BattleTech game went live, but in some ways, it’s been going on a lot longer than that. My own experience with BattleTech goes back to the second edition of the game, in 1986. The original name was ‘Battledroids’, but LucasFilm owns the word ‘droid’, and apparently got pissy if anyone used any variation of it. Nobody tell Google, ok?

Back then, BattleTech was the brainchild of FASA Corporation, and specifically Jordan Weisman, the same folks who would create the Shadowrun franchise in 1989. But in ‘86, it was BattleTech. The basic boxed set contained two hex maps, some dice, rules, and card stock counters for the twelve original designs. The game played like a stripped-down, individual-scale version of Avalon Hill classics like Squad Leader and Panzer Blitz, with one all-important difference: GIANT STOMPY ROBOTS.

BattleTech’s gone through a lot of incarnations since those days. It reached the PC gaming community in 1988 with The Crescent Hawk’s Inception, but the real beginning of its rise to legendary status came a year later: MechWarrior. Through the ’90s and into the early ‘aughts’, the MechWarrior franchise, first with Activision, then Hasbro Interactive, and finally Infinite Games Publishing and Piranha Games, Inc. (IGP and PGI, respectively) was one of the ‘must-have’ staples of most fans of piloting sims and FPS games alike. It’s continued into MechWarrior Online, and MW5 is on the way. But for all their draw, those games were never the same experience as BattleTech.

And Now For Something Completely… BattleTech

HBS, on the other hand, has delivered BattleTech. With Weisman, the game’s original creator at the helm, it’s not hard to understand why. Just as with the Shadowrun franchise, Weisman & co. have taken the game back to its roots. The result is a game that has quirks and hiccups, a good old dystopian future for a setting, compelling story, and the kind of flourishes that FASA was always known for. And, of course, GIANT STOMPY ROBOTS.

And it’s very clear that HBS knew exactly what they were setting out to do. The game is full of small touches and nods to its origins. When ‘mechs are on sensors, but not yet visible, they’re represented by a placeholder icon. That icon is a direct copy of the BattleMech armor diagrams from 1990’s editions of the tabletop game. The new version of the same armor diagram (in the current Catalyst Games edition) is visible in the ‘Mech Bay. Clicking on it takes you to your ‘mechs and stored modules and supplies. When you’re in the specific, task-management sections of the game, the game UI obscures panels like that. They’re just part of the background, and clearly something the designers put in as Easter Eggs for themselves and the long-time fans.

One of those Easter Eggs: In the MechWarrior barracks, there’s another of those ‘click on this to go to the management UI’ panels.. It’s a copy of the original MechWarrior pen & paper RPG sheet from 1986.

Ok, So They Got Nerd Cred… How’s the GAME?

The title of the article should answer that question for you. But obviously, there’s more to be said than ‘dammit, Jordan, shut up and take my money.’ There’s visuals, story, combat mechanics… so let’s go down the list.

Visually

The game is gorgeous. It’s an isomorphic 3D layout, looking down on the board. And the board looks great. The maps and terrain are well-rendered, and the camera pans in all four directions and rotates left or right. This lets you figure out lines of sight. And the ‘mechs… HBS went to Piranha and got the MWO art assets for BattleTech. In doing so, they’ve established continuity of visuals. This is how those ‘mechs look. If you’re used to how a Shadow Hawk looks in MWO, it looks like that in BT. A Hunchback looks like a Hunchback.

Battletech uses the MechWarrior Online art assets to create stunning battlemech visuals.

It really is gorgeous.

Beyond just the ‘mech types, the ‘mech loadouts are rendered. When you see a Shadow Hawk-2H near a -2D, you can spot subtle differences; they look distinct. When you go and get bits and pieces blown off, and have to make imperfect repairs (or want to customize your loadout), it’s represented on the model. It’s a nice touch. It doesn’t impact the NPC opponents, but in multiplayer skirmishes, a sharp eye can tell what the enemy is packing. No need to sacrifice a ‘mech’s movement to get into targeting position. And yes, you can use custom loadouts in skirmishes.

The Argo. Yes, those are chunks of missing hull. She’s a fixer-upper.

The cutscene art is another win. The cinematics make use of 2D paintings with animated elements: explosions, movement of a foreground element against the background, etc. This approach could have turned out flat or cartoonish, but for the talent of the HBS art team. Mike McCain and crew have produced a rich, distinct environment that captures the ‘sci-fi future but everything’s falling apart’ feel of BattleTech.

The cutscenes look great, too.

Story

Story, as usual, is one of Weisman’s strengths. While BattleTech has been home to some of the worst Mary Sues in sci-fi (I’m looking at you, Stackpole), for the most part, one of the things FASA always focused on was story. That trend continued in the various Harebrained incarnations of Shadowrun. Now, the writing team of Andrew McIntosh, Mike Mulvihill, Raymond Wood, Brian Poel, and Nathan Weisman brings the same skill and craftsmanship to BattleTech. The central plot of the single-player campaign revolves around betrayal, a throne usurped, and vengeance. But it’s not your throne, and the game is stronger for it.

Instead, you’re the commander of a mercenary group. You were part of the royal guard during the coup, though, so you have reason enough to get involved. But at the same time, you’ve also got a lance of mechwarriors who need supplies, repairs and of course, their paychecks. You can ignore the storyline of treachery and revenge completely, as you work to keep your company in the black. It’s advisable, though, to do at least some of it. Different stages of the storyline open up wider selections of mercenary options. And bigger and better… well…

Giant. Stompy. Robots. And Explosions

Or… Gameplay. We’ll start at the beginning.

Each of the sections of your dropship have different sub-menus. It’s basically ‘Do the thing this part of the ship is for’ and ‘Talk to the NPC who has the tutorials’. Each section is straightforward, but there are a few little nudges here and there to be aware of. Your default position (where time can advance) is an exterior view of the ship itself. This displays how many months of operating capital you have, what tasks are being worked on, and how many days/weeks you are into the game. It’s also where you hire MechWarriors and buy and sell parts.

If you’re careful, and you’re lucky, you can get by with only five or six total MechWarriors on your roster. But if you need to hire more, the Hiring Hall menu option will show you what’s available. Each MechWarrior comes with a pre-generated set of background attributes, which determine their starting skills. It also tells you what their monthly upkeep is, and how much you’ll need to give them up front. Remember, the more skilled a MechWarrior is, the more you have to pay them.

The Store is the other side of the coin, the metal to the Hiring Hall’s meat. Keeping extra parts doesn’t cost you anything, but if you get tight on cash, you might find yourself wondering ‘Do I really need all these Medium Lasers I’ve salvaged, or can I pare down to only 20?’ Some weapons and equipment that become available are better than the ‘standard’ grade, too. These have one or more ‘+’ symbols to indicate their bonuses. The more ‘+’s, the better it is. You can also buy ‘mech parts here, usually 1/3 of a ‘mech. Sometimes you’ll find full battlemechs, but they get expensive.

Getting A Mission

When it’s time to make some money (and when isn’t it?) head on over to the Command Center. This is where various groups are advertising jobs on MercNet. As you work for different factions, you’ll build up a relationship with them, and develop a reputation with the Mercenary Review Board. The better your reputation, the better the jobs. Good relations with the power structure in different areas can help bring prices down in the store, too.

Each contract has three different types of reward: Money, salvage, and reputation. The more money you ask for, the less salvage you’ll get. The more you insist on the pick of the salvage, the less cash they’ll pay. If you leave a little of both on the table, you earn bonus reputation points with the employer. Each contract also displays the mission archetype (Battle, Destroy Base, Ambush, etc), the environment (Desert, Polar, and so on), and the difficulty on a scale of 1-10. Each point on the scale is half an Atlas skull. Some contracts will be at the planet where you pick them up. Others will require travel—but those generally cover the cost of getting to the combat site.

And en route, you’ll have some time to repair and/or refit your ‘mechs.

The Mech Bays

Taking contracts to go to faraway places, meet interesting people, and kill them is only part of the picture. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be BattleTech if you couldn’t fiddle about with your ‘mechs’ weapons, armor, and mobility layouts. That happens in the ‘Mech Bays. Less exciting things like repairs and mothballing happens here, too. We should cover that before we get on to the refits.

Repairs and Mothballing

The ‘mechs you currently own and have selected for active service are listed in the ‘mech bays. Each bay holds up to six battlemechs, and you can get up three bays. This means you can have a company and a half (18 ‘mechs) ready to go at any time, but the most you field in one mission is a single lance. Four ‘mechs. Still, having a selection lets you keep different loadouts available. That can be important if a ‘mech is damaged, or you’re about to send an energy weapon-heavy lance into a brawl in the middle of the desert.

When you wind up with more mechs than you have ‘mech bay slots, you can send a ‘mech to storage. When you do, all of the weapons and equipment (heat sinks, jump jets, and any component upgrades it may have) are removed. This means if you pull a ‘mech back out of storage, you’ll need to refit it to arm and equip it before you can take it into battle.

Refit and Custom Loadouts

To get those ‘mechs configured, though, you’ll need to know how to refit them. Refitting ‘mechs is easy. Doing it well? That takes a little knowledge of how you plan to use them. For my own playstyle, I load up on SRMs and armor way the hell up.

Each section of the ‘mech has a finite number of critical hit locations, in a faithful reproduction of the available space from the original board game. The pre-filled slots (limb actuators, Gyro, Engine, Sensors, etc) are not represented, so there’s no way to pull out the hand and lower arm actuators on a ‘mech like the Jagermech or Blackjack to get more space. In most cases, though, you probably won’t miss it.

You can refit your 'mechs in BattleTech, from Harebrained Schemes.

There are four basic weapon types: Ballistic, Energy, Missile, and Support. Ballistic Weapons are the Autocannon (AC) line. Energy Weapons are Medium and Large Lasers, as well as Particle Projection Cannons (PPCs). Missiles Weapons cover the Long- and Short-Range Missile (LRM/SRM) launchers of various sizes. Finally, ‘Support Weapons’ is a catch-all category for the extremely short-range weapons: Flamers, Machine Guns (MGs), and Small Lasers.

Battlemechs can fit an assortment of these weapons, but there are some limitations. A given ‘mech type has a set number of hardpoints for each type in pre-determined locations. So, for example, a BJ-1 Blackjack has 2 Ballistic, 4 Energy, 0 Missile, and 2 Support hardpoints. Each arm has one Ballistic and one Energy hardpoint. The side-torsos each have one Energy and one Support. So (assuming you can find the tonnage), you could conceivably mount 4 , but it can’t mount any missile launchers.

Training Your MechWarriors

MechWarriors build up experience over time. The most common way to get experience is to go on missions. That experience can then be spent to improve their combat performance. There are four different skills to improve: Gunnery, Piloting, Guts, and Tactics. Each one governs different aspects of combat, and each has special abilities at levels five and eight that MechWarriors can get. Be careful, though, MechWarriors can only get special abilities from two of the four skills (the first two you raise to level five). Each MechWarrior can also only get the level eight specialty from one ability.

BattleTech allows mechwarrior customization through skill training.

The skills and their specialties are:

Gunnery:

This one’s obvious, it governs using your guns. Specifically, as it improves, your base to-hit improves.

  • Level 5: Multi-Target—This enables targeting up to 3 different targets in the same round, selecting which weapons are fired at each.
  • Level 8: Breaching Shot—This passive ability allows you to ignore defensive modifiers from things like cover when firing a single weapon at a target.
Piloting:

Just as obviously, this governs piloting. Base chance to-hit with physical attacks, how well your ‘mech resists being knocked down, how much of a defensive bonus you can get from movement (Evasion), and even how far you can push your ‘mech in a sprint.

  • Level 5: Evasive Movement—This grants an automatic additional level of Evasion, up to the max allowed by the MechWarrior’s Piloting skill.
  • Level 8: Ace Pilot—Normally, ‘mechs move, then fire. With this passive ability, a MechWarrior can opt to fire, and then move, instead.
Guts:

This is your toughness. Raising Guts improves how many injuries it takes to turn a MechWarrior into a thin red paste in the cockpit. It also builds up recoil compensation for using Autocannons, and increases the overheat threshold your ‘mech can handle

  • Level 5: Bulwark—A passive ability, Bulwark grants Guarded status (50% damage reduction vs ranged attacks from the front and sides) if you haven’t moved that round.
  • Level 8: Juggernaut—Another passive, this ability reduces your target’s initiative (see below) by one following a successful physical attack.
Tactics:

Tactics helps with doing the things that aren’t typical. Increasing levels of Tactics offsets the penalties for indirect fire and called shots (targeting a specific hit location) on fallen or shut down ‘mechs, and reduces the minimum range of long-range weapons like PPCs, AC/2s, and LRMs.

  • Level 5: Sensor Lock—Locking sensors on a target keeps it visible until the end of its current round (even if it leave line of sight) and removes two levels of Evasion.
  • Level 8: Master Tactician—This gives the MechWarrior +1 to their initiative (see below).

The right combination of skills and special abilities can dramatically improve how well your strategies work. As your MechWarriors’ skills increase though, they also demand a higher paycheck. As Darius, your XO, tells you in the finance tutorial: Wouldn’t you?

And Oh Yeah, Explosions

Ok, so you’ve done all the prep and it’s time to hit the map! While BattleTech looks the way an RTS might, there’s actually a fair amount just below the surface. Knowing those nuts-and-bolts, even superficially, will make or break your chances.

First, the game is played on a map of hexagonal spaces. The hexes aren’t displayed, but they’re there. This means your ‘mech has six ‘sides’: Front Left/Center/Right, and Rear Left/Center/Right. It also means the game determines Line Of Sight (LOS) by drawing a straight line through the hexes. If something in a hex that line crosses blocks LOS, it’s blocked. It doesn’t matter if you think you could shoot between the hill and your other ‘mech. You can’t.

Your ‘mech also has 8 hit locations: Head, Left/Right Arm, Left/Center/Right torso, and Left/Right Leg. These correspond to the critical component locations from the ‘mech bays. Depleting the armor on these locations makes the internal structure and any components in that location vulnerable. The torsos also have front and rear armor. Your back is less armored than your front, so try to keep enemies from getting behind you.

Movement

Speed is life. It’s a common phrase among fighter pilots and gamers alike. The faster you move, the more trouble people have when they shoot at you. That’s true in BattleTech, as well. The farther you move in a turn, the more Evasion you get. So more shots miss. Lighter ‘mechs rely on speed the way heavier ‘mechs rely on armor.

The hexes on the map only display when you need them to, for plotting movement.

Movement happens in three modes: Move, Sprint, and Jump. Move is obvious: your base movement speed. You move, you shoot. Sprint is running—150% of base speed, but uses the whole turn, preventing weapons’ fire. Jump is useful for crossing terrain that might take multiple turns to get around, but requires sacrificing tonnage for Jump Jets. The most Jump Jets you can fit equals your base movement speed. Turning costs 1 point of movement for each facing change you make. Moving through rough terrain or wooded hexes costs more, and slows you down. Jumping lets you land facing any direction you like.

Veterans of the franchise are familiar with how this plays out. A Spider moves 8/12/8—8 Move, 12 spaces of sprinting, 8 hexes of jump distance. A Battlemaster does 4/6/0. Knowing how the enemy moves lets you plot your own movement to force them into bad positioning.

At the beginning of a mission, your ‘mechs default to Sprinting. As soon as you detect enemy units on sensors, the game drops into combat phases, counting down from 4. Light ‘mechs go on 4, Medium ‘mechs on 3, Heavies on 2, and Assault ‘mechs go on 1. Manual selection of movement modes is always available—jumping has its uses out of combat, as does a well-timed sprint during a fight.

Physical Attacks

You know what giant stompy robots are really useful for? Stomping on stuff! BattleTech has always incorporated physical attacks, and this edition continues that. The game combines the original table-top version’s punches, kicks, and charges into a single ‘physical attack’. The attack does a fixed amount of damage, based on ‘mech weight and top speed. A physical attack looks like a punch, kick or headbutt, depending on a number of factors, including ‘mech sizes, elevation, and whether or not the enemy blew your arms off.

C’mon, look at those gorilla arms. The Centurion’s built for fisticuffs.

As always, positioning matters. If you attack from the left, you’re more likely to hit the left arm/leg/torso. If you attack from behind, you’ll hit the rear armor. Physical attacks also deal stability damage. So when you’re focusing fire on an enemy ‘mech, and one of yours is running too hot, run up and punch him. You’ll cool off, and you might knock him down, setting up a called shot (see below). Physicals are also a great way to deal with vehicles; they take extra damage from physicals. It’s not uncommon to see a light ‘mech, like a Locust or Spider, one-shot a heavily armored, undamaged vehicle like a Shrek or a Demolisher. Just don’t die on the way in.

And then there’s Death From Above (DFA). Oh yes, ‘mech fans, your 80-ton Victor can elevate on superheated fusion exhaust to come crashing down on some poor, unsuspecting Locust. Hit, and you deal tremendous damage. Miss, and you deal tremendous damage to yourself. You damage your legs either way, but a miss is much worse. Incidentally, don’t double-DFA in a stock Spider. Even if you never miss, you’ll blow both your legs off. Oops.

Weapons Fire

Moving around and punching things are great, but this isn’t Rock’em, Sock’em Robots. This is BattleTech. And that means giant stompy robots shooting at one another, too. That’s how you get most of the explosions—and how you kill more than one ‘mech in a single volley. So it’s a good thing Harebrained spent some time on the weapons, and how it looks/feels when you fire them.

A number of factors influence weapon accuracy. Cover, movement of both the shooter and target, and skills all play a part. Each type of weapon has its own base damage, both in terms of regular damage and stability damage. They each also cause your ‘mech to build up a set amount of heat. All of this is pretty standard.

BattleTech deviates from ‘standard’ in what you see when you pull the trigger. Weapons fire often takes on a cinematic quality. The camera rushes in for a good view of the incoming fire. Lasers lance out instantly. Particle beams move slower, giving them a weight that feels appropriate for the damage they put out. Autocannons chirp (or thud, depending on the size), projectiles flashing across the field like tracers. And missiles whoosh out, each trailing fire and smoke as it streaks toward the target. A volley from a Stalker carrying a quartet of LRM20s sometimes takes on an anime-esque quality, as the missiles twist around one another’s smoke. It slows things down a bit, but the effect is stunning.

Weapons leave their marks, too. Autocannons and missiles leave little pit-marks, and lasers and PPCs scorch the impact points. Destroyed arms fly off, leaving wreckage strewn about the map. The option to pick up a felled limb and use it as a club hasn’t made it into the computer game…. yet. Still, I’m hopeful.

LRMs Behave Like LRMs

Twisting around smoke trails isn’t the only way Harebrained got their missiles right, though. True to BattleTech’s roots, missile damage from each launcher isn’t just a solid block. An LRM20 doesn’t just drop two PPCs of pain on a location. Instead, each missile’s chance to hit or miss, and where it hits, are determined separately. In the board game, this gets abstracted a bit. There’s a chart for how many missiles hit, and LRM hits are located in blocks of five. SRMs roll individually. The reason for this is obvious. Nobody wants to spend all night rolling where the 40 missiles from their Archer hit every single time. But through the magic of modern computing, we don’t have to.

No Line-of-Sight? No problem! Get a spotter and some Long Range Missiles.

LRMs also do one other thing they’re supposed to do: they take advantage of spotters. Say you have a ‘mech loaded with LRMs and a target hidden behind a hill. Get eyes on them with one unit, and your missile boats are weapons-free. This makes scout ‘mechs, especially high-speed light and medium battlemechs, even more useful than their ability to dodge and distract enemy fire. Indirect fire is less accurate than firing on a target in direct sight, but a high Tactics skill offset that nicely. Even if none of your ‘mechs are dedicated missile platforms, having LRMs mixed into your loadouts adds range, punch, and flexibility.

Knockdown and Called Shots

In addition to armor damage, attacks deal stability damage. Ballistic, Missile, and Physical attacks all deal far more stability damage than Energy weapons do (one of the trade-offs for Energy weapons being relatively compact). When your stability damage bar is full, or you take a lot of stability damage in a single shot, you get the ‘Unsteady’ debuff. Any stability damage that fills the bar after you have that debuff will knock the ‘mech down.

Losing a leg will also knock you down. Sorry, but even at Piloting 10, you simply can’t have a leg blown off and stay balanced. On that unit’s next action, it gets the chance to stand back up before doing anything else. Stability damage goes away when you stand up, so no more applies while you’re on the ground. Normal movement also reduces stability damage, and certain other actions like Bracing to end that unit’s turn erase all stability damage completely.

When they get knocked down, don’t let them up again. Enemies don’t let enemies Chumbawumba.

Once a ‘mech falls down, it’s more vulnerable. Not only does the pilot take damage, it also loses 1 point of its initiative. The worst part, though, is that enemies get to make called shots.

When making called shots, a unit designates where on the fallen ‘mech it wants to hit. The normal chance to hit that location (displayed on the popup armor diagram shown in the screenshot) is roughly doubled. The unit’s Tactics skill can raise this even higher. This makes it much easier to focus fire on the center torso—or if a ‘mech’s lost one leg, target the other. If multiple units pound away at a fallen ‘mech before it stands back up, there’s a very good chance it never will.

This is what we call ‘an execution’.

Heat

Heat. The bane of every MechWarrior’s good mood. Heat makes you stop firing PPCs like they’re machine guns. It makes you look for the nearest lake. Heat also makes your ‘mech steam, glow orange, and explode. If a ‘mech shuts down, the only thing it does on its next action is start back up. Heat’s bad, mm’kay?

That orange glowy thing? That’s a ‘mech. They get even hotter, too, but then they can explode.

Weapons and movement build up heat. Walking and sprinting don’t build up much, but jumping adds a considerable amount. Different environments affect how much heat you bleed off each round, too. Deserts and badlands reduce it, and tundra and polar maps let you cool off fast. Your heat sinks need a medium to work through, though. That means Martian maps, where the air is thin, and lunar ones, with no air at all, really bog down your heat dissipation. Pay attention to what kind of map you’re going to be on when you take the contract. You’ll have time while you travel to refit, if you need to.

Flamers build up heat, too, but they’re special. These are the only Support weapons that weigh a full ton each. They’re also the only weapons that carry their own ammo. You only get a handful of shots, but they can be critical. A Flamer does 5 damage, but builds up 10 heat… in the target. Not the shooter. It’s a flamethrower. A close-range ‘mech carrying a few of these can keep larger machines from being able to fire their weapons, or even shut them down completely.

Heat management is one of the most essential skills a player can develop. Managing their enemy’s heat… now that’s an art.

Put It Together and What Do You Get? Bippity-Boppity-BattleTech

It all adds up to combat experience that’s visually lush, strategically engaging, and thoroughly BattleTech. Once you develop a feel for the pacing and tactics, maneuvering becomes second-nature. Barring a spot of bad luck here or there, strategy becomes an exercise in resource management and watching for your enemies’ mistakes. Positioning, use of terrain, and heat management take their proper places as elements of a puzzle to solve, not obstacles to your fun.

And when some cocky 100-ton King Crab tries to come in to AC/20 range, and your best MechWarrior puts a shot through his cockpit? That’s some damned fine GIANT. STOMPY. ROBOTS.

It’s the Little Things The Make It Yours

Home is where you rest your head, and in BattleTech’s campaign mode, that means the Captain’s Quarters. There’s three menu options in here: Finances, Reputation, and Customize Company. For the most part, they’re all pretty straightforward.

The finances menu shows you how much it costs to run your company every month, and where the expenses come from. It also shows how many months of operating capital you have, and offers you the choice of five levels of budgeting. Spend more money than you need to, and you improve morale. Morale, in turn, effects performance on the field. Opt to cut corners, and you hurt morale. Like I said: straightforward.

Reputation’s just as simple: it shows you what kind of rep you have with different factions that impact job selections. These range from the Mercenary Review Board to Periphery groups and even the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere. The better your rep, the bigger the jobs they’ll pay for.

Finally, there’s Company customization. This gives you all the options for how your merry marauders present themselves. You can change the company name (it defaults to [your callsign]’s Marauders, in fact) and logo to the basic colors of your ‘mechs’ paint scheme. There’s even a handy Atlas figure on display so you can see how the colors will look.

Yep. In your quarters, you’ve got your very own BattleTech minis, ready to paint. NerdWarrior.

All the comforts of home, with fewer headaches. Sure, you’ve got to balance the books and find entertainment for a group of murderous hired killers, but there’s no screaming kids and the dog doesn’t need to be walked!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

So far I’ve had a lot of good things to say about the game. But it’s not a perfect game—though HBS is working hard to get it there. For the most part, the issues come in two flavors: stumbling blocks, and presentation.

Stumbling Blocks

These are the bits of the game that can get frustrating, fast. For the most part, experience smooths them out, as you learn to circumvent these problems. Still, new players can especially find themselves tripped up by these.

It’s easy to have one bad mission cripple your ability to recover, especially in the early stages of the game. Get a ‘mech too beaten up, and it may take longer to fix than you have before the money runs dry. If a MechWarrior is injured badly enough, you’ll pay them to sit in the med bay for a few months and relax. While this is mitigated somewhat later in the game, there comes a point where the skills you can hire don’t come close to matching the ones you already have on the team. If you haven’t had a couple of spare ‘mech jocks tagging along for a while, any serious injury completely sidelines the lance.

Travel limitations can be a pain, too. Until you get through certain stages of the campaign story, there are limitations on where you can go for work. For the most part, this keeps you from stumbling into a mission where the only reason anyone survives is because your character can’t die. But that understanding only comes once you get there and get a taste of the pain waiting in places like Jansen’s Hold. Until then, not being able to go places like the Federated Suns for work can be frustrating.

Presentation

This category is more about the things that interrupt the flow of play, or just feel jarring when you see it happen.

In combat, the beautiful, lovingly-crafted cinematic shots of weapons fire sometimes feel like they’re slowing things down. This complaint comes most often from people who don’t have a history with BattleTech. There’s a level of appreciation and satisfaction in seeing four LRM20s rain down death on some unsuspecting Commando that maybe takes time to develop. For gamers with a more casual relationship with the franchise, it can feel like a pointless break in the action.

Similarly, some of the camera angles need work. It’s all well and good to see the dramatic reveal of a ‘mech from the ground level. Grass blocking that dramatic shot, though, ruins the effect.

The rest of the game’s flaws and hang-ups come in similar vein: MechWarrior customization lacks depth, maps eventually become familiar and predictable, and so on. HBS has promised a significant update early in June to address some of these issues, including more granular difficulty settings. The game’s first patch, released last week, has already corrected a number of lag and memory problems that had snuck out into the wild.

Summing It All Up

All-in-all, this is the BattleTech game old-school grognards like me have been waiting for. The game looks great, plays smoothly, and faithfully captures the spirit of the original. For newcomers to the setting, it can be a little intimidating, but if you take your time and get a feel for what the game is offering, I have no doubt you’ll be gleefully stomping downrange to kill the foe in no time. It’s not perfect, but it gets real close, and HBS is committed to listening to feedback from the community, and working hard to keep on improving the game.

A mission after my Atlas died, by the way, a pair of headshots from an AC/20 killed the pilots of both the Highlander and one of my two Battlemasters. On Jansen’s fucking Hold.

Battletech, from Harebrained Schemes, is a game that will make you mad. It will make you hate. And you will come back for more. It’s that good.

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Comments

  • Arrendis

    By the way, I know this is a fair bit more of a deep dive than most game reviews tend to be. That’s because BattleTech itself has always been kind of… crunchy. It’s a game where getting into the numbers and the hows and whys is the meat of the game. It just didn’t feel right to write up a review that didn’t approach the matter with that in mind.

    Every time I’ve read a review of this game on other sites, the reviews have basically consisted of ‘It’s pretty and things explode’. These days, a brain-dead chimpanzee can produce ‘it’s pretty and things explode’ if they’ve got a decent budget, and most of the games out there are evidence of that. The question I kept asking as I read those reviews wasn’t ‘is it pretty and do things explode?’ but ‘Is it BattleTech? Did they get it right?’

    So when I went to write this up… it got a little wordy. My apologies to anyone whose eyes glazed over while reading.

    May 9, 2018 at 2:17 pm
    • Rammel Kas Arrendis

      So far I’ve seen a few video reviews and they also concluded they needed to be comprehensive not sparse in explaining things. Also keep in mind a lot of the people who are their target market were rolling dice for hit location a few years ago. Those who had a twirl at the first person shooter Mechwarrior Online and went “meh… too twitchy”.

      May 9, 2018 at 3:19 pm
      • Arrendis Rammel Kas

        Yup. And PGI’s squandering of goodwill from the loyal (rabid) fanbase MW and BT have built up over 30 years didn’t go unnoticed, either. Zapper & Co. definitely made an effort to give the fans a game that would feel like what they remembered. Kinda how The Force Awakens almost needed to have all those callbacks to the original trilogy to reassure fans ‘There is no goddamned Jar Jar’.

        May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm
    • Daito Endashi Arrendis

      *wonders for ~a year why Arrendis only comments and doesn’t write anymore*
      *realizes now Bill McDonough is Arrendis*

      May 10, 2018 at 7:26 pm
      • Arrendis Daito Endashi

        Lol. Yeah, you know, it just seems to make more sense, you know? I don’t write articles as my EVE persona, I write them as myself, an observer a step removed from the game and its politics.

        May 11, 2018 at 3:29 am
  • Gavo S'aan

    I initially blew off the release of this game, but this was a good write up and I think I’ll give it another look. Thank you

    May 9, 2018 at 5:45 pm
  • Holger Pache

    Worth mentioning is also that the optimization is bad, stutters, fps drops and load times you would not believe in a 2018 game. It can take you a solid minute to get the load game interface up and chose a game to load even when you are not in a mission but on the ship. Getting to the mech hangar, trying to customize your newly obtained mechs, which can be a royal pain in the ar*** especially at the beginning of the game due to drop dead stupid salvage mechanics, takes time. You are better be prepared to spend the next couple of minutes or half an hour selecting a mech, trying to customize him, dragging and dropping equipment that does not stick for some reason and the like. In short the game as fun as its actually game play might be needs some serious work in the optimization department, interface loading, interface handling. In fact retooling your lance for some special mission requirements can take as long as the mission itself thanks to the clunkiness of the interfaces.

    Oh and one should also mention, the A.I cheats, fields Mechs with full armor, full weapons, sufficient heat sinks, or tanks that carry a “little” bit more armor than you are used to. This happens not so often during campaign missions but quite often depending were you spend your time between campaign missions. And to all the people saying that I am lying, I got screen shots,and everyone should check the enemy mechs during missions from time to time and see for themselves. In the end this results in some crushing and fairly frustrating defeats, in side missions mind you. The campaign is largely free of these shenanigans (aside from 1 mission, but there it is not a big issue).

    Would I still recommend the game?
    The OP told you in length about the good stuff, I told you about the bad stuff.
    To any Battletech nerd it is a must have.
    To all the others, the clunkiness and bad optimization will put a lot of people off as can be seen by the bad reviews on steam, the dev have promised to work on that problem and it is supposed to get solved with the next big patch. So for all the none nerds wait until then.

    May 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm
    • Arrendis Holger Pache

      I actually haven’t seen any stutters or FPS drops. Yeah, there’s long load times, but I’m also sitting here with 26 browser tabs, an EVE window, photoshop, and a few other pieces of software running on a machine I built 6 years ago.

      At least one of the reviewers who had, says those were mostly fixed in the first patch, and HBS has committed to continue improving the games.

      May 13, 2018 at 6:49 am
      • Holger Pache Arrendis

        Yes yes, over 9000 browser tabs, 11 other games running, streaming and all that on a Pentium I and it runs with 500 fps I get it.

        Other people are running the game on 5000 $ gaming rigs and it is just as clunky as on my friends 5 year old laptop or my moderate gaming rig.

        Fun fact, yes it is supposed to get fixed in the first big patch, the one that came out ~2 weeks ago wasn´t the one, you should read the patch notes. Yes they promised improvement and I am looking forward to it. Patch is scheduled for June as far as I know.

        May 13, 2018 at 3:07 pm
        • Arrendis Holger Pache

          Right, but my point is: My review wouldn’t include those things that I’m not experiencing. I’m not saying they’re not happening to people, I’m just saying if I’m going to give an honest and accurate review, I’m not including hearsay and anecdote from other sources, just my own experience.

          I did read the patch notes. Some of the reported issues *were* addressed in the patch two weeks ago. The RPS reviewer who noted his issues has even said as much. So we’ll have to see what the June patch brings, too.

          May 13, 2018 at 3:53 pm
          • Holger Pache Arrendis

            Well I am baffled that you claim not to have noticed the clunkiness of the interfaces,load times, nor the hick ups between turns those are the stutters, the hick ups people like me and thousands on steam talk about. Anyways. as I have said before despite all that if you are a Battletech nerd buy it, it is a fairly good transition from the old tabletop game. Once the clunkiness is ironed out it will also appeal to the masses and has the potential to serve as a basis for much better things to come. 4th succession war, clan invasion you name it. The foundation is good, jolly good and I am looking forward to it.

            May 14, 2018 at 10:26 am
          • Arrendis Holger Pache

            And I’m glad you did! You’re experiencing those issues, so you should raise awareness of them. I’m just explaining why I didn’t. I can’t explain why I’m not running into them… but then, I actually had 2 PCs that ran Windows Millenium w/out crashing for 2 years. And then one of them actually refused to upgrade to Win2K and told me (and this is the best damned error message I’ve ever seen from Microsoft) ‘If you insist on this installation, it will not work, and you will not be able to start the computer’.

            Sometimes, you just get lucky. Sometimes you’re left totally cockblocked, staring at an error message that you never would’ve expected but can’t help laughing at.

            Funny ol’ thing, Life.

            May 14, 2018 at 9:29 pm
      • Paul Tomaszewski Arrendis

        One of the notable flaws in HBS BT is that performance will gradually drop off as the number of saved games increases. This can mean unless you go in there and delete some of those old files, BattleTech will begin to chug, especially on lower-end computers. At least of this post, HBS does keep patching.

        June 18, 2018 at 6:12 am
    • Paul Tomaszewski Holger Pache

      More armor than you expect, or more like you’re going to be engaging half-repaired enemies early on, but fully operational ones later? Cause that’s definitely the case- the game ratchets up mission difficulty as the storyline progresses, and low-skull missions can often have enemies that shoot the same guns you’re used to later on, but will have 25-50% the armor protection that the same enemy will later due to being poorly maintained pirate junk and such.

      HBS has been pretty darn good about fixing the actual gameplay stuff, including crashing and the like. The release version definitely had clunky bits, but they not only ended up continuing to polish it up and hammering out the dings, Paradox ended up buying out the studio to boot.

      June 18, 2018 at 6:07 am
  • Holger Pache

    82 Hours in campaign finished, yes I took my time and I can say….if they iron out the oddities if they get rid of the long loading, the clunky fitting, best tactical stomping robot game ever! Story is a bit on the extreme cheese side but as a foundation for a gritty merch unit fighting in the turmoils of the fourth succession war or the clan invasion, the stage is set, definitely. That is IF they iron out the clunkiness, that is still the let down that will throw none nerds off.

    May 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm
  • Paul Tomaszewski

    Something that came later: HBS BT has ended up spawning a vigorous mod community, including a sandbox version of the original called Roguetech that’s definitely got some serious twists and turns compared to the original. If there’s something that rubs you the wrong way about the base game, odds are someone’s got a mod for it. Or six.

    June 18, 2018 at 6:10 am