BattleTech is back—though, it never really left completely. Started as a tabletop game in 1984, the BattleTech franchise has spawned numerous video games, notably the MechWarrior series. When I was a kid seeing the BattleTech tabletop in my local comic shop inspired a lifelong obsession with giant stompy robots. Developer Harebrained Schemes, known for reviving the Shadowrun series recently, has taken the reigns for the latest BATTLETECH (stylized most places in all caps for some reason) and have successfully reignited my love for big stompy robots.
I just want to get something out of the way first: I’ve seen lots of comparisons to the modern X-Com games with this latest version of BATTLETECH, and for as much as BATTLETECH is similar to that turn-based squad strategy title, BATTLETECH is incredibly different. Both X-Com and BATTLETECH have central bases that can be upgraded, and these both serve as a means to meet with NPCs and discover more of the lore. The combat works also works similarly, but instead of squads of soldiers you have a Lance of four ‘Mechs—large, formidable robots with massive amounts of potential firepower. There isn’t cover, either, instead each ‘Mech provides its own cover—sorta.
If you’re familiar with BattleTech or MechWarrior there aren’t many surprises with how the ‘Mechs work. There are multiple types of ‘Mechs, from the smallest light ‘Mechs, to the rare and large Assault ‘Mechs. As a leader of a lowly mercenary band to start out, you only have access to smaller ‘Mechs and must salvage scrap from battles or purchase ‘mechs (or ‘mech parts) using C-bills, the currency of the Inner Sphere. ‘Mechs are single aren’t exactly entities; instead they’re made up of a central torso, side torsos, arms, sides, and legs. All have their own potential to carry different weapons, armor, etc. So instead of using a cover system, how far a ‘Mech can move, its armor/weapon complement, and its positioning determine how it takes damage.
‘Mechs also generate heat when they do most anything, especially when they shoot weapons and fire jump jets, so it is a constant consideration because if a ‘Mech overheats it takes damage and can even shut down. There are even weapons that help you overheat your opponents, along with a vast array of ballistic weaponry, missiles to rain down hell, and all sizes of lasers to pew pew down your enemies. If you run out of ammo, or are running hot, you always have the option to melee your enemies.
If all of that sounds a little more complicated than X-Com, it sorta, kinda is. On top of learning how mechs move, and how to position them to minimize damage, building ‘Mechs can seem intimidating too. There are tonnage considerations, weapon slots, etc, but luckily ‘Mechs come premade with the ability to remove and add weapons/armor if you like. If you like to get into the gritty technical aspects of min-maxing your stompy death machine, you can do that too. If a ‘Mech takes damage in battle, it will need to be repaired—limbs that are missing must be replaced, weapons that are destroyed have to be removed and new weapons put in, etc. Even if you have a MechWarior who took an AC20 to the face, you just (presumably) hose out the cockpit and fix it up for the next soul.
Not only do you have your ‘Mechs to consider, you have your MechWarriors to take care of. Each can be levelled to have their own specialization, and if they live long enough, they can become valuable assets. You can assign any MechWarrior to any mech, so you can mix and match abilities to appropriate ‘Mechs. If they’re injured in combat, it will take time to heal, just as it takes time for your ‘Mechs to be repaired.
Playing the game can feel fun, and it’s extremely rewarding to get a great shot to your opponent’s legs to take them down for maximum salvage, and I’m always gleeful when I get a kill shot crit to an enemy cockpit, but combat is generally slow, making everything take a very long time to do. There is a singleplayer campaign, and playing through it to the point where I was completely out of the phase the game is still teaching me how to play, and into the main gameplay loop of flying around the Inner Sphere took over three hours. Battles can also feel like they take a very long time. They can be fun enough to not make this a genuine complaint, but BATTLETECH is just a huge time sink as a result.
The story itself is pretty good, with lots of Inner Sphere politics and betrayal, and even a few twists. There are a mostly memorable cast of NPCs you interact with using text-based dialogue interactions, but it adds a ton of compelling flavor lore. Most of the time you will not be doing main story missions, instead working contracts to build up a formidable ‘Mech force and to make money to ensure your whole operation doesn’t fail, because once you’re broke, it’s game over.
The different contracts you can find throughout the Inner Sphere are varied enough, ranging from simple battles to the dreaded escort quests (yes, they’re pretty annoying here, too). The maps you fight these battles on seem to be varied enough, with different environments effecting your ‘Mechs in different ways, therefore making some locations more optimal fighting spots than others—colder is better, ‘Mechs run hot.
If you don’t want to play through the campaign, you can also opt to play the Skirmish Mode. Multiplayer skirmishes are sometimes great. Though there isn’t really matchmaking, so your experience can range from completely (and literally) stomping on newbs, or getting knocked down from afar by LRM surgical strikes by tactical geniuses. There are also single player skirmishes, if you want to practice against AI. What’s great is you can actually set up multiple squads (called Lances) to be deployed in any Skirmish mode, so you don’t have to tweak your ‘mechs between every round.
Like I said, BATTLETECH is back. It doesn’t emulate the tabletop game directly, but it’s a great approximation for the modern age, with just enough X-Com to make it compelling. It’s slow pace makes BATTLETECH a huge time sink, though, so make sure you have the time to invest into it if you want to give it a fair chance. It’s totally worth it if you’re looking for a strategic ‘Mech game.