Battletech: of Mechs and Men

Everbody has that one game genre that really hooks them, gets their attention and never lets go. For some its strategy/ social games like League of Legends, or multiplayer focused comeptitions like Overwatch and CSGO. For me, as an introvert, those games enver sunk their hooks into me for more than a few weeks at a time. The only genre to ever get me hooked on ti for weeks on end has always been turn based strategy games. Specifically the first XCOM game from the 2010’s. Ever since then ive been looking for something to scratch that itch. The closest ive really come in recent years was the Mario and Rabbids crossover strategy game, (which still astonishes me that they actually made it). But several weeks ago, I finally found that itch scratched in the admittedly cheesily named Battletech.

Story:

If you’re a Battletech fan im sure youll be having a blast from the story. However, as someone who thought Battletech and MechWarriors were the different things, I was confused by it at first. I did some digging and found that its similar to Game of Thrones in a way: multiple warring houses, betrayls etc. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have to look at the Wikipedia article every once in a while. The story isn’t badly told, but it does take some time to learn everyones names and the role they play in the story, which makes it confusing at the best of times, and seemingly straight up gibberish at the worst of times. Fortunately, the characters themselves are decent enough, if generic. You’ve got the awkward engineer type, the suave second in command/ lancer archetype, and the female dropship pilot.  They tend to have a decent amount of banter between each other, and the lines they give tend to be well written. But if your seeking a satisfying story arc and aren’t already familiar with the Battletech lore, I’d advise A. delving into the wiki to get a basic grasp on it, or B. looking elsewhere.

Gameplay: The real meat of the gameplay comes from it’s need to manage resources effectively and risk management. The game is of course turn based and hinges on being able to outwit the enemy through flanking, positioning of targets, effective use of cover etc. However, that’s only half the game. The other half, and arguably the more difficult of the two, is managing the logistics of your mercenary company and ship. You could be the best tactician since Sun Tzu himself, but if you cant manage when money should be spent on a new mech, or saved to fill your soldiers PayPal accounts, then you wont last a single in-game year.

Money will be a constant issue throughout the game as every thirty days you have to pay for a debt to the bank, maintenance costs, etc. so always having enough money to pay up is essential. Heres my top tip for that though: every once in a while, take the option for max salvage over pay on an easy mission. Then, try and build a few smaller mechs and save them as an emergency fund to then sell off if you get short of cash.

The salvage and money option, I found, was a pretty great way to add some flavor into the decision making of each mission: will you play it safe and choose to gain the max amount of money, or risk it all and potentially get the mech parts you need to construct that new Battlemech that takes a little more of a beating, or can fit a few more hardpoints on it.

It gives a tangible risk vs reward element to it, and proves to be immensely satisfying.

The actual fighting itself, and the layers upon which its built, proves how well developed the game . Your limited to a group of four, known as a lance, and the biggest issue of the game was the fact that you couldn’t have anymore than those four. While it does make sense with the lore of Battletech, I wish you could have ahd the option of five (known as a Star). Regardless the main gameplay of it is a form of turn based combat, with the emphasis being on using the different flavors of mechs, and utilizing their strengths, rather than cover based shootouts like XCOM. While there are things like forests( which reduce damage) and snow, (reduces weapon heat) the combat feels more like a miniatures game than most. For the most part the difficulty is balanced fairly well, although there were some games where it took an extra ten turns because one enemy had lost all its weapons, was fairly armoured, and I didn’t have the ammo or weapons necessary to kill it.

Besides that youll be battling heat dissipation, ammo shortages, and lucky dice rolls. Frotunatley, the games large array of weapons means that you can build pretty unique mechs, from long range artillery, to brawler hand-to-hand mechs.

 You don’t have many skills, a maximum of 3 at any given time, plus 2 more: A called shot bonus where you target a mech part specifically, and a defensive skill. Some of the abilities are merely passive and some you have to activate. I felt underwhelmed by the options, as you can go down to tech trees, pick one ability from your secondary tree, and two from your primary tree. It does help to filter which class you want to build, and makes it so your choices are important.

Speaking of upgrades, Your ship the Argo, can be upgraded as well. The problem lies in the fact that not all upgrades are worth the price, such as the upgrades to the lounge, which gave you a onetime boost of morale and that’s it. Compare that to the ability to heal your MechWarrior’s faster, or gain xp when not in combat and you can probably see where I invested my coin in.

Overall though, the core game is satisfying, provides a unique flavor to turn based battles, and makes me want to buy any sequel they might cook up in the future.

Artstyle:

The graphics are the metaphorical chink in the armor for this game, which is to be expected from a smaller studio. A lot of the of the mechs look decent from far away, but see them up close, such as in the mech bays, and the models and overall quality looks a bit dated. The NPC models also look five years older than most games, with very limited animation, and said animation is pretty stiff and repetitive. There were also points in the game, such as the Liberation of Panzyr, that the game chugged along at a crawl, with intense frame rate drops when switching from character to character.  The art style itself makes up for it however, with each mech being detailed and intricate, albeit sometimes looking too similar for my taste, to the point where it tends to get confusing if you have several mechs of the same build all sharing screen space with each other, as I feel that having colored borders would have helped clear up the visual noise a bit. The combat animations, tend to be pretty decent, and give the combat a weighty feel, as seeing a medium laser take out the enemies center torso where they stupidly housed all their ammunition, which then blows up and takes a third of the enemy force out in a single mouseclick never fails to satisfy me, even during this bleak, pointless experience we call 2021.

I also quite enjoyed the U.I, as it was simultaneously compact enough to allow the field of view to breathe, and keep track of where everything is, yet detailed enough that the information was shown without having to be viewed on several different splash screens.

Overall while graphically old, the sound design and artstyle of the mechs more than makes up for it.

Conclusion

Battletech is an excellent turn based strategy game that requires forethought, planning, tactics, and minimizes luck as little as possible. While the story might be confusing, or something many simply pass over, and the graphics are dated, it truly deserves a full recommendation from any and all turn based strategy enthusiasts.   

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