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Posted by GG Goblin On May - 8 - 2018

XCOM with Mechs. Good times.

Despite the fact that the BattleTech series has been around for absolutely ages, there has been little action in recent years on the videogame front. It makes perfect sense that both fans of BattleTech and those who are new to the concept would want to control a squad, or Lance, of giant-sized Mechs as they are piloted by their MechWarriors on the battlefield. So it also made sense that when Harebrained Schemes began a KickStarter campaign for a turn-based mech title, it would get funded. That KickStarter campaign may have been a couple of years ago now, but finally, with publishing taken care of by Paradox Interactive, BattleTech is available to play. It was worth the wait.

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There are plenty of similarities to XCOM in BattleTech, but the most obvious is the way that the game is laid out. Players take on the role of a commander and get to maneuver Mechs around a battlefield to complete missions, while also taking care of the various maintenance tasks outside of battle. Much like XCOM, this gives the player a chance to invest in their team and grow them, rather than just being one mission after another as so many turn-based strategy games are.

There is a story to the game, as would befit such a rich game universe, and the player doesn’t just start out as the commander of a mercenary group. This is a universe constantly at war, made up of different factions and noble houses. The player begins working for the ruler of one of these noble houses, which gives the game a great opportunity to run through the basics. In this universe of conflict however, it doesn’t take long for the inevitable power struggle to kick off and for the player to find themselves in exile. This is where the story really starts.

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The story continues throughout the game as missions become available that progress the narrative. Thanks to some very nice cut scenes, interesting characters and the already rich universe, the story is actually really enjoyable and adds further depth to the game, getting the player to invest more heavily. The story missions only play a small part of the overall game however, so there is plenty to do for those who are not so interested, and play continues after the story concludes. Still, it’s a nice story and that doesn’t happen very often in this genre.

When it comes to taking out the Mechs, BattleTech is a joyous amount of fun. Players generally have a choice of different contracts, or missions, to choose from outside of the main story, and they can offer a variety of different objectives, from simply wiping out all opposing forces to protecting a target. Once the mission is chosen, it is down to the surface for some heavy metal warfare.

During the players turn, they get to move the Mechs in their Lance and perform actions. Movement is more important here than in most similar games, as for starters there is no cover system. These are ginat robot things after all. Players can still shield a Mech behind natural or built objects, but it just makes them more difficult to see. When moving a Mech, players get to choose which way the Mech faces at the end of movement, raising more tactical options, and the amount of movment that a Mech performs dictates how easy it will be for opposing forces to hit it as it is more difficult to hit a fast moving target.

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Mechs can be armed with all manner of different weapons, which keeps things interesting. They can also have jetpacks that allow them to jump a fair distance, and can engage in glorious melee combat. There is a lot of choice in BattleTech, and a lot for the player to consider. Some weapons and equipment will cause the Mech to overheat, which could result in an explosion unless the Mech is left to cool, or cooled by an outside source, such as standing in a lake. They are also pretty huge and made up of independent parts. This means that an arm can be destroyed and the Mech will still function, but knock a Mech over and they will have problems. Targetting specific parts of an enemy Mech can lead to not only eliminating a threat, but also different salvage at the end of the battle, So lots to think about.

It is outside of the battle that the player will get to enjoy their earnings and take their pick of the salvage. In the management side of the game, it’s all about picking what to repair and what to upgrade, be it the Mechs that you have available, the ship which you call home, or the MechWarriors that act as pilots in your team. The pilots evolve and gain skills as the game progresses, but permadeath is very real and, as with XCOM, players will find themselves wanting to protect their most experienced pilots in battle. Injuries happen though and, as with things like travelling to a new system, in-game time will need to pass before they are back to active duty.

But there is some tarnish in this epic metal warfest. This is a Paradox Interactive game and, while I am sure that this is not always the case and that I am just generalising, it is far from accessible. BattleTech is very overwhelming with all of its component parts, especially when it comes to the massive depth of maintiaining and upgrading the mechs. A run down of what can be done is available through narrative windows, but so many pieces and so many limitations leave it confusing at best. There is so much information on the screen, and so many things that are not explained in a clear manner, that I would imagine newcomers would wonder what they have let themselves in for. I don’t know why so many Paradox published games feel so unapproachable and that you have to put hours in just to work out how to play, and I know that it is not Paradox’s fault, but the complexity and inaccessiblity of BattleTech does limit the appeal.

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Still, the world would be a slightly sadder place without Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech. It is a difficult game, but complexity and accessibility aside, it really is so much fun. The battles are tactical joy, while the meta game gives the player the chance to shape their own story in the BattleTech universe. It is the sort of game that encourages just one more mission, despite the sun rising outside. For turn-based strategy with giant piloted robots, BattleTech is just great.




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