I had a gleeful sense of wonder and empowerment battling my way through enemy forces in one of BattleTech’s large-scale skirmishes. It was exhilarating commanding a squadron, or “lance,” of four mechwarriors piloting their finely-tuned battlemechs in a strategic tussle.
BattleTech delivers some of the most satisfying turn-based strategical gameplay I have experienced this generation. However, those moments of brilliance on the battlefield are often hidden behind some obtuse design choices and a story that feels tacked on. As a result, Battletech is a fun, but taxing video game adaptation of the classic board game.
Developer Harebrained Schemes’ primary achievement in BattleTech is incorporating deep strategic mechanics to create organic and evolving encounters. Take a look at the game’s HUD. There is a lot of information to consider in the decisions you make for each battlemech’s turn.
But the number of variants you have to juggle form a seamless process once you wrap your head around them. Like any good turn-based strategy game, positioning, preparation, and thinking one step ahead of your opponents are vital elements. BattleTech builds upon these basic principles. A slew of weapons, skills, and environmental factors play into the overall effectiveness of your unit.
For instance, every movement has to end with you choosing the direction your battlemech will be facing. Such an action requires careful thought as the angle of your perspective factors in what enemies you can target as well as what sections of your mech’s armour will be more exposed to hostile assaults. Therefore, precise positioning on the battlefield is key as you may use environmental advantages, such as a protective forest, to tip the scales in your favor.
I relished the planning that had to go into each move as it gave even the most mundane of decisions such weight. I had to balance the risk of engaging all of my weapons on a significant target with the possibility of overheating my battlemech and leaving it desperately more vulnerable as a result. And like any thoughtful strategy RPG, each moment truly felt like the roll of a dice even if I had done everything in my power to remove luck out of the equation as much as possible.
The Consequences of Failure
Part of what gives BattleTech’s mechanics so much gravity is that the consequences of failure, or even a costly victory, will have a monumental effect on your operations outside of the battles. Battlemechs take time and resources to repair. Battlewarriors remain dead if they fall in combat. This can lead to heartbreaking scenarios where one of your favorite pilots is lost forever. (Especially after a rare and brutal one-shot kill from the enemy.) These scenarios can be frustrating as there is no reliable method of redoing your mistakes. Loading your previous save could render an hour of otherwise constructive gameplay obsolete.
Life as a mercenary also brings its own stresses. In the strive to constantly better my crew and battlemechs, I found that the grind to complete contracts from willing clients could get a little repetitive. This is made worse by the need for breaks in between missions to service any necessary repairs. Ultimately, this just comes off as padding for an already methodically paced game. Customizing the battlemechs has a satisfying loop to it. But the UI aboard the ship has a clunky flow. So, navigating the appropriate menus is more of a chore than an exciting discovery.
The story of BattleTech also feels awkward and half-baked compared to the precise combat. It involves a coup between jaded royal family members that has repercussions across the galaxy. On the surface, it sounds like an epic space opera that will twist and turn with each story-based mission.
However, while I loved choosing the backstory for my character, those choices had little impact. The plot sort of just meanders along whenever it feels like it. There’s also some streaky voice acting. I ultimately found the stories personal to my battle experiences to be far more engaging than the one told in cutscenes. And while there is a ton of world-building and lore thrown into the mix, it will most likely only appeal to the most hardcore enthusiast.
Thankfully, the developers realize that the main focus should be on the skirmishes. Therefore, the replayability for these battles is as easy as starting a new campaign and seeing where the contracts take you. There is even a fun player vs. player multiplayer mode that will test your skills against friends around the world.
BattleTech is a confident foray into the world of strategy RPGs that effectively delivers slow-paced but constantly engaging robotic combat. There is certainly a learning curve to overcome in order to master each of the game’s systems and logistical management. But once you have conquered those few setbacks, you will be addicted to the engrossing battles that will have you clicking away for hours on end.