I look in horror at the abysmal failure my mission was. My mechs lie all over the place, legs blown off, fairly rare weaponry in pieces, and several pilots dead. It was going so well, and in just a few short seconds everything went completely wrong.
It was awesome.
BattleTech aims for a realism of mech combat, or as realistic as you can possibly make mech combat. You control four bipedal mechs in each battle against an enemy unit in turn based combat over large expanses of open terrain. Your aim is to use tactical ingenuity as well as your massive guns to put the other mechs out of commission before they do the same to you.
It’s quite obvious upon playing that BattleTech has taken quite a few pages out of other well-established series books. The combat harkens back to games like XCOM in its punishing difficulty but takes steps further to provide realism and open opportunities for interesting combat plays.
Firstly the arena is not designed across a grid and instead is a freeform area of land. That doesn’t mean you can run your mechs at obscene angles for tactical advantage; each mech not only has varying speed but rotation as well.
And it’s important to know everything you possibly can about your mechs, as they most definitely are the star cast. Each mech has a varying movement speed, equipped weapons, equipped armour, and cooling systems all split across 11 body segments. They are, or can be, glass cannons if not cared for properly. Put a mech in an environment with poor cooling and you’ll soon find that is incapable of doing anything other than soaking enemy rounds. Take a few too many rounds to the legs and you’ll find it tripping over like it stepped on a giant banana peel.
This is all due to the deep and technical internal logic that BattleTech runs on. Mechs are understood by this logic as fully working machines allowing damage to be calculated a precise angles and single shots to be devastating to both of you and the enemy. The heat generated by a mech, particularly by its guns, is calculated alongside its ability to balance and it’s relation to environmental factors. If you want to get good at this game you’re going to need to learn all of these factors and how to supplement and negate each of them. Take for example cooling your mech down; stand a mech in a river and it can fire near indefinitely. This game comes with a long arduous learning curve but one that is ultimately satisfying as you reach each platter of mastery.
But with this long path comes the risk of players falling out early. When you first see the UI is easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of data available. There is also no undo button meaning failure is merely a turn away and not thinking fully before planning a move can have devastating consequences.
The easiest way to learn to dive into the single player campaign where you take on the role of a mercenary commander embroiled in a war between houses at the farther edges of human civilization. Here you get to see the density of BattleTech crushing other tactical games like XCOM. Your goal here is not entirely focused on the winning more so on paying bills and slowly improving your roster. Like XCOM the strategy add significance to every battle but unlike XCOM you’re not faced with the stark decision of winning or losing.
This is really where BattleTech shines. It creates interesting scenarios and interesting consequences for them. Sure you might have won that battle, but one of your best mechs nearly got turned to scrap metal in the fray and lost quite an expensive weapon. All that money you got from winning now goes into repairs and replacing the lost armament. You might lose the next battle, but you managed to sprint through and complete an objective without taking damage, meaning you can still keep the lights on through the little pay you got and pick up easier missions.
This is the best way I found to learn, even given the issues that the single player campaign has. The RPG elements in particular do not feel significant in any way for either your custom character or for your pilots. There is also a tendency for the campaign AI to really focus on exploiting the weaknesses of your mechs. While this is smart strategy and I can’t fault it from the design perspective it does mean that situations can occur where enemies suddenly appear and turn a mech into scrap metal before you can retaliate in a significant way. Taking less risks is the approach I found to mitigating this issue but at the same time this drags the combat down to a snail’s pace. It’s also worth noting in skirmish mode this is not an issue as combatant’s forces are equally matched.
Now BattleTech does come with a few setbacks as well. Loading times are very long and sporadic slowdowns can occur on some menus without reason. The game does have several assets which looks slightly dated compared to the incredibly detailed mechs as well. The main set back is the difficulty spiking as missions have random generation of foes meaning that if a mission is too difficult you can roll the dice by reloading a save and see if the generation is more benevolent.
If you can ignore the possibility of rerolling missions and accept what you’re given BattleTech is definitely a success on par with other tactical games in the genre. You get satisfaction in your victories, frustration in your failures, and sweet relief when you barely manage to escape alive. It brings back the magic and wonder of playing XCOM combined with the technicality of games such as EU4. If you manage to get all your fun out of XCOM, then this is the next step you need to take: Turning massive mechs into expensive scrap metal.
And who doesn’t enjoy that.