BattleTech – Stomping the Yard – A Review From Scroo

Big stompy robots aren't anything new. BattleTech has been around for a long time containing a huge library of the the titanic war machines and thousands of pages of lore to go along with them. Things started back in 1984 when a studio called FASA launched a table top miniatures war game called BattleDroids. According to the WIki, Lucasfilm took ownership of the word "Droid" and the game was renamed BattleTech. The board game took up loads of space and a lot of time to play; days sometimes.

I actually never played the board game but I remember seeing big layouts at a friend's place a long time back where they had made a big topographical map to play on. I was kind of fascinated by the sight because I had only ever played the old SNES game and PC titles up to that point. MechWarrior and MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries were what got me into the glorious impracticality of enormous walking tanks. I played a lot of MechWarrior 3 as well regardless of its terrible controls and Microsoft even released an exceptionally buggy MechWarrior 4, that later had a couple of expansions. I actually put money down for a founder's pass back when MechWarrior Online was in development and it - WAS - fun for a while but now suffers from the typical free to play nickel and diming that so many titles do. Now there's the game we're here to talk about and soon there will be MechWarrior 5, which I highly anticipate because no matter how buggy and sometimes poorly executed the first player games have been they've always been fun and the right kind of campy.

Anywhoo, stick with me here cos this one is gonna be long and I'm going to break some things down.

Okay Whatever, To the Subject at Hand

This new BattleTech title is a turn based strategy game in the vein of the ever popular and truly great, XCOM. I feel like there was very little press about the development of this title. I only learned about it a day or two before launch and I knew right away that I needed to pick it up and play until my eyes were little more than dried out, irritated, red sources of pain my face. And I did... and I still am. Paradox Interactive and Hairbrained Schemes have put this new iteration together for us nerdiest of nerds to enjoy and it's pretty damn good.

Let's Talk Graphics and Optimisation

In a nutshell, graphics are good but not great and optimisation sucks the hardest of boiled eggs. Now, before you get all discouraged let me just say that these titles have always suffered from underdevelopment. Every single MechWarrior title could have used a bigger budget and more time in the sheets before going gold. All of them. Unfortunately, this a series that doesn't have a huge fan base and they've never really made much capital. MechWarrior Online was pretty ambitious and used a powerful engine to build what is still the best looking and smoothest running title of it's kind there is. But it didn't make any money. Hell I never even played a single hour of the founders edition that I paid for. Yet with BattleTech I've clocked more than 100 hours thus far.

The simple fact is that in a turn based game the action is slower, so a perfect frame rate isn't needed. Appreciated yes, but not needed. Graphically though, ehhhh... it's pretty noticeable that this particular game falls behind the times a bit. Not that things look bad but it's clear that world building was budgetary constraint. Battlemech detail - IS - pretty good though, and that matters quite a lot. The biggest complaint I have is load screens and transitions. They both take an amount of time that makes one wonder if a crash has occurred before something happens. And the longer you play in one siting, the worse it gets.

Game Play and Story

Game play itself is pretty self-explanitory. Once you have your "Lance", that's four Mechs and pilots, ready you'll be dropped into the current scenario and play through. The way that works is that you'll fly your Drop Ship to a planetary system and connect to the "Comstar Mercnet" to look at what mercenary contracts are available. Once you find one you like, you negotiate an agreement on salvage versus the raw money paid and agree to those terms. Then a map loads and you go about your business of battling whichever foe you've signed up to engage. Once that's done you'll get your choice of salvage and pay check in the form of C-Bills.

Salavaging and negotiations work based on the contract agreement and max salvage available. For instance a mission might pay a maximum of a million C-Bills and offer a maximum of four salvage with eleven more items to be given at the end of the mission. Negotiating those terms is as simple as adjusting a set of two sliders. But you can't have it all. One slider moving forward will move the other backward, meaning you can choose more money and less salvage or vice-versa. So let's say you've chosen a balance of two salvage and 400,000 C-Bills. At the end of the mission you will get to look at a list of all the items and Mechs in that salvage list -could be dozens of items. You get to decide which two items you want by dragging them into your inventory and then eleven more items are randomly distributed. Salvage three of the same partial Mech chassis and you can build a new Mech of that type and variant for your own use. Or sell it for a quick buck or two.

In between mercenary contracts there are "Prioroty Missions" that serve to play the story out. Usually these are quite a bit more challenging than the standard fare but, they pay enormous amounts of C-Bills and there's no time limit on them, or in fact any contract. Meaning you'll have all the time you feel you need to train up your Mercs or let them heal and get all your best Mechs repaired and fitted with the equipment you want for the information given for the scenario.

The story is so predictable that you may as well be writing it yourself but, it's in no way bad. If I had to complain here really -It would be that the writing always tells you exactly what's going to happen. "Be careful Commander, there may be more units stationed away from the base. Keep your eyes peeled." Of course that - ALWAYS - means there's a second lance of Mechs or vehicles that you'll either have to fight or run from. It would be nice to see a surprise happen occasionally and find nothing out of the ordinary during an escort mission. Or have a chance of a random drop ship adding enemies that your intelligence couldn't predict.

Finally, there's the Drop Ship mode. This is where you'll spend your down time making Mech repairs or ship upgrades, planning system jumps, hitting up the local planetary store for new items, or speaking with crew members and training Mercs. I always try and equate this area with XCOM's ant farm mode where you build your base in between missions, just without the ant farm. This is also where you'll see your important messages relating to the days until your Mercenary's are fit for duty again after battles, work order timelines and the ever present financial report where you'll spend boat loads of C-Bills to stay operational. If you ever run out of money, your campaign is over. But honestly that seems like a non-issue.

Environments

Maps are many and pretty varied, but that doesn't mean you won't see duplicates. There are enough of them that missions don't feel like the exact same thing every time but, they are. You'll either be capturing and holding a pirate or faction base or destroying it. You'll be capturing a base and rescuing a scientist or securing a prototype. You'll be either escorting convoys or destroying them. You'll be battling Mechs and vehicles every time, there are no free rides. And every mission will attain reputation with whichever faction you were working for at the time, while decreasing the reputation with the faction you worked against. Better reputation will afford you discounts in that faction's stores or help with the authorities should you be attacked by pirates in route to another system.

The problem I have here is the utter lack of urban maps. The first person games had lots of battles happening in big city centers where you could duck behind buildings to avoid an attack, or surprise an enemy by stepping right out in front of or behind them. Even jump your Mech to the roof of a parking garage to get a better line of sight. It just seems like a wasted opportunity, not using the positioning strategy that an urban setting could provide in a turn based strategy game.

That said, the environments that are provided are really cool and each has it's own climate that will have an effect on your Mechs efficiency. Lunar, Martian, Desert and Badlands biomes will make venting your heat more difficult since there's either little to no atmosphere to vent to, or it's just too hot. Tropical environments usually have bodies of water to help draw heat from your Mechs quicker but the trade off is that you'll be left in the open and vulnerable, not to mention movement is greatly slowed. The Highlands provide a fairly standard heat efficiency but also have lots of drastic elevation changes to get high ground or easy cover in the trees. Tundra and Polar weather is obviously colder so you don't have to worry about weapon heat build up as much at all but there tend to be steep, rocky mountains that are more difficult to traverse. And every place has some kind of geological modifier that can help or hurt during combat. Radiation and geothermal activity build heat quicker, marsh lands increase stability, rough terrain makes instability a real danger, or mineral fields and whirlwinds that mess with sensors but also make it more difficult to be hit. Overall it's very well put together and I haven't found any situation I've been in to be boring.

Sound and Music

From the engine whirr of nuclear powered Mechs to the heavy artillery punch of an AC 20, sounds are mostly satisfying. I say - mostly - because there are a few that sounds kind of underwhelming. Each Mech has it's own sounds for ballistic weapons. Which is great on paper because of course depending on the mounted weapon size it could sound a little different. The problem is that sometimes an AC 2 can sound like it's being fired with compressed air, like a pellet gun, on one Mech while on another it could sound like a burst fire rifle. This isn't entirely bad since it adds diversity, but the sound of a champagne cork isn't anywhere as atmospheric as the sound of a .308.

The stomping of Mechs is a little different for each weight class and the screen shakes a little when they move to signify the tons and tons of composite materials not yet known to our civilization slamming into the ground. Lasers sound like they always have in the MechWarrior games and that's great. Particularly the extremely rare LosTech items like Pulse Lasers.

The musical score is really fantastic actually. It might be worth upgrading to the digital deluxe version of this game just to get the sound track. However, there aren't very many of those tracks to listen to.

Combat

Alright so of course it's inevitable that you'll be fighting a lot as you're a band of scrappy mercenaries with checkered pasts. You'll be working for and against every major house that's willing to put the funds up for your services. Alliances are made and the Mercenary Review Board rates your company after each mission. The higher that rating gets, the better skilled Mercs you can hire and the more difficult and higher paying contracts you'll be allowed to accept.

Once a mission starts your drop ship will set your lance down in a predetermined location and you'll get a rundown of the logistics of the mission along with a way point or two giving you an idea of where to go. From there it's time to move forward until you spot activity and the combat starts.

Movement takes place using one of up to three options. Standard movement will place your Mech anywhere within it's available positioning based on it's speed modifier. Lighter Mechs can travel further than heavier ones. Jump Jets, if your Mech has them equipped, will allow for sometimes greater movement than normal walking. They can also allow you to jump to normally unreachable places and provide quite an advantage when surrounded. All movement will provide an evasion bonus to count you as a moving target making it more difficult to be hit by enemy weaponry. Sprinting your Mech will use both actions but provide you with a higher evasion bonus, up to the maximum, and move your Mech much further on the field. That also means you're not using weaponry and building heat. And if you're not building heat, you're venting it and that means more attacks can be made later. Either way, whether you move normally or sprint, you can only move one time per turn so make it count.

To move takes two clicks of the mouse. Once for the location you wish to end up and once for the facing you wish to take. Mechs are just enormous tanks with legs so the torso, like a turret, turns independently of the lower body. That means you can take an aggressive stance and make sure you're within line of sight of the enemy for the next attack, or a defensive stance and face your least damaged armor sections toward the enemy in order to survive one more round.

Weapons only come in a few flavors: Ballistic, Energy, Missile, and Support -but have lots of variants. Auto Cannons have huge potential for damage and can have the range you need for sniper shots. They don't generate much heat but typically the harder they hit, the less ammo they have. They also have a big punch and as such, do a lot of stability damage. If that stability bar fills up the affected Mech will just topple over, defenseless and down one initiative until it's next turn when it can stand back up and re-enter combat. That is if it's not destroyed on the ground. Energy weapons like lasers don't provide much stability damage but can burn holes through armor pretty quickly. They generate a lot of heat though and too much of that will not only damage your Mech but could also force it to shut down for a turn while it cools off. The PPC, (Particle Projectile Cannon) is an energy weapon that hits hard and does effect stability but generates the most heat of all the weapons.

Variants of all these come in the form of standard range and power. A Large Laser will fire a longer range and do the more damage than a Medium Laser but also weighs more, takes up more space on your Mech, and generates more heat. Meduim Lasers weigh much less but don't have the range. Two Medium Lasers can do more damage than a large one in total but again, heat is a factor and so is accuracy. One laser might hit while the other misses.

Then there are also the upgraded weapons. Every type can have a "+" up to three. For instance, your SRM 6, (Short Range Missiles x6) will fire six missiles at your target. They provide a base damage, chance to hit per missile fired and base stability damage. But and SRM 6+ might be more accurate, or do a bit more weapon damage, or cause higher stability damage or critical hit chance. SRM 6++ gives a bigger bonus to one stat while SRM 6+++ will provide bonuses to two of those stats. That goes for all weapons.

The support weapons are little bit different in the way they work. Normally you won't be firing these manually as the the operational distance is so short that you'll need to be almost in melee range to use them. The Flamer, Small Laser and Machine Gun are all support weapons. They are lighter than anything else and tend not to do much damage in ranged combat but they have critical roles in melee combat. Flamers will shoot a gout of fire at an enemy Mech and make it generate extra heat. That can come in handy if your target is already hot and close to shut down. Small Lasers have the potential to hit harder than medium ones and do extra critical damage. They also don't require ammo, so it's possible to mount more of them. While Machine Guns do very little damage at all but have the highest chance to critically strike. That can be extra useful if you've managed to strip the armor away from a location containing a Mech's ammo stores and create an explosion.

Support weapons fire automatically upon melee combat, which is as simple as it sounds. If you're within range, you can choose the melee option and that will run your Mech up and attempt to punch, kick or shoulder rush an opponent. This causes lots of damage and can knock the enemy over. Death From Above melee attacks can be used if your Mech has Jump Jets. The attack is made by jumping directly onto an enemy causing huge amounts of damage to both it and the attacking unit. This is best used as a last resort in cases of perhaps finishing your mission by taking out the last bad guy, or if you're weapons have all been destroyed and DFA is your best option.

Melee attacks are also extremely effective against the many vehicle types you'll be fighting against. Stepping on one usually means they're removed from combat, if you can get close enough. Unlike most of the vehicles put into the first person games that could be easily destroyed with a couple of laser shots in a few moments, the ones in BattleTech are genuinely dangerous opponents. SRM Carriers can, and will, tear your Mechs to pieces if they're allowed to come within range of launching their 60 missile salvos. If they don't destroy a Mech outright they will almost always take an arm off or destroy a leg if the evasion isn't maxed out. Regardless, they will strip your evasion bonus and taking a full shot from one is almost guaranteed to knock you down. Demolishers are heavily armored and carry two AC 20's capable of enormous damage that can one-shot most Mechs if they hit in the right place. PPC Carriers and Manticores are long range snipers capable of hitting you well before you see them coming. Bulldog tanks carry a balance of armor and a few weapon types. Then you've got LRM Carriers that will attack from great distances and strip your armor away, leaving you for the Mechs to finish. And smaller harasser vehicles like the Striker and armed APC's can move quickly and take pot shots from almost anywhere.

There are unfortunately no areal opponents to deal with. I guess that's just a tough unit to put into a turn based game where lots of time things appear to be standing still when the game mechanics take into account that those things are always moving. It's fairly easy to imagine big lumbering machines on the ground moving a bit here and there and changing directions, dodging and sometimes holding in place. But the thought of a bomber just hanging in one place in the sky with lots of evasion points during the next phase of a round when it isn't acting is just less immersive. It would look a bit silly, but it's a big part of the universe we don't get to see.

By now this review has posted for a couple of days and I decided I needed to come back and talk a little about a subject that I didn't discuss at all previously. And thank goodness I did because it also seems I've had the headline misspelled since I posted this thing... derp.

Anyway... Morale is an important part of tactical play during combat. As you down enemies your pilots will become more and more confident and inspired thus raising the level of the morale bar. This allows for the use the two morale based skills that all pilots have access to, Vigilance and Precision Strike.

Choosing Precision Strike, will bring up a sensor map of the opponent, whether it be a vehicle, Mech, or turret. You'll then be able to see which areas of that enemy are most damaged and your percentage of a chance to hit that specific area. From there you click a spot you'd like to attack and that will attempt to place all your weapon fire in that specific area. Calling a shot on the torso sections of a Mech is usually the easiest but a lucky head shot will down it in one hit and increase the salvage you'll receive at the end of the mission.

Vigilance, is pretty powerful in that it will brace your Mech thereby removing all stability damage but it'll also raise your initiative by one, allowing you to perform one action again immediately. This can turn the tide of a battle if your Mech is about to fall. Not only will you stabilize, but you'll also be able to attack right after you do. And you'll gain defensive bonuses that will last until your next turn. You could also choose to brace your Mech to vent heat if necessary, but it's almost always a waste of the skill since you've already stabilized and gained the same defensive bonuses.

Character Builds

As you win battles, or lose, your pilots will gain experience that can be used to increase their skills in the field. Guts, Piloting, Gunnery and Tactics are your branches and each contains some special passive abilities once a pilot is far enough into a bar. Of the eight abilities there are in total, you're only allowed up to three.

These passive abilities will work well with certain Mech types. For instance Bubbles, here has the Bulwark ability reducing his incoming damage as long as he stays still during his turn. That makes him great for hanging in the back of the field lobbing missiles from his Catapult-C1 or Awesome-8T while staying relatively safe.

While Icon, shown below, is an Ace Pilot and that lets her attack before moving. This is great especially for lighter Mechs that may be in over their heads. She can fire and then attempt to outdistance the heavier opponents, making them chase her around the field in order to get a shot on her. Or lead enemies into a trap with the rest of the Lance in waiting.

Glitch, has the ability to use a single shot more effectively than just brute forcing damage with all weapons at once and gaining all that extra heat. So if she has an enemy in cover that's just soaking up damage she can switch to just using her Auto Cannon, or any single weapon, and make that salvo breach the defensive bonus that cover allows.

All abilities afford advantages that will play off each other so building your pilot's skills and forming balanced Lances is important to try and do. If you've got a Lance member ahead with the Sensor Lock ability, they can target a foe that the Lance may not be able to see yet as long as they're in sensor range. It's then possible to attack that enemy before they even know you're coming. Just be aware that the the AI also has these abilities and will use them effectively.

Modifying and Refits

When it comes time to refit a Mech you'll notice that it contains slots and various hard points. These hard points tell you which kind of weapon can be mounted there and number of weapons that hard point allows. The number of slots in general is the amount of space your Mech has and allow for placement of equipment, ammo and weapons. So a ballistic hard point with a number "2" will allow you to place two ballistic weapons in that location. The number of slots available however, will dictate if those two weapons will fit or not. An AC 2, takes up one slot and weighs six tons, so it's pretty easy to put two in place as long as you have the available tonnage. While an AC 20, takes up four slots and weighs 14 tons, making it more difficult to have more than one at a time. Extra slots can hold ammo for weapons or Heat Sinks, Jump Jets etc. Each item has a weight and your Mech can only carry so much tonnage so it's a big factor.

Most equipment aside from some special stuff weighs a nice even ton. All ammo weighs a single ton and take only one slot each aside from support weapons and ammo, which only cost a half ton each. But all weapons that use ammo require you to equip ammo. Meaning your twelve ton AC 10, might as well weigh at least thirteen tons because it's useless without at least one ton of ammo to fire. Missiles can be little bit more of a balancing act. A single LRM 15 weighs more than an LRM 10 and an LRM 5 together. But two weapons will generate more heat than one and normally take up more space.

Then you've also got the Mech's armor to customize. Like everything else, armor is heavy and stripping some away can allow you to fit another ton of ammo or that extra medium laser. But at the cost of being less durable. Conversely, if you're happy with your firepower and heat efficiency but have unused tonnage, you can add armor to increase surviveability. If you want to make a big glass cannon you can do that as easily as you could a tanky juggernaut. It's all a fine balancing act.

Some equipment doesn't actually weigh anything but still takes up space. An aftermarket cockpit modification just replaces your current cockpit with a tougher one that helps your Mercs resist injuries while they're in battle. It weighs nothing because the modification is a replacement, not an addition. Other equipment might weigh more but be more efficient or provide big bonuses. An arm modification weights an extra six tons but will make your Mech punch a lot harder at the cost of that extra tonnage. Double Heat Sinks weigh the same as a normal one but take up three slots instead just one. But that saves tonnage and provides double the heat efficiency of two normal Heat Sinks. That last one may not even be a real factor though since in my now 120 hours of play time I only have one Mech with Double Heat Sinks and they may not even be available for purchase or salvage beyond that.Each Mech also has different variants with different hard points. Your Awesome-8Q will mount different weaponry than your Awesome-8T. Any way you look at it there are potentially hundreds of builds to make.

On a side note: Sadly, though understandably, there are no Mech armor types. The first player games, and presumably the tabletop game, had options for Ballistic Armor to shrug off Auto Cannon attacks better than standard Composite Armor, but was more susceptible to energy attacks. And Reflective Armor that would greatly lessen the damage of lasers but would shatter easily under the attacks made from any ballistic weapons. And even though it would be cool to be able to build specialized lances, it would also add unnecessary complication to the game in general.

And don't forget repairs. If your Mech is damaged it's likely that you've also had some weapons or equipment destroyed. Major damage like the loss of limbs will promt you for repairs on return to the drop ship since you can't use it in the next battle unless it's at least fully mobile. Repairs take time and money, so it's worth building your Mech Bays and keeping them stocked because the offset of monthly maintenance cost versus waiting longer to take on your next contract can be pretty big.

Mechs

As usual, I'm pretty long winded. My hope has been that the breakdowns I've talked about haven't caused information fatigue, but rather have you interested in experiencing these finely tuned mechanics for yourselves. Either way, I'll try and make this short here and go on to the conclusion next.

BattleTech has LOTS of Mechs. But they aren't all represented in this particular game. There are quite a few to choose from in all weight classes and some variants but it's missing some really iconic bots. Now it could be that some of that has to do with the time period this game takes place in. But I have a feeling that's not the case and it's more about budgetary necessity and having to choose from a greater catalogue. The all too famous Mad Cat is nowhere to be found, but the Atlas is here. Then there's the surprise addition of the King Crab, which I've pictured a few times because it's an effing beast.

The Awesome, Commando, Firestarter, Jenner, Highlander, Battlemaster, Griffin, Locust, Thunderbolt, Cicada, Quickdraw, Catapult and many more are here and they keep things pretty switched up. But as I said before, I've yet to finish the game and I've still got two entire star systems to unlock after the story is complete. So maybe there's more to find out there.

Conclusion

Well this hasn't been - QUITE - as long as other reviews I've done, (Dark Souls Three Review) but it's been long enough for sure.

So BattleTech has been ...mostly a pleasure to play. The performance and polish is just not quite on the level of the title I've referred to -XCOM. It's missing some map types and Mechs that I feel should be there, but maybe they'll be added later in expansions. I certainly hope so anyway. So yeah, it's not perfect but it's a great representation of the universe it takes place in and it's provided me with tons of nerdy fun so far. Customisation is high in terms Mechs, Company colors and Logos. There is multiplayer if you wish to utilize it but you'll need to create an account to use it. I never talked about it here because I haven't played any of it.

So would I recommend picking up BattleTech? Yeah for sure I would. Hopefully the optimisation will be improved because even though frame isn't important here, the drops sometimes go to 15 FPS and that is pretty poor and always noticeable. And the load screens and transitions are pretty atrocious, at times reminding me of thew old school days of loading from a disk while I played. The price is right though at $40.00 and there's a deluxe version that adds the typical fare of an art book, sound track and wallpapers. I didn't buy the digital deluxe copy but I can say that the art is quite good, as is the sound track. And of course the game play mechanics are solid as the day is long so there's no worries there.

Wait for a sale if you're on the fence, but if you're at all a fan of the genre, do yourself a favor and grab BattleTech.

System Requirements for BattleTech are as follows:

Windows:

MINIMUM:

    • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
    • OS: 64-bit Windows 7 or Higher
    • Processor: Intel® Core™ i3-2105 or AMD® Phenom™ II X3 720
    • Memory: 8 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia® GeForce™ GTX 560 Ti or AMD® ATI Radeon™ HD 5870 (1 GB VRAM)
    • DirectX: Version 11
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 30 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 9 sound device
    • Additional Notes: Multiplayer is compatible between Windows and Mac versions.

RECOMMENDED:

    • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
    • OS: 64-bit Windows 7 or Higher
    • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-4460 or AMD® FX-4300
    • Memory: 16 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia® GeForce™ GTX 670 or AMD® Radeon™ R9 285 (2 GB VRAM)
    • DirectX: Version 11
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 30 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 9 sound device
    • Additional Notes: Multiplayer is compatible between Windows and Mac versions.

Mac:

MINIMUM:

    • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
    • OS: macOS High Sierra 10.13.3
    • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-4670
    • Memory: 8 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia® GeForce™ GTX 775M (2 GB VRAM)
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 30 GB available space
    • Additional Notes: Multiplayer is compatible between Windows and Mac versions.

RECOMMENDED:

    • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
    • OS: macOS High Sierra 10.13.3
    • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-7700K
    • Memory: 16 GB RAM
    • Graphics: AMD® Radeon™ Pro 580 (8 GB VRAM)
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 30 GB available space
    • Additional Notes: Multiplayer is compatible between Windows and Mac versions.