The ultimate strategy game based on the tabletop that spawned MechWarrior stomps into action
There’s something about giant mechanized battlesuits rampaging into battle that’s really exciting and futuristic, like the future of the military are Tank-Suits that soldiers can wear. The Battletech universe is arguably the best depiction of this fantasy, and the fantastic MechWarrior games have already made that universe popular, but it’s shocking that the original Battletech tabletop strategy hasn’t made a more direct jump to videogames…
… Until now! Thanks to Harebrained Schemes, the excellent developers behind the Shadowrun Returns trilogy, we now have a big budget strategy game based on Battletech - and truth be told, it was one of our most anticipated games of the year. We’ve now played it, so what do we think?
At the heart of Battletech is its surprisingly epic story. While your character is the disgraced war hero leader of a group of lovable space-faring mercenaries, eking out a living taking odd jobs while desperately avoiding betrayal, eventually your team are called to the higher purpose of retaking the throne of the Aurigan Reach for Lady Kamea Arano. She was ousted by her uncle, who stole the throne from her and tried to kill her - now she’s back to stop his despotic rule. Yes, it’s Firefly combined with Game of Thrones, and we haven’t even got to the game yet.
The gameplay of Battletech comprises two parts. The first is set in your “base”, your ship, where you can add new rooms to give upgrades, manage Mechs and MechWarrior pilots, make improvements and hirings, buy new items such as Mech parts, and get new missions - all of which requires time. The second part are the turn-based battles, where your MechWarriors complete missions, carefully outwit and destroy enemies, use the environment to their advantage, and try and win the day while avoiding death - although at the end of the day, it comes down to luck. Yes, Battletech is XCOM with Mechs, combined with Firefly and Game of Thrones. Excuse me while I mop the drool from my keyboard.
The XCOM comparison is certainly apt. There are certainly major differences between Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Battletech so it’s both unfair and wrong to call it an imitator, but at the same time the games feel very similar at so many key points it would be equally wrong not to mention it. Base Management certainly has differences, such as not having to carve out areas before you can put rooms in, but the second you start advancing time and waiting for soldiers to be healed the deja vu will set in. Likewise battlefields are very different, with no easy cover or overwatch mode, but the moment all your 70-90% hit chances miss a target and an enemy gets a lucky shot from miles away those XCOM memories will flood back.
Other than that though battlefield strategy does work a lot different, and having giant building-sized Mechs means HBS need to introduce big changes. Generally speaking, Mechs can’t hide. There’s no stealth on either side, and other than mountains, the swell of the land or the occasional forest there’s no cover either. Weapons all have various ranges, and while it’s tempting to load up four Heavy Mechs with long-range weaponry having a smaller Mech that can flank enemies and shoot them in the back could make all the difference. Likewise do you move in for a melee attack and risk getting the same back, or stay back and pound them with energy weapons? Just don’t fire too many, or you’ll overheat. There’s a lot to consider in every battle, and it’s to Battletech’s credit that it never becomes unfair or a chore.
It is, however, occasionally very tough. The AI is clever, human-like in spots, and utterly merciless. It’ll pound on a single Mech time and again unless you offer a better target, the weakest Mech will often get the worst of it, and if a Mech of yours gets downed it’ll happily go for the kill. The AI also adapts to your tactics - set up an obvious trap and it’ll back off and try another direction, flank you, or bombard your Mechs with missiles from miles away. Plenty of times I tried to wait for the enemy to come to me in a defensible spot and it never worked. Infuriating, but impressive.
The campaign is also lots of fun too, boasting lots of great, exciting, and imaginative missions. Story missions are always brutal but often have lots of twists, like allies showing up or a timer ticking down. While the regular Contracts are more straightforward they’re no less entertaining. Admittedly a few of them start to repeat after a while, but they’re always on completely unique maps so even if the setup is the same the way they play isn’t - and with the AI and the XCOM-style luck missions can proceed in vastly different ways, even if you use the same tactics.
Performance & Graphics
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)
Storage: 30GB Available Space
Additional Notes: Multiplayer is compatible between Windows and Mac versions.
Our system is an AMD FX-8300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit, and in general Battletech ran flawlessly. It’s never a devastatingly gorgeous game but it is nice to look at, and there’s no real cost in terms of performance. Well, mostly. Loading times are pretty long, and occasionally the AI will take a while to figure out a move - to the point that several times I thought the game had frozen. These aren’t really problems though, and the game’s internal systems, like the UI for example, all work well and give the information you need quickly and cleanly.
Prepare to be utterly absorbed by Battletech. It’s incredibly addictive stuff, with the just-one-more-go mentality of the best strategy games alive and well here. If I just do this contract I’ll be able to buy another ship upgrade this month. Oh go on, just one more mission before bedtime. No, I can’t stop in the middle of a mission, I’ll forget what I was doing. Yes you can save anywhere, that’s not the point. What do you mean you want a divorce? And so on. And that was just one evening for me.
Battletech is an addictive strategy game that smushes everything we love into one game, and dares us not to love it. It combines Firefly, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, XCOM, and giant Mechs punching each other and shooting laser beams. It’s an occasionally tough game, with the AI being almost human-like in giving no quarter and finances/time being a constant pressing concern, but it’s still accessible for less hardcore strategy fans. If you got through XCOM you’ll be fine with Battletech.
It’s tough to find fault with Battletech. It perhaps takes one too many lessons from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but since that game’s arguably the pinnacle of addictive, fun, and accessible strategy games that’s not really a bad thing. The worst we can say is that some missions get repeated and loading times can be slow. For the most part though those missions are imaginative, varied, incredibly exciting, and quick - which is a shocker for a turn-based game.
Battletech is one of the most fun, engaging, and exciting strategy games we’ve played in a long time. And we’re not just saying that because it has giant robots punching each other.
TOP GAME MOMENT
That giddy thrill when one of your Mechs punches an enemy Mech at full speed and it all explodes. Unless it dodges, at which case this becomes the Worst Game Moment.
Accessible, exciting, fun, and yet requires deep strategic thinking.
A fun combination of Game of Thrones, Firefly, Star Wars, XCOM, and MechWarrior.
Missions are usually exciting and imaginative.
AI is human-like in its brutality, and is still defeatable. A good balancing act!
Perhaps a little too similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown in terms of feel? But then we don't see how that's bad...
Loading times can be long, and the AI can take a little while to make decisions making it seem like the game has frozen.
About Chris J Capel
Chris joined us in 2011 and loves Star Wars, comics and bad videogame movies.