Posted on 02 May 2018 by Stephen Haselden

Battletech

The Defence

Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Strategy, Turn-Based
Platform: Mac, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: Global 24 Apr 2018

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Linux, Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.2 GHz
AMD FX 3.8 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7850
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 11 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: Possible
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Linux, Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.1 GHz
AMD FX 3.5 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 950
AMD Radeon HD 7970
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 15 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: Possible
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

In a decade obscured by the mists of time and the glare of neon bangs; a board game was created that pitted giant mechanical war machines against each in a contest that would take hours to complete and days to plan. Battletech managed to combine the detail of RPG games with the precision of war games, and a cult following was instantly created. It should be no surprise that Battletech was translated into video game form many times over the following decade and that it spawned the popular series of simulator games known as Mechwarrior (Mechwarrior was originally an RPG created from Battletech). Mechwarrior Online is the most recent game in this giant robot series (and free and worth playing), but the new Battletech has set out to return the franchise to its turn based roots by putting you in command of your own Lance (a group of giant Mechs) in 3D hex-based battlefield. So the question is; will the new Battletech be anything like the old Battletech? And will it bring anything new to the tactics genre?

Legal Terminology
Before I drag you into a world of robotic geekdom, there is some terminology that’s important to know: Battletech = A board game with giant robots fighting on a hex-based map, also this game. Battlemech or Mech = Large, walking, human-piloted, war machine. Mechwarrior = Human Pilot for a Mech. Lance = Squad or group of Mechs working together. Houses = Royal families, this is the governing system of the far future; there are many houses and many excuses for them to go to war.

The Trial

Harebrained Schemes (HBS) have been very ambitious with Battletech; beyond being a turn-based Mech game, Battletech immerses you in a galaxy rife with intrigue, noble causes, mercenaries, giant Mechs (of course), and repo men. Battletech gives you control of your own mercenary company in a strategy layer similar to that in Xcom. This means that you get to customize your Mech loadouts between battles and select specific pilots and Mechs depending on missions (environment and goals are a factor). But more than this, you also get to manage everything about your group of mercs as you set off in pursuit of a better payday or a cause worth fighting for.

Tactical battles are the core of Battletech. Each battle will see you commanding your Lance (group of Mechs, up to four) as you wade through multiple missions, environments, and enemies in a 3D battlefield. Skirmish battles (both SP and MP) are just straightforward deathmatches, but the campaign missions vary a lot between escorting convoys, base defence, and various assault and raiding missions. You get to choose the missions from a list of available contracts. This will usually tell you what terrain type, goals, and mission difficulty to expect, and usually some extra info too. The battlefields also have a huge amount of variety, with various deserts, ice, forests, mountains, and cities maps, and various weather effects too. The biomes are important because ice maps will improve your cooling just as desert maps will make it harder. There are many other environmental effects too, so look out for tornadoes, heat plumes, and more. From your birdseye view of the battlefield, the maps all look well made. However, as your camera gets closer to the action it becomes apparent that the quality and detail of the maps is a lot less than that seen on the Mechs. This discrepancy is rather jarring and hard not to notice every time you zoom in.

Combat mechanics use a form of RNG (Random Number Generation) along with various arbitrary variables to simulate different battlefield conditions. While this is a common method for many games, I was hoping that the 3D environment would allow HBS to employ real physics simulation for combat instead. Some of the problems created by this RNG method include shooting through Mechs and objects to hit targets behind them, and not hitting other Mechs or objects even though they are behind your target when you miss. There are many problems brought up by this simulation method but HBS have at least added a plenty of variables (including heat, moisture, elevation, evasion, accuracy, and some cover calculations) that all add some semblance of reality and depth to combat, and give you a few more tactical possibilities.

Each battle is unique, and full of tactical options.

The Mechs themselves make for some satisfying eye candy. The best close-ups are limited to kill cams and combat animations as the manual camera refuses to give a properly “intimidating” view of your metal avatars. As mentioned, HBS have added a ton of variables to combat calculations and every mech you field has its advantages and disadvantages including: amour levels, structural integrity, manoeuvrability, speed, jump range, heat dissipation, weapon range, stability, ammo, and type. Many of the Mechs you love from the Mechwarrior games (and other Battletech games) have made it into Battletech, as have many of the weapons too. The rate of fire for weapons has been simplified so that all weapons shoot exactly once per turn, Mech controls have also been simplified somewhat from Mechwarrior Online, so tactics like facing your torso armour towards an enemy are no longer possible. Despite trimming down some of the controls, weapons, and tactics from Mechwarrior games, I feel there are still enough tactical possibilities to keep Battletech interesting and to give each Mech its own character and niche. Having multiple Mechs instead of just one will always add more strategic possibilities too, so I think this has balanced out. But, combat in Battletech is never mundane.

Melee combat is something you’ll want to take advantage of as often as possible. Even when controlling a Mech with a ridiculous amount of guns, given half a chance I’ll charge the enemy and head-butt them to death, or kick them in the shins, or drop on their head, or shoulder charge them awkwardly, or punch them in the pectorals realllllly hard! Melee combat is fun, and even when the animations don’t connect properly it’s still funny to watch. Mech pilots make a big difference to your Mechs performance and abilities. Adding new skills greater weapons ranges and much more. Pilot hit points are an important thing to be aware of as certain types of damage can hurt your pilot directly, long before your mech is destroyed (headshots, knockdowns, ammo explosions and heat). During the campaign you have the opportunity to spend XP and train your pilots in specific areas.

With all the tactics and Mech details to consider, the UI is a vitally important part of Battletech. Generally speaking, the UI does its job quite well, Mech abilities, chance to hit, movement, armour levels, and heat are all clearly displayed and intuitive. There are, however, some problems. Certain aspects of the UI, like optimal weapon ranges, are left to guesswork. Melee combat has some issues too as there seems to be no way to manoeuvre before making a melee attack (something the AI can do but not you). Another annoyance is with off screen combat. Whenever units move and shoot the automated camera follows the action to give you an exciting view. While this generally works the action sometimes takes place off-screen and the camera can be too slow to catch it. On these occasions you may still know if your Mech was hit but you may miss details like how much damage, was there a critical hit, etc. A lot of other turn based tactics games get around the confusion by keeping an event log so you can scroll back and check exactly what happened. Certain aspects of the UI are counterintuitive too, enemy Mech readouts are accessed via a right mouse click, which is totally inconsistent with the rest of the controls. There are also no indicators for enemy weapon ranges, despite info being available on all enemy Mechs. Fog of war works nicely, a light blue circle shows you your sensor range and red “blips” will appear for enemy vehicles before you can see or target them. Another drawback, however, of not having a real physics simulation is not being able to target the ground when trying to hit targets that might be there, this would’ve been a nice ability to combine with sensor blips.

Overheating is deadly.

To get the best out of your Mechs you will have to study the UI carefully. The initial mission of the single player campaign introduces you to the basic concepts and controls and gets you started with turning Mechs into scrap metal. The game’s guidance, however, is severely limited, and you will have to figure out much of the UI for yourself. There are some tooltips, and many areas of the UI are intuitive, but there are gaps, and there are some controls that I’m still trying to figure out even after 30 hours. With so many options and so much detail, Battletech gives you a massive amount of freedom and flexibility on the battlefield. There are always more tactics to use, always more strategies to explore and weaknesses to exploit. I feel that the combat and UI needed a little longer in the testing phase, HBS needs to listen carefully to their feedback at this point and pump out some patches pronto. But what they have made is second to none in terms of tactics and flexibility.

The campaign setup is far more detailed than I was expecting, and similar to the setup in many RPG games, with options for: face, hair colour, faction, history, and basic stats for your character. After laying the groundwork for the main story in the initial missions, the campaign gives you more choices to make (more background and stats) then puts you in command of your own mercenary group; Complete with dropship, Mechs, crew members, and crippling debt. You will need to manage your mercenary outfit and try to find work that pays without being dangerous enough to destroy your meagre collection of war machines. Mistakes will be made, battles will be lost, clients lost, pilots lost, and heartbreakingly, some of your giant metal meat grinders will be lost too. But, if you persist and learn to put the bottom line first you can get ahead and earn yourself a reputation that has the warmongers knocking on your door (to hire you). There is an underlying storyline to the campaign and it won’t take long before you get offered some shady but lucrative work (Hint: take the job!). This will lead to a series of missions that reveal more about the story and unlock new aspects of the game too. When, or if, you follow the story is up to you. Just as the campaign builds a character from your choices, it also encourages you to play that character by giving you all the freedom you want.

Right from the start Battletech will wow you with it’s 2D artwork. The beautiful  pictures storyboard the history of the Battletech universe and bring new players up-to-date with this exciting sci-fi world. I really can’t praise this area of Battletech enough; Where most strategy games gloss over or ignore basic plots, Battletech gives players a comprehensive background to its universe, through a well put-together intro movie. It then follows up with more background detail in the campaign and frames it all with its stunning artwork. On top of that, the open-world campaign is overflowing with unique characters, locations, and factions, and each one of these is thoroughly documented with intriguing detail. It’s difficult to play Battletech without being drawn into its unique, feudalistic, future world.

The campaign is surprisingly deep and rich in detail.

Beyond picking which pilots and Mechs to use for each battle, the main campaign lets you to manage all aspects of your mercenary company, including: Mech loadouts and repairs, which Mechs are worked on first (everything takes time), what contracts you take, what the pay will be (there is a tradeoff between money and salvage), what systems you travel to, and even which of the crew gets the last of the coffee. All this freedom and all these choices still have consequences, if you take jobs that are not offered by the Mercenary Guild you will lose reputation with the guild and find it harder to get jobs with them. Each job you take can have knock-on effects and may anger or impress different factions, again affecting how welcome you are on different planets. All this management and detail sounds convoluted, and there is a bit of a learning curve to get over, but the UI here is nicely designed, and your crew members give you plenty of advice on what to do (if you’re ok with a few walls of text). There are a lot of things to consider, but building up your little group of hard-done-by mercenaries into a feared and effective fighting force is a rewarding experience.

Skirmish battles are where you can build and experiment with Lance and Mech configurations to your heart’s content and then pit them against the AI or other players. MP matches are not simultaneous, so there is some extra waiting while your opponent takes their turn. A skirmish against the AI may take between 30 and 60 minutes, and an MP match may take between 45 and 90 minutes. It is possible to set the turn timer to infinite for MP games but I wouldn’t recommend that. Mastering tactics and crushing opponents with your metal monsters is very satisfying, especially when your opponents are human. However, multiplayer has been having issues since release, and games are often hard to join. One game even took six attempts before we could start. Prior to releasing the MP matches I had went off without a hitch. The problem may simply be overloaded servers, so hopefully, this is an issue that can be fixed soon. A number of people have reported issues with save games not loading. I’ve not encountered this, but HBS claim this can be fixed by just restarting. I have encountered some minor graphical glitches; a firing arc disappeared at one point, there is a lot of clipping, with the objects passing through each other. A bigger concern for me is the scaling of the UI; in most games, I’m complaining that the UI doesn’t scale with resolution, but in Battletech, the UI does scale, so people with 4k screens can enjoy a UI that doesn’t make them squint. My issue is that the UI feels too big and intrusive to me, and I’d enjoy it more if it was smaller (I’ve been using it in 2K and 4K but both look the same).

The Verdict

Battletech kicks the dust off of the turn based tactics formula. It adds a number of features to liven up the genre, while at the same time producing a game that immerses you in the Battletech universe more than any game before it. However, Battletech is not a casual game by any means; to enjoy it you will need to invest effort in climbing an awkward learning curve, and even then there may be aspects of the controls that remain a mystery.

If you are willing, Battletech offers a banquet of tactical and strategic delight. In addition to a huge array of Mech loadouts, combinations, and abilities, Battletech also offers a range of missions and a variety of environments, which again, add even more tactics for you to use. Despite having fully 3D Mechs and environments, HBS has chosen to go with an RNG system rather than real physics for the combat simulation. They have added a large number of variables to the simulation, so commanders will never be short of strategic options. However, the lack of real physics does lead to some immersion breaking moments, when shots go through your allies to hit the enemies behind them. The battlefields, although well designed, have much less detail than the Mechs themselves. This inconsistency is hard to ignore and is rather disappointing. Mech fights will always be fun, and launching massive salvos into the flank of an enemy is just one option in Battletech, add to that melee combat and you’ll be headbutting and blasting your way through opponents with a massive grin on your face. MP matches can be difficult to join, this may just be a server issue, a lot of people are having problems with this. There are a few bugs to watch out for, with some graphical glitches and the occasional difficulty in loading saved games.

The main campaign is something of a shock (a good one). HBS could have simply strung a series of missions together, but instead, they created a whole new game layer to go around the tactical battles. The main campaign gives you command of a mercenary group, trying to make ends meet in a futuristic, feudalistic, universe. This added strategy layer not only gives you greater control of your Mechs (loadouts, combinations, and pilots), but also gives you control of which missions you do, which clients you favour, which planets you visit, how your pilots are trained, how you get paid, and much more. The campaign also has a compelling storyline which you are free to pursue or ignore whenever you want. But, the key thing about the campaign is that it paints a picture of the Battletech universe and draws you in, making you feel like you’re part of the story. Battletech is plastered with incredible 2D artwork throughout. This, combined with great storytelling and interesting characters all help to make Battletech into an absorbing game.

Battletech drags you into its world with its amazing art and storytelling, and it keeps you there with its deep and satisfying gameplay. However, it is hampered by an incomplete tutorial and various quality issues. Battletech has a huge amount to offer to any tactical gamer, but only if they can ignore its many shortcomings.

Case Review

  • Paints a Picture: Amazing artwork, detailed universe, good storytelling.

  • Totally Tactical: Too many tactics to count; environments, Mech designs, mission goals,  pilots and weather all make a difference.

  • Strategy & Management: Tactical battles are wrapped in a strategic layer that lets you choose the battles, and manage every detail of your mercenary crew.

  • Metallic Devastation: Huge Mechs with massive guns and savage melee combat too.

  • Battletech: The Battletech franchise is cool, and this is a great introduction to it.

  • Stats and Tactics: A lot to learn before you can get the most out of

  • Not Shiny Enough: Mixed quality 3D designs.

  • Hard Work and Guesswork: Poor tutorial and UI that’s not fully explained.

  • Roll the Dice: RNG not physics simulation.

  • Needs Finishing Touches: UI doesn’t scale, no 21:9 support, and various quality of life issues.

4 Score: 4/5
Find a Crew, find a Job, keep Meching.

Evidence

  • Graphics: There are a good range of graphics settings. But, even on High the game is not overly impressive. Windowed mode is available but no borderless option. Windowed mode also has issues with sending mouse movements to the game, even when your in a different program (i.e. typing a review). Various 16:9 resolutions are available including 4K. However, 21:9 resolutions are not supported. It is possible to force 21:9 by using the Unity controls (not available in game) but the UI has problems with this in certain menus. There is no option for scaling the UI either, which is sorely needed on higher resolutions as UI is a little too big and overbearing.
  • Sound: There is a decent range of sound options available, with six different volume sliders including: Ambient, Master, Voice, Cinematics, Music and Effects. There is also a toggle Mechwarrior Chatter, and another for Subtitles. The Chatter is a nice touch and adds that extra bit immersion, There is even some pilot chatter when your aboard the dropship.
  • Gameplay: Gameplay options includes thirteen different sliders and toggles for options like: “Zoom Type” and “Show UI During Attacks”. These are all controls for the Cinematics and Action Cameras. When any action is takes place in Battletech, the camera attempts to give you an exciting view, but you have zero control over the camera at the time. These settings allow you to customise the Action Cam beforehand, but the default settings are pretty good.
  • Controls: The Controls section gives allows you to fine tune camera movement (for when the action is paused). Options are available for: Inverting Movement, Edge Push toggle, and sliders for Pan, Zoom, and Rotate. Keybindings, as you can guess, gives you a long list of rebindable shortcuts. Even with the comprehensive controls, certain view angles are impossible outside of the Action Cam. This can make taking screenshots tricky, and it would be nice to be able to pause and rewind the Action Cam, or even to have a dedicated screenshot mode.
  • Multiplayer: The Multiplayer section is lets you manage your list of blocked players. This is a good option to have for any MP game, but Battletech is pretty chilled-out in multiplayer, so I can’t imagine many people needing this.

Appeal

1.5 Score: 1.5/5

Ahhh, BATTLETECH. First I would like to say thank you for putting your game’s name in all capitalized letters, so I can scream it at you, without actually having to do it myself. The first thing I thought when I launched the game was “Oh my, this looks fun.” The game proceeded to take my hopes and dreams and turn them into a liquified puddle of goo. During my very first experience with the game, I managed to fail immediately due to the ability Death From Above. Which is when one mech jump jets into the air and lands on one of your mechs feet first. This ability shouldn’t function in the way it does in the game, it was very poorly set up. A mech of the same size should not be able to completely obliterate another, it should only damage it, and then the one that used it should take way more damage and maybe even be knocked down. In reality, it should only be able to be used on mechs of a smaller size than yours to begin with. This particular skill makes me stupendously unhappy.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s discuss the pacing of the game. It was slow as hell when I first loaded up the game. I mean, like snails on the salt plains slow. It’s sped up as they’ve updated the game and yet it’s still not nearly as fast as it could or should be. The speed in both gameplay, and frames, got better with updates to the game and a modification of graphic settings; that visually did nothing to the game. Which seems like it shouldn’t be needed for this kind of game, since it’s not that intense. The combat changed significantly as the updates to the review build went through, and yet still feels like it’s missing the tactical positioning that the game should have. Mechanics like injuries to pilots are stupid, and ultimately only serve to make the game slower at the moment. Finally, it’s the first game that’s ever managed to crash my driver in a way that actually murdered the game itself. I want to say it’s probably a bug, but who knows honestly. There’s also the issue that the game’s systems do not even come close to following the actual system it should, I can’t go into detail on this because I only have an inkling of what should be in the game and isn’t.

I draw the line when a game wastes hours of my time just getting started on the story and then immediately and mercilessly obliterates me with a mechanic that shouldn’t work; e.g. Death From Above. Another problem is there doesn’t seem to be any sort of difficulty modifier, it’s just hard all the way through. The damage is literally random, doesn’t make any damn sense. Somehow getting hit in the back when being shot from the front by a laser is a nono. I can’t see it hitting my spine and destroying my back jump jets when I was shot in the front of the left arm. I also cannot believe how ugly the game is, and I mean; plastic people, drab environments, and half-assed looking mechs. My entire mech glows red when a single location is overheating? I don’t get what they’re going for here, but the game is slow, poorly set-up, and needs a complete rework on the combat if it hopes to ever be worth playing seriously, that’s for sure. Oh yeah, last but not least, it needs to stop breaking down and having convulsions every time I try to adjust the video settings while in a mission. The final straw was when it decided to crash my GPU driver every time I beat the second mission, which it took me roughly 3 hours to even get to in the first place. To this point, I had beaten the second mission 5 times in hopes that it would just work, but it refuses to. Checking elsewhere, I’ve discovered that this is an issue with a lot of AMD cards.