Posted on 07 May 2018 by Jay Shaw

Battletech Retrial

I’d like to preface this by saying that I am a pretty big MechWarrior fan, having only recently rekindled my love for the whole Battletech franchise by replaying MechWarrior 4 a few weeks ago. The point is, I’m kind of on a Battletech/Mechwarrior kick right now and getting to play Battletech by HBS was right at the top of my list for gaming this month. So how do I feel now that I’ve got to spend some time with the game? Frankly, pissed off: I’ve dreaded having to boot the game back up to play more after a string of complete failures left my team non-functional several weeks into the campaign. Sometimes they wouldn’t even get that far, with enemy Death From Above attacks taking out key characters and insta-failing the intro mission on more than one occasion. The game feels like it suffers from the random number generator (RNG) favouring the enemy over you; they seem to get more head shots (thus injuring your pilots), they seem to avoid guided missiles like a fighter jet with flare diarrhoea, and meanwhile you’re taking loss after loss as whole enemy missile volleys find their mark and tear your ‘Mechs limb from limb. This has been lessened by patches but as with any system that uses chance there is occasionally an infuriating round or battle.

Campaign progression is a mix of forced engagement and wasting time; eternally at odds over dealing with the ludicrous injury recovery times (26 days for 1 injury, 53 for 2, 110 for 3, at least at the Guts level my pilot had) and the need to keep engaging in ever riskier battles to earn money to pay the bills. Getting and upgrading the Argo (your base of operations) eases the repair and recuperation times significantly though. Story missions frequently provide a large injection of cash but are a dangerous affair, you might earn a million C-Bills but if your ace pilots and their best ‘Mechs aren’t on the field then you’re going to struggle. Even if they are on the field then you’re probably going to have them out of action for several weeks or months due to injuries and damage. A stingy in-game shop doesn’t provide enough parts or replacement ‘Mechs of sufficient quality to make any loss bearable. Losing an arm fitted with your one PPC means you’re down one of your most powerful long-range weapons often with no way to replace it. I’ve been keeping count, and I’ve restarted the campaign 9 times now before starting save-scumming, with my longest run being 110 days before cascading failures took out my ability to pay the bills and my mercenary group died by way of a thousand cuts. Save-scumming every turn or two when on a mission, and every week or so on the campaign menu feels like the only way to make progress without losing too much time when you inevitably have to jump back to an earlier point in a battle or campaign.

Prepare to see the Jumpship a lot. It's unskippable every single travel cycle.

These issues are compounded by a lack of tactical depth. Sure you can send a light ‘Mech ahead to scout enemy positions so you can rain missiles on them from afar but you’re probably going to lose that ‘Mech or have it and its pilot damaged so badly that you might as well just scrap them and start over. Map interaction with ‘Mechs is similarly limited; there’s hot and cold biomes that will alter heat dissipation, rough ground which lowers stability, and cover which lowers damage. No thought is given to hill gradients or the type of legs your ‘Mech has; snap-kicking a chicken walker in the face from the higher position on a steep hill should send it tumbling to its doom but instead you’ll just do standard melee damage. The UI is lacking in important details – firing arcs displayed while moving show weapon ranges, and red lines show what your weapons can hit, but there’s no solid numbers, you can’t select an enemy ‘Mech and see how far it is from you currently so getting shots from optimal distance is a guessing game and there’s no undo button for moves so you’re committed unless you save scum (and sit through lengthy load times) to check out different positions.

It’s not all negative though; I enjoyed the company management aspect of the game. It’s very basic; you can negotiate for contracts with two sliders, one for money and one for salvage rights, and you can give up some of your reward for extra reputation which will lower shop prices and unlock advanced gear (not new gear, just small bonuses to things like critical chance or accuracy) as it builds. When payday rolls around you can also choose to be generous or tight-fisted with the pay-cheques, which will affect morale. Random events will also occur as time passes with pilots arguing over the last of the coffee or wanting to pile Mech Bay supplies throughout the ship in order to give the techs room to clean up properly. Your choices not only affect morale but can spill over into battle with bonuses depending on how fair, or unfair, you are. It can occasionally be worth upsetting the crew a little to get a bonus for a single pilot in an upcoming battle. That said, outside of the events your crew are as dull as a mouldy sprout and half as appealing. Talking to any of them for their optional dialogue quickly feels like a slog through molasses as they start spouting off their backstories like you’re interacting with a particularly insipid answering machine. What little I’ve managed to experience of the story has been rather entertaining though; betrayal and intrigue are rife in the Reach and story missions are well crafted, a welcome break from the doldrum of procedurally generated “contracts” on the same handful of maps. HBS choice of creating a new sector of space so they wouldn’t be beholden to canon events has allowed them to create a fairly straightforward but nevertheless interesting tale that’s pretty much the sole reason I’m still playing.

Spoiler Alert: The Atlas is still seriously cool. You won't get this one though.

Battletech also suffers from some technical issues. The most egregious is the incredibly long load times unless you’re using an SSD, they were so bad that I actually had to clear space on my SSD just to put the game on it to make playing more bearable. The game also suffers from things behaving weirdly in battle; a sprinting ‘Mech will sometimes put one leg up on a rock as it passes, often resulting in it cocking its leg up like a urinating dog; shots regularly pass through terrain, often to the point where they’ll go completely underground or clip through rocks and other ‘Mechs; pilot voice lines will cause the action to pause if playing at the end of a combat cinematic, making you wait for their asinine reports to end before you can get on with it; missiles, particularly at close range do incredible gymnastic routines to avoid hitting their target if the RNG decides they shouldn’t, often resulting in them spiralling wildly, doing somersaults, and accelerating to light speed all to avoid impacting the one thing the underlying maths says they’re not allowed to. I also took issue with the portraits: you can customise your own character portrait when creating your pilot but the art style used on them makes it look like they were rendered in Shader Model 2, renowned amongst early 2000’s PC gamers for its ability to make humans look like an Action Man dipped in Vaseline and cooking oil. Of note is the lack of environmental audio – this isn’t a first-person game where you could argue that the cockpit is muffling the outside sounds. I want to hear my ‘Mechs crashing through trees and splashing through water, I want to hear dirt and gravel crunching and the wind blowing through canyons and against cliff faces. Similarly, things like snow covered trees will bend and sway due to nearby action but a barrage of 40 high explosive missiles won’t even shake the snow off the branches. Alas, you’ll have to content yourself with flat sounding weapon effects and the dreadful pilot voice lines unless you turn them off.

Battletech isn’t a complete disaster but it is below average. With some tweaking the early game issues could be ironed out post-launch but we’re not reviewing some hypothetical future version of the game, we can only score what we’ve got in our hands and what we’ve got is an undercooked souffle of a game released several months before it was ready for prime time. Funded stretch goals from the Kickstarter, like the character creation system, are almost impressively half baked with your choices basically being meaningless and all resulting in pretty much the same thing, there isn’t even a difference in starting ‘Mech based on your background. The use of MechWarrior Online‘s ‘Mech models are also cause for some hilarity for hardcore Battletech fans – inheriting your “old Blackjack BJ-1” at the start of the game results in you getting a Blackjack that looks nothing like either the Battletech Classic BJ-1 or the Blackjack BJ-2 Omnimech but rather a bastardisation of both. Other omissions are also glaring – there’s no ability to drop to the ground, no rear firing arcs, melee attacks are present but clubs are not, push attacks are also completely absent, missing gear like pulse lasers and LosTech make the Skirmish mode feel half-baked. Experimental weapons like Blazer Cannons are completely out, as are any weapons and gear that don’t conform to the absolute basics – Long Toms, Mech Mortars, Thumpers, Assault Lasers, Sniper Cannons, Chameleon Light Polarization Shields, MASC, etcetera. Then you’ve got the items that are left out because of the in-universe timeframe the game takes place in, technologies like ECM, Case, AMS, Beagle, Artemis, things that would add more depth and variety to the strategy are sadly missing for one reason or another. This has the unfortunate effect of leaving you wishing for a more comprehensive game instead. Lastly – the lack of infantry is jarring, whether just to add some ambiance to the battlefield or as a genuine threat equipped with anti-’Mech weapons or Power Armour like the Nighthawk and Tornado.

Battletech is a game I want to love but lame customisation opportunities and oversimplification of ‘Mech tactics results in a game with little joy but a lot of frustration contained within. That said – nailing an enemy ‘Mech with a single AC/20 round to the head and killing the pilot, or going on a rampage with a custom King Crab in skirmish mode is an absolute blast and the one part of the game I want to play more of against friends. Hopefully modders will get into this one and flesh out the game with the desperately needed variety and improvements but until then it’s a game lacking in both technical proficiency and variety. If I had to pick a pithy, easily regurgitated line to describe HBS offering it would be “baby’s first Battletech” – steer clear until it’s heavily discounted, this isn’t a product for hardcore fans or properly representative of the nature of Battletech for newcomers.

If I had to give it a score based on our review system, it’d be 2/5.

Comments (1)

Posts: 53
Stephen Haselden
Posted 14 May 2018, 15:15
Despite rating the game very differently to you, I agree with a lot of your points; The game is way too hard early on, the bugs and optimisation are a pain, and the tutorial and hints are incomplete. But, I disagree about the games Tactical depth. It's true that some of the tactics possible in games like Mechwarrior cannot be used in Battletech because the individual Mechs just don't have the same depth of simulation. But, the game adds in (as you mention) various environmental factors, as well as various pilot skills and moral based abilities, plus there is also the factor that you're controlling multiple Mechs at once.

Any game that uses RNG mechanics will feel unfair from time to time, but I think that some of the "unfairness" of Battletech is down to the poor tutorial and the obscurity of some tactics.

Various guides are springing up now, to better explain the mechanics and various strategies you can use. Ecks guide is a pretty decent guide to battle mechanics. Combine it with a good strategy guide and you'll be surprised what is possible.
Edited on 14 May 2018, 15:17