BattleTech is the mech game I’ve always wanted

BattleTech [official site] finally brings mechs and mercs back to their turn-based tactical roots, and if the combat is backed by a worthy campaign mode, it’s likely to be one of my favourite games of 2017. I’ve only played the skirmish mode, against AI opponents, so I can’t assess the quality of the campaign. But the actual mech clashes are absolutely glorious, and as spectacular as any turn-based battles I’ve ever seen.

The moment BattleTech’s creator, Jordan Weisman, told me I could punch a mech I knew that I’d be punching a lot of mechs. Melee combat can be useful from a tactical perspective, closing distance on mechs with dangerous ranged weapons, but I’ll be honest; I just wanted to see robots beating the crap out of each other. In that respect, and several others, BattleTech overshot my expectations.

When I landed my first blow, on a mech already staggered and scorched by lasers and missiles, its arm flew clean off and rolled down a hill. Winding up for a second slug, I crossed all of my fingers hoping I’d be able to go full Black Knight and land another flesh wound.

BOOM

Off went the other arm. The mech swayed and for a brief moment, I thought it was going to topple, but it managed to stay upright, armless but not harmless. Its turn was next and rather than fleeing, it headbutted me.

Seeing an armless mech resort to a headbutt is very funny. BattleTech is a serious game about serious business, but this particular situation was pure farce.

A volley of missiles and heavy cannon fire from an ally finally toppled the poor mech and, having already punched its arms off, I felt it was only right to finish it off at close quarters. The killing blow was a stomp to the face, with a grinding of the heel into the junked remains for good measure.

Now, this is a turn-based tactical game, not a reboot of nineties beat ’em up duffer Rise of the Robots, so the bot-punching isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. But it sort of is. The most surprising thing about BattleTech is how beautiful the damage models are, and how much weight there is to the combat and movement. Lasers scorch and singe the metal, missiles leave steaming gouges in armour, and flames encase overheating mechs, cooking the poor pilot.

They’re super-weapons, yes, but they’re also giant, heavy, precarious, vertical tanks. Formidable for sure, but when they clash against others of their kind they can suddenly seem terrifyingly vulnerable.

A lot of that comes down to the ways in which they can suffer. Mechs can be adversely affected in three ways. There’s damage, the most direct way to destroy or dismember an opponent. When you fire on a target, you’ll unleash every applicable weapon by default. There are more than thirty mech builds in the game and some are equipped to be effective at short, mid or long range, while others have a more measured spread of weaponry. The point is, you’ll want to keep your distance with certain mechs, in order to ensure your best weapons are functional, while others will want to close in for the kill.

Before letting a salvo loose, you can switch off specific weapons. The main reason to toggle weapons off is to avoid overheating. Every armament creates a certain amount of heat when fired, and a certain amount to the target that it hits. A firebug mech devotes itself to dousing enemies in flames, forcing systems to shut down as they become too hot to operate, but even non-specialist machines can cook their enemies with laser fire and missile bursts. You’re just as likely to overclock your own mechs as an opponents’ though if you don’t keep an eye on their heat. Firing a single weapon might tip them over the edge and cause them to malfunction temporarily.

The third and final trait to keep an eye on is stability. Take too much damage without bracing to steady and your mech might end up flat on its back. Once down, individual components can be targeted by opponents, meaning they can aim for the head to injure or kill the pilot, or take out weapons systems located on the arms and shoulders.

Shots can’t be called and targeted at specific ‘body’ parts in general play, but the game models and tracks projectiles, and they will strike and cause damage to different areas. That brings the terrain into play; hide behind a ridge and your mech can be struck in its visible upper half but not in the legs. There are advantage to being up high as well, in terms of line of sight and accuracy, but you’re also leaving mechs exposed by planting them on hillsides. Adding to this, one mech can act as a spotter for others, and any weapon that fires in an arc can be lobbed toward spotted enemies even if no direct line of sight exists.

There are other uses for terrain, such as letting a mech go for a paddle in a river to cool off, or stomping through woods for a small protective boost. Behind the scenes, BattleTech is undoubtedly rolling lots of digital dice to figure out the results of actions, but on the screen you see everything play out in beautiful detail, right down to the individual missiles in a volley, which might ping off a hill or dent a mech’s chest armour.

In the skirmish mode, there’s no need to conserve energy or protect mechs, which made charging in fists flailing seem like a fine option. There are two keys to the battlefield; managing your mechs heat and stability, and moving them into strong tactical positions. Flanking and attacks from the rear are vital for breaking through enemy armour without having to chip away in a face-to-face war of attrition, and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your squad is vital.

And that’s why I’m craving the campaign. There’s a story, about a deposed ruler who is trying to regain power and Harebrained have shown their storytelling chops in the Shadowrun games. But that ruler doesn’t take centre stage. She’s important but she can also be ignored, because, Weisman tells me, the real star of the show is your mercenary company. You’re free to take jobs from the various factions inhabiting and fighting over the various planets and systems that the sandbox-y campaign covers, and as you become better known and more well-trusted, you’ll be able to take on bigger tasks for bigger paychecks.

Weisman says there’s a fully functioning merc company management sim in the campaign, where you’ll need to balance the books, hiring employees (including the Mechwarriors themselves, but also engineers and other techy sorts), promoting and levelling up those employees, and kitting out your mechs. That last part involves scavenging parts from fallen enemies as well as buying new bits from marketplaces, and that feeds back into the tactical battles; don’t destroy the parts you might want to steal and stick on your own mechs.

It’s the campaign that I really want to get my mitts on, but it wouldn’t be worth a bean if the actual combat sections weren’t worthwhile. They’re more than that – the skirmish mode is fantastic, both as an exquisite visual depiction of the tabletop game that Weisman created decades ago, but as a game of tricksy tactics.

If sales are strong enough to support sequels or expansions, Weisman says he’d love to explore other eras of BattleTech, this game being intentionally set early in the history of the fictional future. From my perspective, if the campaign comes together, this will be the BattleTech game I’ve always wanted, so the idea it might eventually span several eras sounds fantastic.

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55 Comments

  1. Gothnak says:

    This is going to be my first successfully backed KS, i can’t wait.

    Loved Mechcommander 2 back in the day, ensuring you took out enemies in such a way you could nick their weapons at the end of the level, but the linear campaign was annoying, you had to replay a lot.

    I’ve always loved games with salvage.. :)

    • Dogahn says:

      This is going to be more like stop-motion Mechcommander. Which good, I think of it like Baldur’s Gate where I was heavy on the pause key, so I could get the most out of my party.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    The big chunky mech in the first image immediately reminded me of Robot Alchemic Drive for the Playstation 2.

    …That’s all. I have nothing useful to add.

  3. IgrokU says:

    I can’t wait to play this, I have been a big battletech/ mechwarrior fan since the eighties. I have high hopes this is going to be good, and after watching a few of their early reveal trailers you can tell these guys love the game.

    C’mon beta…….

  4. spec10 says:

    “Distributing 25,000 Steam keys into BackerKit accounts will take hours, so please be patient! WHEN YOUR BETA KEY LANDS IN YOUR ACCOUNT, YOU WILL GET A NOTIFICATION EMAIL DIRECTLY FROM BACKERKIT.”

    First time in 6 years I reactivated push e-mail notifications on my phone.

    • Foosnark says:

      I’m still waiting, impatiently, for my key to show up. I got one with a forum badge and some wallpaper but no game yet, and as a result I developed a new facial tic.

  5. wombat191 says:

    im looking forward to this.. i loved running a merc company in battletech for house steiner

  6. Quimby says:

    I used to love Cyberstorm back in the day for all it’s flawed brilliance.

    • robodojo says:

      I still have my Cyberstorm CD… my 6th grade mind had so much fun with it, and learned the word “nominal” to boot. It doesn’t run on any recent version of windows unfortunately.

    • Foosnark says:

      Cyberstorm was so good, and I miss it. Cyberstorm 2 was… much less good.

  7. automatic says:

    I wonder how pvp will work. Maybe there will be a mode with some kind of persistence, besides standard skirmish modes, to boost competitiveness. I have high hopes on this game. Mechanics seems pretty good but I will not hold my breath until it’s finished because there’s much more to a game than it. Already disappointed enough on how lacking MWO is on mostly everything other than the battlefield.

  8. Kaeoschassis says:

    Please be Awesome.
    Please be Awesome.
    Please be Awesome.

  9. DeepSleeper says:

    “Don’t destroy the parts you might want to steal and stick on your own mechs.”
    Okay, but: “Shots can’t be called and targeted at specific ‘body’ parts in general play.”
    So you have to rely on knockdowns to be allowed to target individual systems. That means either building at least one mech towards deliberate knockdowns (if this is possible) or not really having a choice what bits of robot you blast off, thus rendering yourself at the mercy of luck for salvage?
    Is this a deliberate tactical consideration or a mechanics oversight?

    • Utgaardsloke says:

      The tabletop rules was that way, thus The whole system is balanced towards not being able to target specific mech parts. In MWO, this created a lot of balance trouble because the FPS nature of the game made pilots able to do pinpointed sniper shots, for example.

      • DeepSleeper says:

        Deliberate tactical consideration it is then. Considering the pedigree of the developers I should’ve guessed, but I wasn’t entirely sure if I was missing something.

        • geldonyetich says:

          If this is faithful to tabletop, there are ways you can skew the odds in favor of mostly landing on the left, right, or center of a target mech (with the rear being the best place for quick kills). Kicking and punching are good for targetting top/bottom. Shooting at a target in partial cover also greatly increases the chance of landed shots being applied to the head.

          • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

            Minor correction: they changed the cover rule you’re referring to. You now roll on the standard table and ignore any hits to the legs (the shots are absorbed by the hill). This is a good thing: the fact that being in cover was actually more dangerous than being in the open made absolutely no sense.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            That’s still a greater chance of head shots, but out of fewer total hits.

          • Marr says:

            And they officially changed that cover rule long after all the players house-ruled it out of existence in any case. Being six times as likely to die because you’re in cover was so blindingly stupid.

    • telpscorei says:

      Depending on your angle of attack, your hits will skew towards the front, the rear or either of the sides. You can see this in action in one of their playthroughs. So you like the weapon on that mech’s right hand? Blow through the left or rear.

      Edited to add the youtube clip –
      link to youtu.be

      Check out the red glow when he targets the opposing mech.

  10. Moraven says:

    Mech Commander is free if you need something to feel the void until this comes out. Sure its real time but still great.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Also free is Titans of Steel, which is not battletech as such, but is a pretty damned great interpretation of the rules. Even I would have to grudgingly admit that one’s pretty unappealing visually, but it’s fantastic fun if you like your giant robots turn-based and tabletop-y.

      • wiski says:

        My cousin and I loved ToS, I even still have my own game save from years back, and I found out the game can run off a flash drive so I could carry it with me. :p

        I used to have it loaded on a laptop and bring it to my cousin’s house so we could play together. We both grew up on the Battletech board game but really liked the time based system in ToS.

  11. Janichsan says:

    Downloading the beta *now*…

  12. Jstn says:

    Anybody know how closely this follows the boardgame? I thought in the boardgame you could target certain locations to roll on a special table that made it more likely you’d hit the targeted part?

    Also, from what I’ve read, this is closer to Crescent Hawk’s Revenge (the old turn-based BattleTech game from Westwood) than MechCommander. Does that not get brought up just because it’s been forgotten to history?

    • spec10 says:

      IIRC targeting computers were introduced long after 3025, so in the timeframe this game is supposed to be in there shouldn’t be any aiming for specific bodyparts, except for in special conditions, like when the opponent is prone.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      By default, you could only target random locations (using different tables for attacking the enemy’s front, side, or back). Later on, it was possible to buy a targeting computer (which weighed something like 1 ton per 5 tons of attached weapons) that let you target specific locations (except the head) at a substantial -3 penalty.

      Punches and kicks used different tables that only hit high or low, and (for punches) had a terrifying 1 in 6 chance of hitting the head. Some doofus fucked up when writing the cover rules, so shooting at an enemy behind low cover used the punch table with a small penalty to hit, which meant you avoided cover at all costs for the sake of your precious head. It took them way too many years to fix that.

  13. Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

    Excerpt from an introductory tabletop game I was GMing a few weeks ago:
    “…Don’t get me wrong, the game is nice and fun but the bookkeeping is atrocious, now I need to roll to…ah, there goes my left arm, where’s my pencil, now I…”
    “Does your other arm have a hand?”
    “I guess? Looks like it. Why?”
    “Because you can pick up the fallen arm and use it as a club.”
    “BEST GAME EVER.”
    “Now remember, if you do that, you can’t shoot any guns on that a”
    “I DON’T CARE.”

    So yeah, as I said, I’m absolutely in the mood for some proper Battletech PC action and this game looks like it has everything: dynamic campaign (set in the Succession Wars, back when ‘mechs were adorably inefficient), excellent tactical mode, scavenging and that nice feeling of being a small business owner that was so prevalent in the ’90s. I’m full of love to give to this game.

    …Can I beat an Atlas with its own arm, though? I mean, it’s not essential but, you know.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      ‘adorably inefficient’ is how I’m going to refer to it henceforth, perfectly put. I LOVE that about (especially earlier) battletech. The way Adam hints at in in this article I suspect I’m not alone. Tanks are a great comparison. I also sometimes think of submarines, or early aircraft. These things are huge and powerful weapons that are terrifying to infantry, but the second something goes wrong they become just as terrifying to the pilot – and as soon as you put one up against another ‘mech, stuff WILL go wrong.

      Hah. Reminds me of the time I put… I think six PPCs on a Supernova in Mechwarrior 3 (which had really silly mech customisation rules), then took it out on a mission and immediately pressed the alpha strike button.

      The entire mech vanished. It just vaporised. Instantly. It didn’t even fire. Beautiful.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        I had one in MW2 where I put a zillion lasers on…something or other, and decided to see what happened if I just kept shooting.

        Nothing. Nothing happened.

        I blazed through the whole level in an inferno of coherent light. My heat bar reached max about 30 seconds in and never came back down. The computer eventually gave up on the heat warnings.

        Then, as I was trotting back to the dropship in glorious victory (a good two minutes after I’d stopped firing, with the heat bar still pinned), I exploded with no warning.

        Good times.

        • wcq says:

          Just goes to show you never should’ve stopped shooting, right?

        • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

          Yeah, one of the later patches to the game introduced a bug which linked the heat consequences to your computer’s speed, and if it was too fast, then… there were none. The MW2 games were great, but tough to play now because so many things are tied to framerate or simply clockspeed.

      • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

        Yeah, early BT is my favourite moment in the timeline* specifically because it’s full of quirky or just plain stupid designs.
        Assault ‘mechs with a backwards-mounted Small Laser to “protect themselves”, which is wishful thinking at best and a complete waste at worst; heavily armored, undergunned scout ‘mechs too slow to do their job. Maybe the scenario you’re playing gives you something like a Whitworth, with its hodgepodge of random guns and you think: “All right, little buddy, what exactly do I do with you? Just…try not to get killed, ok? Shoot something. It’s going to be fine.”
        Hence the adorableness. It also makes the universe feel more alive: you really get the impression that these machines are irreplaceable, cobbled together from spare parts and barely work.
        I look at customized machines with technology from later eras and I find them perfectly fit for their roles and boring as fuck.

        *for those who care: Battletech has different settings corresponding to a timeline in the universe. “When” you’re playing determines the available technology. The Succession Wars, in which the videogame is set, is the earliest period: horrible conflicts have left mankind stripped of most of their technological advancements. ‘Mechs are either centuries-old relics from a more civilized age or inferior new designs made with the available technology.

  14. Mr Bismarck says:

    I just had a Locust take a long-range low-probability snapshot right through the teeth. Which turned into a crit causing the head to explode and the pilot died.

    So it has that part of the board game at least.

    • theliel says:

      B tech was always closer to land ships than tanks.
      Head==bridge, the raw danger of having weapons with ammo making you vulnerable to ammo crits and overheating (how many here have lost mechs to MG ammo hits/cookoff?)

      The game works mostly Ok 3025 with just mechs, but the further you go, and the more “sim” you put in the more the core game breaks. The monopoly level randomness keeps even the Atlas only so effective.

      Fps versions have always exposed the problem with all the abstractions in the base rules – long range weapons are worth much less, speed kills, and the humble MG is up there with the ac20 for godlike killing power.

      I’m saving judgement until I see the mechanics. The system has always been wonky with changes having unforseen consequences.

      • Premium User Badge

        CdrJameson says:

        Mechwarrior! Are you battle ready?! Are your machine guns fully loaded?
        Sir, Yes sir! Permission to ask a question, sir!
        Go ahead, Mechwarrior.
        Sir, is it actually necessary to carry two-hundred rounds of highly flammable machine gun ammunition?
        We must be prepared, Mechwarrior!
        Sir, of course sir. However, is it not unwise, given the short range and limited opportunities to fire the machine gun, to carry enough ammunition to destroy my mech several times over? Would, say, five rounds not be safer?
        Son, war is hell.

  15. Philopoemen says:

    So torn between waiting until full release and jumping right in.

    I worked on the boardgame side of things for a few years during the Jihad-era shenanigans, but 3025 is where its at. Good call by Jordan and co, and I hope the game is a success which in turn boosts the profile of the boardgame again.

  16. LegendaryTeeth says:

    Not to denigrate their work, but the reason the mechs look so good is because Piranha just gave them all their models from MechWarrior Online. If there is one thing you can say about MWO it’s that it looks amazing.

    It was a great idea. Harebrained Schemes can spend their time and can come out of the gate with a lot of beautiful mechs.

  17. Partialist says:

    Alex Iglesias does such amazing work – it’s really awesome they’re able to use his designs.

    • Premium User Badge

      Cybernetic Barry says:

      I do like his designs, but I sometimes wish they were more varied, detail wise. I feel like all the MWO ‘mechs were designed by the same people a few years apart, rather than spread out across many nations and corporate entities, sometimes many years apart. One main artist just has a sort of homogenising effect.

  18. Thirdrail says:

    Aren’t those the models from MWO? That’s really cool if the Battletech people are all working together like that. I’m not a huge fan of MWO, since they can’t seem to find a way to make it anything more than one version of team deathmatch after another, but they have really nice looking mechs.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      They are. Battletech has finally got its shit together and are trying to unify the brand. Doesn’t hurt that the MWO lead guys are friends with the HBS people, Russ Bullock was a big high-level backer for Shadowrun and it looks like they’re still on good terms now.

  19. twaitsfan says:

    Play Front Mission 3 on an emulator or old playstation

  20. Idealist says:

    I’ve been waiting for this game for over twenty years.

  21. Salvation says:

    I made it as far as the official link, checked out their video, backed the beta entry level and came back to read about how awesome it was. Now I can’t wait to get home from work to take this baby out for a go. Battletech and mechwarrior were my jam back in the day. It’s a good time to be a PC gamer!

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