A tactical pearl lies beneath BattleTech’s sea of treacle

battletech-combat

In my BattleTech review yesterday, I focused on the ways in which Harebrained Schemes’ long-awaited boardgame adaptation sadly wasn’t the big ‘bots at war experience I’d hoped for, but I want to go into more detail about why, as I put it, “I don’t think that redemption is impossible.” The tactical core of BattleTech’s fights is fascinating, compelling and uniquely mech-y, even if the glacial pacing and drab presentation drove me spare.

My experience of tabletop wargaming begins and ends with childhood Warhammer 40,000, so I didn’t come to BattleTech with either expectations or forgiveness about the slow speed of its battles or the lifelessness of its worlds. I wanted a game in which I made thoughtful decisions about how to take down big enemy robotanks with brutal efficiency, and ideally a bit of good old-fashioned limb-ripping into the bargain.

That game does exist in BattleTech, but for me the enjoyment thereof was massively compromised by having to dive through several cubic metres of treacle in order to get to it. Life’s too short for that much watching and waiting and weirdly intangible strikes, and the dour environments and visually too-similar mechs mean the passive time isn’t justified by sensory thrills. I’ll be back in a heartbeat if an update adds a “make everything happen instantly” checkbox (the existing battle animation toggles sadly fail to make BT anything like as zippy as I need it to be).

battletech-fight

The reason for that is that BT does not take the XCOM tried-and-tested cover/hit chance/overwatch approach, but instead expands it out into something far more appropriate to titanic walking machines that each carry more armour than the entirety of a Game of Thrones cosplay convention, and which are not greatly bothered if huge chunks of themselves are blown away. It’s a world of nuance away from the not-dead/dead relative simplicity of many of its genre-mates.

A Mech might not bleed out, but it does have to worry about overheating, stability and the essential fact of being a target the size of small local supermarket. Juggling these factors is, I think, the singular appeal of BattleTech.

Take too many hits from certain weapons and/or in certain places, and your mech will topple to the ground, at which point the enemy is free to take shots at whichever part of it they so please – often a death sentence. Make a larger mech run, jump or shoot too often without pause, and it’ll overheat – causing damage at best, locking it up for a turn at worst. (I do love that the most immediate solution for overheating is to run your enormous robo-suit into the nearest river.) Making tough decisions about what you’re going to risk and when, and what your backup plan is should it not work out, is when a game of this type sings.

battletech-mechs

Then there’s the matter of locational damage, which the tutorial and interface do a lousy job of explaining, but you’ll eventually figure out yourself in the school of hard knocks. In most situations, you can’t specify which part of an enemy you want your mech to aim for, but the angle you fire from significantly increases the RNG chances of your lasers, bullets and missiles landing where you want ’em. Again, I’m not a fan of how the interface conveys this information and likely outcomes, but underneath the hood it works.

Pummel away as much as you can at the side or rear of an enemy, and you’ll eventually shear off a limb or torso chunk, or knock it to the ground, a whole lot sooner than you will if you shoot it from all angles. Bar an occasional lucky headshot, it’s invariably a war of attrition, especially with the heavier mechs who become more and more prevalent as the campaign wears on, but done right it’s less time-consuming, at least.

You also get Called Shots, a special ability available only if your squad has sufficient morale (gained from in-mission successes and out-of-mission management choices) that allows you to select a target location. This can be beautifully effective, and even lethal, if you’ve already chipped away all the armour in the spot you’re aiming for. And there’s using melee hits to stagger (or to re-stabilise your own wobbly mech), or rocket-jump attacks to both deal massive two-footed damage and up your mech’s evasion, at the risk of damage and lowered stability.

There’s weapon type and range to consider too, and the effects of movement upon evasion, and terrain-based defence and using lighter mechs as spotters for the absolute units. Lots of balls to juggle, and all those balls are oh-so-giant-robot.

battletech-interface

I’m so here for all that stuff. Even reading it back here makes me rub my hands with anticipation, before I remember how frustrated the actual experience of playing it felt to me. Even through the stodginess, the ruleset makes BattleTech thoughtful and distinctive, and most all ensures that it’s definitely about giant machines rather than simply standard TBS units with robot skins.

It’s just… well, I want to almost immediately find out what happens when I make those shots, or when those shots are made at me, rather than sit through all those unhurried firing, staggering and stomping sequences, and all those giant laserbeams that just remove an armour blob or two with about as much sense of impact as throwing a frozen pea at a window.

Seeing BattleTech mechs precisely-recreated in high definition isn’t a long-held fantasy of mine, so as source material-accurate as it may be, I feel nothing much of anything when I watch these rather indistinct walkers and their various weapons go about their achingly slow business in a lifeless landscape they leave little mark upon. I want to know what happens, and get immediately on with doing something about it. Maybe I’d find it easier to stomach if the battles didn’t look quite so sterile.

The most infuriating times I’ve had with BT are when I’ve made a boo-boo that results in as many as half a dozen enemies taking turns to focus fire on one poorly-placed unit of mine. It all looks the same, there’s precious little sense of impact to anything that doesn’t actually take out a limb, and it takes so long: seconds rather than minutes, sure, but it’s all those groups of seconds added together that bite. I can see I’ve messed up: I just need to know if it’s fatally so or not and then get on with responding to it.

battletech-story

On the other hand, a combination of judgement and luck that results in brutally demolishing an enemy mech in the space of one turn is a beautiful, beautiful thing. The RNG nature of the game is such that you can’t often make a kill happen at speed deliberately, but there are massively satisfying moments where a whole stack of missiles slam directly and fatally into a foe’s head, or you take out a chunk of torso containing an ammo tank, which summarily explodes, taking the nearest arm and associated weapons with it. That stuff’s thrilling, or terrifying, depending on whether it’s happening to them or to you. Miserably chewing away armour points turn after turn is not.

Maybe it’s because I’m the parent of a young child, desperate to spend my precious few free hours playing rather than watching. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the animation-light immediacy of 2018’s other smash-hit turn-based mech game, Into The Breach. Maybe I just don’t enjoy watching the same thing happen slowly time and again.

In any case, it’s the dour presentation, not the steel trap-tight tactical heart of BattleTech that keeps me at a distance from it. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be back if and when an update adds more speed-up options or, less likely, the overall sense of spectacle and impact spikes.

102 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    This is why there are so many mods for other such games (XCOM 2 for instance) that remove the weird pauses after every action.

    It’s also why I alt-tab away from, say, For the King when it’s not my turn. I don’t want to sit there and watch the AI beat on me, I already know I goofed, get on with it.

    Some games have a “move at 10x speed” option or whatever for when it’s not your turn, I think something like that wouldn’t go amiss here.

    • napoleonic says:

      All turn-based strategy games need super-speed options for the AI turns imo. Those are the boring bits.

    • backwardsdog says:

      Couldn’t agree more with you!

      This game SERIOUSLY needs a version of this XCOM mod link to steamcommunity.com

      Seems like there is no mod support though? Which is really unfortunate.

      I’ve been playing Battletch since yesterday and i have a few hours in it already. It’s a really fun game when it works the way its supposed to but all the complaints here are super valid. Everything takes forever, the animations are super janky and the base management aspect and UI design is like from 2005.

      Example of Terribad UI: If you want to equip your mech with new weapons, you go into the vehicle bay, select the mech you want and now can put weapons in it. Lets say you want to use 2 LRM’s but only have 1; it would make sense to be able to open the purchase screen and just buy another LRM, right? Yeah, that is what makes sense but what happens in-game is that you have to abandon your current changes, go to another screen, purchase what you want and then go back to the hanger, select your mech and now you can use your 2 LRM’s.

      • Sophistry says:

        To be fair, quite often the system you’re in 1) Doesn’t have the item you’re after at all, or 2) Sells it at a much higher markup than you should really be paying.

        This is 3025. Resource scarcity is a thing – if anything, I wish the game tightened your belt just a bit more.

        Their position is “We’ll try and make things easy for modders, as long as it doesn’t take resources away from the game” and so there’s no mod tools, but the game is pretty easy to mod. Hell, there were a bunch of mods in the game even before the Backer Beta finished.

      • WhyNotDrZ says:

        There is mod support, it just doesn’t have the steam workshop. Mods will be the old-school “copy this file to your game directory” type.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        About the “Stop Wasting My Time!” mod for XCOM2: although the mod pages says that version is for War of the Chosen only, it’s still the version you need in the most recent version of the base game (ie without WotC).
        The version they have for non-WotC does not do anything in XCOM2 as it’s currently patched.

  2. Fourvel says:

    Perhaps if the animations actually communicated where the damage was being done I wouldn’t mind. But instead you have about 4 seconds of meaningless animation followed by one second of important text that flashes, telling you what you actually want to know, that you have to quickly read before it goes away.

    Unless an arm blows off, but that’s been covered already.

    • automatic says:

      That should be a design rule for all games. Flashy animations are cool but they have to mean something. Specially if you have to see them over and over during all the gameplay.

    • modzero says:

      They kinda do, you can see where things hit. If you squint a lot. But it’s there. Kind of. Not in the way that matter, but, uh, still, uh, there.

    • drdim says:

      There’s an option in the options menu to keep the UI displayed during the action cam (not activated by default).

      That way your mech paperdoll on the bottom left gives feedback on hits during animations! Helped me a lot! Also makes animations more interesting, because you can immediately see the what actually happens.

      I would basically recommend turning that setting on for everyone, unless you really, really want to see the action cam in all its “glory” without UI obstructing it.

      (I, for one, actually like the action cam. It really does add some nice flavor to the fights, when it works)

      • Horg says:

        There doesn’t really seem to be a clean middle ground with he camera in this game. When firing, I want to see three things; the animations of my mech, the target being hit, and the hud paper doll damage indicator. Over the shoulder cam works well for the enemy mech and the hud, but barely shows your own mech. The dynamic action cam is sometimes great, sometimes (mostly) showing you a building or some trees that got in the way. Manual camera control, thanks to the scale of the fights, means zooming out too far to fit everything on screen.

  3. Kolbex says:

    I’m enjoying myself, but it doesn’t help that the story (woo, help an ousted noble regain a throne) is hot garbage that I couldn’t give two shits about. I like that they tell you right up front exactly where it’s going to go, too. Real tension-builder, that.

  4. causticnl says:

    4 whole seconds of animations! the agony!

    • Moraven says:

      It really adds up throughout a mission.

    • Solidstate89 says:

      For each individual mech. Both friend and foe. Every single turn. For the entire match.

    • Lord Byte says:

      4 whole seconds and you need to hit on average 10 times to blow them up or so. That’s 40 seconds per enemy mech, and you’re up against at least 10 or so per mission, that’s 400 seconds (almost 7 minutes) of unskippable cutscenes. Go check the Metal Gear forums what people thought of the many minutes long cut-scenes that you could even SKIP!

      • blightor says:

        This reviewer said it was a boring game. Now he is backtracking quickly. Typical. I thought something was amiss when he said he attempted to play the game through a second time to make it less boring. ????? Talk about wack.

        Everyone (and the reviewer) complaining about animations is baffling. TURN THEM OFF. What kind of world to we live in where we need to write a second article to criticise a game for a feature (which a lot of people actually like too) that you can toggle off.

        SMH. This game is a classic and will be remembered as such, y’all a bunch of fools.

  5. Moraven says:

    Non existent Tutorial does not help.

    I agree on the no feedback when you do an attack. You have to select the unit again to see what parts are hurting.

    I think a damage vision would be nice, where all mechs components are colorfied on the field and not a single mech armor UI.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Yeah – what tutorial there is stops about 20% of the way into the stuff you need to know in combat, let alone when you get presented with a spaceship full of stuff to click on. The UI – in combat or in the various management menus – is piss poor and does no favours.

      I’m having a great time with it and am nowhere near as put off by these factors as Alec, but the UI/tutorial/pace issues are wholly valid criticisms.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      I’m convinced the tutorial was meant to be a whole lot more intricate and then…I dunno, they gave up. There is no other reason for it to drag on to 2 missions. That take ages.

    • JimDiGritz says:

      This. I’m a veteran XCOM player and yet even after several hours I’m still not sure what the white, grey and yellow bars mean in the UI… I figured out the heat bar after overheating the first time.. The crappy tutorial starts off with “Use Q & E rotate the camera” and then pretty much ends.

  6. Templar says:

    I love Civ 5. Civ 5 with combat animations for those marathon games will make you destroy your face, espically the long janky aircraft animations. Fifty or sixty of these animations on your turn, followed by the seven ai turns (woe to you if you turned on watch enemy moves) and one of my favorite games becomes the most terrible masochistic experience in the world. Turning off comat animations for instant result, or even a handful of great mods that speed up animations and remove animations on the ai’s turn save the experience.

    This game sounds great. Hopefully all it needs is these little touches to make it a sane reasonable experience.

  7. khamul says:

    I suspect that the problem is not just the animations, but a whole bunch of systems coming together, and that just speeding it up would leave it still feeling hollow.

    Alec’s absolutely right that a Mech game can’t be the one-shot means-death dancing-on-a-knife-edge tension of XCOM, but it needs a different setup so that each shot feels important, like it matters. That’s what gives a game impact… that, and the challenge needs to keep on changing.

    Here’s how I would have done it: first, give enemy mechs more character. Radio chatter, history – let the player know who they’re fighting, and give them a personal reason to hate them (or not!) and take pride (or pain!) in each sliver of health you knock off: mechs should be meaningful enemies, not cannon fodder.

    Second, I suspect part of the problem is lack of visibility of impact. A game like this, you need to be reading the battle three moves ahead. You need to be thinking ‘Yes! If my missiles hit, just there, then I… and then I … hah! and then he can’t shoot back! … and then I have him!”. Each move becomes part of a greater plan, as you balance the risk of the whole, and setbacks on a single step of it feel disastrous, as the enemy pulls a clever you hadn’t allowed for.

    Finally, keeping the combat fresh is critical. Variety of environments? Arctic battlefields? Or deserts? An oasis in a baking desert battle could be a big thing. Having the different suits too close in function is probably a mistake – you need to be constantly dribbling in new mechs as the player learns, each fundamentally changing the battlefield and adding another order of magnitude more complexity.

    As I’ve said before, building this kind of interlocked system, with so many flex points, is incredibly hard.

    That said: they really were pushing the marketing – particularly pre-order marketing – very hard, and I always take that as a warning sign. I think they knew it hadn’t gelled quite they way they hoped it would.

    • NickAragua says:

      I’m pretty sure that speeding up or skipping the animations *would* address the “combat is too slow” issues.

      Variety of environments? So far, I’ve fought in a mining town in the badlands, on a moon, in a swamp, in a river and at night. There’s also a martian biome that I haven’t seen yet.

      Thinking ahead several moves? You better think ahead several moves. If you just move your mech for an optimal firing position without considering enemy responses, you’re going to get clobbered and get your mechwarrior killed (and, more importantly, get your mech shot up).

      As for personal stories for the bad guys, no thanks. In this game, I’m a mercenary. I get paid to (in the words of Schlock Mercenary) “hurt people and break things”. “The only just I do is ‘just pay us on time'”. I really could care less about the motivations of the drivers in those stupid little tanks I’m stomping, although I do care about preserving the mechs and mechwarriors of my company.

    • Archonsod says:

      “it needs a different setup so that each shot feels important, like it matters.”

      They do. The problem is Battletech’s combat is primarily about how well you manage your mech while frustrating your opponent’s ability to manage theirs. What’s important about each shot therefore is the effect it has on your mech in taking the shot, and the effect it has on your opponent when it hits. Actually dealing damage tends to be a secondary concern. It’s kinda the whole point – you have massive, armoured mechs firing light machine guns and lasers at each other; if you just sit back and trade shots you’re going to be there all day.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Absolutely. Anyone who isn’t understanding why their shot selection is important needs to watch Eck or Anaro Sunfire. If you’re just blatting away without knowing if you’re doing it with a view to knocking over a mech, closing range to neutralise its long distance armament or opening range to stay away from its stronger close range capacity then no wonder the game feels purposeless.

        To be honest this game has far more in common with other simulationist tank games like Combat Mission than it does infantry games where death comes swiftly. Like a clash between Panthers and T-34s, you just might get a swift kill, but it will have been by manoeuvring for that perfect shot for a while. More likely you’ll get a whole bunch of shots pinging off the armour or gradually degrading the effectiveness of the vehicle.

  8. magogjack says:

    I think things could be marginally faster, but for me, a long time fan of the series, it would be ruined by being too fast.

    Battletech is a game meant to be measured by hours of play not minutes. Obviously that isn’t what you wanted, which can be frustrating when an experience is soooo close to what you want and yet flubs it in a way that ruins it for you.

    People need to lay off the review though….I disagree with it, but everything he hated about the game was a positive to me. The review did its job.

    • Rindan says:

      The issue isn’t even the speed. The issue is that it is a meaningless animation that is not only wasting your time, but doing a disservice to the source material. These mechs are not taking turns plinking each other to no effect. When a mech fires, it launches a lot of things at once. When those things hit, they explode and blow chunks of crap off the mech.

      If the animation is going be pointless, long, and convey nothing, please, at least make it quick.

      • magogjack says:

        I am not sure what you are talking about, all animations show things of worth.
        What are these pointless animations ?

        Weaponry DOES have an effect, unless you are firing one medium laser, so I do not know what weight this statement has…

    • Wolsto says:

      Spot on. I love the pacing of the game, it would feel wrong any quicker and I enjoy watching the animations. Each to their own though.

    • Cederic says:

      “Battletech is a game meant to be measured by hours of play not minutes.”

      I got the impression that Alec is frustrated that the game isn’t delivering hours of play, it’s delivering hours of watching repetitive worthless animations.

      • magogjack says:

        Ambiance is very important (to me), and those animations are an important part of that.
        So I wouldn’t call them worthless, they all convey things.
        Its ok though, we can still be mates.

  9. Optimaximal says:

    All this makes me sad – I know they’re different beasts but the genius of ye-old Mech Commander was pulling the rug from under your opponent with a clever move/lucky shot.

    If everything is just so lumbering, where’s the skill & fun?

    • GepardenK says:

      You may have gotten a skewed perspective. Despite being ‘tbs vs rtt’ the pace of Battletech is very reminiscent of Mech Commander in terms of how the Mechs brawl. It’s still all about super durable machines that can crumble surprisingly fast if you position yourself correctly to pull the rug from under your opponent.

    • Wolsto says:

      I’ve regularly been killing baddies in one turn, or occasionally in one shot.

  10. Montavious says:

    Should have just made it live action like Mech Commander 2.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Cruel of you to suggest this considering tabletop role-players have been waiting 30 years for somebody to do a big budget turn-based version of Battletech. You had your turn, let us have ours.

    • wiski says:

      That would have defeated the point. The point of the game was to make an adaptation of the tabletop game, which is what the people who backed the game on Kickstarter wanted. I for sure would not have backed the game if it was not turn based, I’ve been wanting a turn based PC version of Battletech ever since the MechCommander games where I wasn’t happy they were real time.

      As far as I’m concerned, HBS Battletech is fantastic and really captures the feel of tabletop Battletech, without being as crunchy with the rules.

  11. ellneko says:

    So

    I sank a few hours into this last night (Kickstarter backer)

    And I agree with the pacing. It’s slow. Feedback is limited. The swoopycam is very, very, very irritating and I wish I could turn it off even further than you can right now. No swoopycam! Birds-eye-cam!

    But

    It doesn’t feel ponderous about being slow, to me, and I’ve been finding that everything happening in sequence gives me a lovely tension of “oh no will it survive oh no oh no OH NO omg yesssss”.

    There’s some quality of life things that I want changed, definitely. Why can’t I buy equipment on the Mech Lab screen? Why can’t I turn off swoopycam? What advantages does this terrain offer me? Do I have to buy more ammo or not? How do I tell whether or not I can fit given things onto a chassis? Why can’t I see what happened to my mech last turn? Etcetera.

    What it comes down to is, is waiting to see what’s about to happen going to make you feel tense and excited, or irritated at having to wait?

    If the former (like me) then damn I am loving this to bits and the QoL will make it better and you have giant robots stomping around shooting blue lances of death at each other.

    If the latter (like Alec) then wow this is going to be super irritating and all the criticisms are 100% legit and relevant and everything takes so damn long.

    Also, and this wasn’t touched on in either review, the music is so good. I didn’t back at that level but I’m buying the digital collectors to get the music. Such good.

    • Archonsod says:

      “What advantages does this terrain offer me? Do I have to buy more ammo or not? How do I tell whether or not I can fit given things onto a chassis?”

      The effect of any terrain pops up in a tool tip if you hover over it. Ammo and actually fitting things onto a chassis are covered in the mech bay tutorials (both the short one available by clicking the help icon in the mech bay, and slightly more in depth from talking to the mechanic). The purchasing thing also applies to the Mechwarrior barracks – kind of stupid separating out hiring and buying into it’s own separate sub-menu rather than letting you recruit or buy from the relevant screens (although I’m not a fan of how they present the information on those screens to begin with so I’m not sure I’d necessarily want store screens further cluttering them up).
      I think the problem with feedback in battle is actually because they go too fast. It seems the game is rolling every shot first, then playing out the animations, so hitting a mech with more than one weapon (or pretty much anything with multiple shots) results in a list of damage numbers and effects flying out of the mech’s head that wouldn’t be out of place in the average ARPG. It’s kind of backwards in that respect – the shooting animations are too slow while the actual effect of the shooting flies past far too quickly.

      • ellneko says:

        Oh that’s neat about the terrain tooltips, I hadn’t realised. The only thing I’d seen about terrain is a mission on a desert planet having special crystals, but that was in the launch sequence and not in the mission proper.

        I did go through the mechanic tutorials, but it looks like I missed that. I’ll check it again, thanks!

        I agree on the numbers just flying by – I’d love a popup or a tooltip or a UI window that I can look at to see what just happened to a mech, mine or theirs. It’s difficult to figure out what’s happening otherwise.

    • geldonyetich says:

      “What it comes down to is, is waiting to see what’s about to happen going to make you feel tense and excited, or irritated at having to wait?”

      Spot on. Count me among the former as well.

      I actually am on the edge of my seat to see those weapon animations because I’m well aware of some of the things that even the most humble of AC/2 impacts might impose on the sturdiest of ‘mech. Headshots, yes, but bear in mind that an exposed section happens because of all the damage that removed the armor, not just the damage in the last shot.

      As such, there’s a certain irresistible trepidation to be had in wondering exactly where my ‘mech got hit. Every roll of the virtual dice is an attempt to beat the law of averages to core out an enemy ‘mech before it does the same. Bigger mechs can take more of a pounding, but they’re as much a victim in the war of attrition as anyone.

      But this is just one of perhaps a dozen considerations that go into each decision. Would that the game went a bit faster so that those who were starved of time could enjoy that as well. I like the idea of holding down space to accelerate time 10x.

    • Sian says:

      “Do I have to buy more ammo or not?”

      Hovering over the ammo gives you the amount of shots or bursts per ton (a ton being one slot worth of ammo). It’s buried in the text, but it’s there. Ballistic weapons fire one burst per turn, missiles fire however many shots per turn as the name implies (an LRM5 will fire 5 missiles, an SRM2 fires 2).

      How much you want depends on you and which mechs you’re fielding, but I suggest having around 10-15 turns worth of ammo.

  12. fuzziest says:

    I think this is one of the reasons I tend to favor older turn based games over newer ones. I appreciate slick FX in every other genre, but in a TB game where the pace is already slow a long section without any interaction is pretty dire. This isn’t like an action game where you need to pace the high energy sections with low energy rests, everything here is already at a stately pace and unlike a board game there’s no socializing. Give me an awesome animation for a big event on occasion (critical hit, enemy capital razed, whatever) but everything else should zip along especially enemy turns. Get me back to making those interesting decisions and not watching an animation I’ve long gotten bored with.

    • Mr. Unpleasant says:

      The thing is, the FX really isn’t slick at all. I’m the last person to compare about graphics but everything in actual combat looks so incredibly low-budget and outdated.

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      Alpha1Dash1 says:

      Yep, I’m sort of with you on this, but one game from last year showed how engaging these animations can be – “Battlestar Galactia: Deadlock”. For me at least that really made the game, but perhaps that’s just ‘cos I’m a BSG fan!

  13. Zenicetus says:

    I bought it in the spirit I’ve bought a few other games like No Man’s Sky, because even if it turns out not to be my cup of tea, it’s the kind of game I SHOULD like. And I want to have an informed opinion on it.

    Haven’t played it much, but the slow pacing isn’t as bothersome as the way so much depends on RNG hits and misses. XCOM has similar issues, but total missed shots are more of a binary thing (which Alec mentions in the article). You aren’t likely to see a string of missed shots. Kills are pretty quick.

    Because it takes more hits to bring down a mech, the RNG is far more exposed as a game mechanic here. There isn’t a fix for this because it’s just the way this game world works, and BT fans would yell if it didn’t work like the board game. I’ll just have to see if I can stick with it long enough to learn to enjoy it.

    Oh, and the UI stinks too. I’m surprised they didn’t get more feedback on that during the early access, but maybe they were too far into design to change anything.

    • Archonsod says:

      “Because it takes more hits to bring down a mech, the RNG is far more exposed as a game mechanic here. ”
      It’s kind of less exposed precisely because individual shots aren’t as important. A single shot hitting or missing can be the difference between life and death in XCom; in Battletech a single shot is either going to scratch someone’s paintwork or not.
      Although I do think Battletech does a much poorer job of explaining how the combat works. The system isn’t as intuitive as XCom’s to begin with and the tutorial only gives a brief mention of some of the more important concepts like stability and heat management. I’m not even sure how they expect anyone unfamiliar with it’s source material to put together an effective mech build given the only suggestion it gives in that regard are that you probably want a different build in hot environments than you do in cold ones.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Yeah, I see what you mean about the RNG difference. But maybe that’s why it feels like I’m not getting enough info. The only time I see an XCOM-like shot percentage chance is with a Called Shot.

        The tutorial is dreadful in explaining all this. I only knew I could do a knockdown and called shot in that first tutorial mission because I did some reading up on the game mechanics beforehand. Some of it is intuitive even if you don’t know anything about BT (which I only know from old MechWarrior games), but other parts are not.

        • Scandalon says:

          >The only time I see an XCOM-like shot percentage chance is with a Called Shot.

          When you’re targeting a, er, target, the hit percentages are listed for every weapon that can fire. (In the weapon box in the bottom-right.) i.e. if you have no line-of-sight on something, it might list your two LRM’s as 65%.

        • Pheriannath says:

          The weapon box that Scandalon mentions in his excellent tip above is supremely important, as there is a lot more critical info than what it displays at first glance.

          Hover your pointer over the weapons themselves and you can see not only how much damage and heat generation you can expect out of each weapon, but also the min/max/optimal range.

          Hover your pointer over the hit chances and you can see the various influencing factors in play. They pretty much explain why your chances are as high or low as they are.

          (Critical takeaways: Evasion matters a lot. So does the size of a mech. So does elevation & range.)

    • GepardenK says:

      It’s kinda the opposite really. The RNG here is almost irrelevant compared to something like XCOM. You rarely face a round where victory/defeat rely on scoring or avoiding a particular hit, while in XCOM that’s the norm.

    • grimdanfango says:

      The RNG elements in this are hugely managable with good planning. If you’re getting anything less than 70% chances to hit with each weapon, you’re probably trying to fire at a fast-moving mech (who has built up evasion points) without first using a spotter-mech to get a target lock.

      If you plan out a move well, you can pretty much guarantee 70% hit chances, and that is per-weapon, and even per-missile in an SRM/LRM salvo, so even within a single turn, those numbers will tend to average out – it’s highly likely at 70%, that at least a couple of your shots will hit. With LRMs, it’s pretty much guaranteed – they’re massive odds-equalizers.

      Evasion may be the thing that people are underestimating the most… you will remove one solitary evasion point from a mech for each attack, even if you miss, but that can mean you’d have to focus your entire lance on a light mech for a whole turn to whittle it down, and still might not finish it off before it runs off again and builds up *more* evasion.

      If there are a lot of mechs with evasion points, spread your attacks around with pilots who have the multi-shot ability – if you spray shots at three different units with a single attack, each of those three will remove an evasion point from each unit.

      Also, reserve your fast spotter mechs until the enemy’s fast mechs have already moved… otherwise you’ll just waste the target lock as they run off before your other units can fire. Let them come to you, target-lock them, and take them down before they can react.

      Admittedly, the game doesn’t really communicate any of this. But the depth is there, and you can certainly make effective precision strikes if you think it through and execute it well.

      There are already good Steam Guides up for most of this.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Thanks everyone for the tips.

        “Admittedly, the game doesn’t really communicate any of this.”

        It’s a shame that HBS didn’t take a little more time to bring new players up to speed. Would it have killed them to write a PDF or in-game manual for the game? I don’t mind reading Steam guides or going to the official forum for deeper information, but there is a ton of just really basic information that’s missing from the tutorial, and unavailable anywhere else in the game.

        • Pheriannath says:

          I feel that might be a little like including a copy of the tabletop rules in-game. I definitely agree that they could have at least written some guidance in the tutorial on where to find more details (e.g. “Hover your pointer over every icon and orange keyword, and read the tool tips! They’re Really Important“)

          That being said though, I’ve seen a good many players skip written explanations because they didn’t want to spend time reading, and complain afterwards that the game didn’t make its mechanics obvious enough.

  14. Guy Montag says:

    So as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see how many jumps one of your mechs has used. There are some weird UI niggles like that that get to me (like finally figuring out how to assign multi-target shots 2 story missions in). I’m happy enough with the combat though, even if I agree that the combat speed options are definitely broken right now, and I’ll be much happier when that’s solved.

    But I have a feeling the non-combat UIs were left to last and pushed out without much polish, because there are odd things about how some menus work. Like the 2 monthly payment screens, where your current funds are only displayed on the first screen, when you need to know on the second screen if you have enough to get that extra morale point or not this month. Or in the store, you can only see how much of an item you have (if any at all) by going over to the Sell menu and finding it. Additionally, the sorting options from the Sell menu and your inventory are missing from the Buy menu, replaced by a completely different sorting style, whenever you buy or sell a full stack of something the menu resets to the top, and you have to buy and sell everything one at a time (unless I’ve missed a really obvious button or keybind).

    And the sorting on your inventory is some kinda awful, you can’t sort by power or unique attributes, and items aren’t sorted smartly (so an AC/10 comes before an AC/2, then AC/20, AC/5 etc), which makes scrolling through inventories annoying as you gain more items.

    I know these are small things which can be addressed in patches, but games live and die for me on UIs. I just boggle on how things this simple can go unseen.

    • GepardenK says:

      For jumps there wouldn’t be any reason to count how many you’ve taken. There’s no limit on jumping other than heat, adding jumpjet’s is for making you jump farther.

      • Guy Montag says:

        Ooof, that makes so much sense, and still I’d yet to connect it. Thanks.

    • Flavour Beans says:

      Unless I’m wildly mistaken, the second of the two monthly payment screens still has your current money total in the upper right. Also, selecting different options updates the thing on the left that shows how many months you can afford to run on with that budget level.

      • Guy Montag says:

        And now I understand the pips on the second payments screen, thank you as well. No total amount of money, though, unless my owning the GOG version is affecting that (I read that GOG might’ve gotten a dev build by accident or something, and while there are… weird bugs, that would be a very unlikely thing). The full amount would still be very helpful, because you have things to purchase month to month beyond just salaries/maintenence, and those purchases often change the monthly bill as well, so the pips thing is kinda useless (especially if you’re at either end of your morale level, where you can comfortably afford to… not afford paying more).

  15. geldonyetich says:

    Today I had the achievement pop-up informing me that I just made my 50th mech kill. It was an especially poignant reminder of the pacing of the game, as I put a solid 12 hours of my day off into it yesterday, so how as it I’m only getting my 50th kill now?

    As I said before, you’re not wrong about the pacing of the game, Alec. Both in and out of missions, Battletech is rife with pauses. Like its big stompy robots, the game itself proceeds at a ponderous pace.

    That said, though the game is irresponsible with my time, I enjoy it.

    • jonahcutter says:

      See, I like the idea of that. Instead of racking up 100s of kills in a few hours and them becoming rote and unmenorable, each kill is itself a bit of an earned achievement.

      Mechs aren’t cannon-fodder. Mechs in this universe are often heirlooms, passed down through generations. They should be relatively rare, and hard and time-consuming to kill. If you were killing hundreds of them in a 12-hour play session, I’d say the game was doing it wrong and had misunderstood the BattleTech universe.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Unexpectedly, I’ve found Battletech has the most in common with Japanese tactical RPGs (e.g. Tactics Ogre) rather than most western turn-based strategy games. It combines the same pleasant tactical depth with the plodding, unit-by-unit, turn-and-face system. I’ve played through multiple Tactics Ogre games and thus am okay with this, but it is absolutely a design flaw; but in those games it really is baked into the design (even with skip animations, the issue is having 20 units that you have to individually place-and-face every single turn, not to mention cast spells etc.) whereas here it’s largely an animation/UI issue. I am confident it will be patched.

  17. pookie191 says:

    I’m loving it but even I’ve thought I few times my game had frozen during loading due to the wait times

  18. pookie191 says:

    I will say one thing though.. It is still faster than actually playing the tabletop game

  19. RadioactiveMan says:

    I’m really loving the game after about 8 hrs of play, speaking as someone who loves turn-based strategy, wargames, and RPGs, but without any previous familiarity with the BattleTech universe or concepts.

    The game is definitely a bit slow, as has been discussed, but this seems to be common for all of Hairbrained’s games to date. However, all the decision making in battles and between battles feels properly weighty to me, and I am happy that the pacing gives me time to strategize. I haven’t found the pace of Mesh destruction to be too slow: most light to medium mechs can be taken down in 1-2 turns with some concerted effort from your team, which feels about right for destroying an apartment-sized war machine.

    Decisions about Mech positioning and damage really feel meaningful when you begin to realize the implications of money and the time to complete repairs between missions. Early on in the campaign I was inattentive about overheating and this led to some serious downtime for my big Mechs, which forced me to cobble together some 2nd-rate Mechs for subsequent missions. My bankroll was on the ropes for several months, and I found the whole process to be a really enjoyable role-playing experience of being a scrappy mercenary company on the on the fringe of the universe. Easily the most fun I’ve had as a mercenary company commander since Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat!

    One other thing I’m really enjoying is that there are cool opportunities to use a mixed force of different-sized mechanism, and that the lightweight mechs can be highly impactful within your small team size of four operators. I would have thought with a small force that bigger = better, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that this is not necessarily the case!

  20. Scandalon says:

    The UI is horrible.

    The performance is atrocious, for the people that can even get it to run.

    I want to play more and can’t wait for the “Director’s Cut/Gold/Definitive edition”.

    (Most of the technical issues seem to echo those that HBS w/ the Shadowrun titles. I love the games, but they have some quality/tech issues.)

  21. Lobotomist says:

    Apology accepted, Alec. We can be friends again :)

  22. Caiman says:

    I found the Eurogamer review to be more reflective of how I feel about it. I love the slow pace of it, it’s very much in keeping with the Battletech way of doing things. If you want to turn the cinematic camera off, it’s easy to do in the options, and then you end up playing it from a high viewpoint. I’m pretty sure that the game models which weapon hits where quite well in the animations, but when viewed from above you can’t tell anyway.

    I agree that the tutorial is way too basic, and it should have done a far better job explaining the details, but they’re all there under various tool tips, loading screen tips and conversations with the crew. Not the best way of doing it, but it’s not that hard to figure it all out. Still, it’s a barrier to entry that shouldn’t be there.

    I guess Alex was expecting something quite different, but this is what I hoped the Kickstarter would give us – in fact the “strategic layer” is beyond what I had expected. It reminds me of a big budget game from 15 years ago, before everything started getting dumbed down.

    Anyway, hopefully a few of the rough edges that do exist get smoothed off, because I feel this is the real deal.

  23. WantOn says:

    Thanks for writing this Alec. For what it’s worth, I didn’t think the original WIT warranted all of the negative attention that it got. However, I do appreciate you spelling out in more detail the things that you don’t like about the game.

    I was a backer following years playing MWO. During the beta, I was one of those asking for a combat log to be added. The UI is actually quite clever and shows a lot of useful info, but the tutorial is beyond useless in explaining much of it. The backer beta came with a short pdf manual explaining a lot of it. Other beta players figured more out through repeat exposure and speaking to the devs in the forums. I haven’t seen a manual for the released game but to be fair I haven’t looked that hard.

    Hopefully this is something that can be addressed reasonably easily, but as it stands, I’m still very much enjoying the game.

  24. CdrJameson says:

    I’d love to see a toggleable ‘tactical’ view where the realistic mech models were replaced by a neon-ish version, with solid coloured sections showing armour strength remaining.
    That would make it easier to see at a glance, and make it more obvious how the armour zones worked. Oh, and see hit/impact consequences

  25. grimdanfango says:

    Glad to see you finished the review at last :-)

    I’m not nearly as bothered by the pacing, but I certainly understand where your complaints came from – there’s clearly enough jank that for many, it’d be highly advisable to wait for updates before buying.
    It just would’ve been good to mediate the complaints with a fuller dive into what the game does well from the start.

    Still, kudos on making extra efforts to address it now.

  26. Sian says:

    Alec, you mentioned in your WIT that there was no chatter. Having now had a look at the options menu: Did you accidentally disable it in your quest for a speedier game? Because my mechwarriors barely ever shut up, so it’s still weird to me that you didn’t hear much of them.

    • Goldeneye says:

      Yeah, the mechwarriors do tend to be quite chatty during missions. In particular, Glitch has the best lines in the game.

      • Sian says:

        Yeah, she’s got a permanent spot on my team – if I manage to keep her alive. She’s been grievously wounded in our last outing.

    • Flavour Beans says:

      He said the enemy mechs have no chatter. The complaint is that 95% of the time, you’re fighting faceless characterless baddies.

      • Pheriannath says:

        That’s probably as it should be. Would you often expect your enemies to open up their radio channels to you?

  27. Goldeneye says:

    Having played the game for 18 hours now according to Steam, I really don’t feel like the gameplay animations are slow to the point of compromising the game, at least not any more than XCOM’s overwatch animations do.

    I think that in the end, it’s really the expectation of what one expects out of a Battletech game that’s driving perspectives here: most people who like Battletech expect big, slow hefty robots and expect them to move as such (hell, people call Mechwarrior Online’s mechs “fast moving” despite the presence of lumbering assault mechs). Also, Battletech/Mechwarrior fans have long had visions of what and how stuff like weapon impacts from different weapons look like, like the lasers acting like real-life lasers rather than looking like Star Wars blasters, which informs how this game portrays such things.

    You call it “dour” as it were, but for those of us who like the universe, it’s Battletech as we imagined it to be from the lore, and so we see the slow lumbering mechs knock away at each other with their weapons, and we like it that way. It’s not like the game doesn’t have its fair share of meaty crunching metal, hefty impacts and powerful explosions.

    Besides, as you said there is in fact a great game here, and for many of us as well it’s that underlying game that matters.

    • Sian says:

      Tangentially related: This is why I didn’t like Hawken; the mechs there moved way too easily. Why bother going with big metal machines as a theme when you’re going to have them move like that?

  28. Monggerel says:

    Against my better judgment I picked this up and fell in love with ‘Mechwarrior all over again.

    The criticisms mentioned by others are all valid, the only thing I’d add myself is that the game is missing a crucial element that all the best “Mercenaries” type games (or other media: think A-Team) have one thing in common: homicidal bonhomie. (think HK-47).

    ‘Mercing is a rough business and only evil shitheads ever take it up so you better make sure they’re funny at least (Phantom Pain fucked this part up too. MW4: Mercenaries didn’t, and was charming for it).

  29. g948ng says:

    6 hours in. Let´s just assume HBS will introduce a button to skip animations.
    The pacing of the battle of attrition, on the other hand, is deliberate and as it should be. It resembles napoleonic warfare. Masses grind against each other until something vital breaks and then, suddenly, the flood sets in.

    What Alec didn´t mention is the weird disparity between how well Battletech conveys atmosphere and how clumsily it does the storytelling itself.
    Disinherited princess? Oh well. – Here, new NPCs you never met before. Now they are dead. You care, right? – Also, why even have dialogue boxes in a railroaded story?

    “Will you do this for me?”
    Option A: “Yes!”
    Option B: “Hell, yes! Oh God, YES!
    Option C: “Yes…but I´m gonna be nagging about it the whole time. Really, the whole effing time. Promised.”

    I expected better from the Shadowrun writers. On the other hand it does an excellent job of getting across how far away from civilization you are. How precarious your situation really is. The scavanger economy, the artwork, soundtrack and lingo paint a coherent, if gloomy, picture. It really is a mixed bag.

    But all things considered, what matters the most is that this is a marvelous ruleset for an engaging and complex tactics game. And it does simulate space merc life very well.

    It doesn´t provide the instant gratification of ka-splatting Skaven or the joy of a puzzlebox camouflaging in mecha-skin. (JRPGs or maybe Into the Breach)
    It isn´t meant to.

    • magogjack says:

      I am finding the story to be the worst part of the game, I think after I run through the campaign I am going to do another run where I unlock the ship and then forget about all this trash and head for a different region of space and do missions there.

      I can not wait for a mod that removes the the need to play story missions…

    • Flavour Beans says:

      While the story overall might not be anything groundbreaking, talking to your crew between major missions and such makes it reeeeeally really really obvious that this is the studio that produced Shadowrun. Some of the stories they tell you have been worthy of screenshots to throw at my friends.

      And that was always the big strength of the Shadowrun games for me: their stories were great, but they had a unique talent at giving you party members who felt pretty real in terms of what they talk about and how they talk about it. And while this game doesn’t go to the same depths, it does a lot to make the characters feel like more than just The Person Who Stands In This Room. As much as I love XCOM 2, for instance, you’d never imagine Bradford telling you the Bob Kurita story that Darius shares.

  30. Shake Appeal says:

    This is my favorite game of the year so far; I’ve played 15 hours of it since it released on Tuesday, and I only wish it could be more. The framework is superb, and I only pray it does well enough to get the patches, polishing and additional content (clans! more mechs! 2v2! matchmaking! multiplayer campaigns!) it deserves.

  31. PHPH says:

    I agree with most of what you brought up (but personally I think the mechs look great), but I’ve been able to play through them. This is an awfully unpolished and rough-around-the-edges game, which is super unfortunate. HBS maybe bit off a bit more than they could chew.

    The 3-4 second delay after an action resolves is super annoying, but I think it’s exacerbated more by the fact that time ’til death is so much higher in this game than most others in the genre. In XCOM, TTD is like 2-4 attacks over 2-3 turns…here it can be 8 or more turns to take down a bigger and luckier enemy. That’s part of the battling with big robots thing, which is fine, but I think these magnify all the other issues, like the delay between turns, and oh my god the automated camera is so bad, the wonky animations (I’m especially disappointed that all the mechs have only one falling animation each, and it’s completely disconnected from what caused it), and so on.

    And the UI…it’s missing so many little things that add up to becoming a significant thing. Why can’t I tell how many of a weapon or ammo I already have when I’m picking salvage? Why doesn’t it show me the tonnage of an enemy mech once it comes into visual range? Why doesn’t it tell me what planet a contract is on when I’m looking at available contracts (I know now that it shows a planet icon when travel is paid for, but come on)? Why doesn’t the game have a manual or something that tells you things like alpha strikes deal bonus damage?

    I’ve still been having a blast with the game, though. I love the gameplay design overall, even if the presentation could be better. There are so many extra layers and factors to take into account that it feels refreshing. And so far the story doesn’t suck, which is a plus (though it’s jarring how 90% of the dialogue is unvoiced, but occasionally you’ll get a voiced line out of nowhere).

    Most of all, though, it doesn’t feel like it’s riding on XCOM’s coattails — it feel’s like it’s taking advantage of the market XCOM opened up while doing it in it’s own way.

  32. Gankatron says:

    TL;DR:

    ‘I’m sorry I was too harsh on my initial review of BT. It’s actually quite good, but the battle animations are too drawn out for my level of patience, and I get mad when my mech takes damage after I place it in a vulnerable position and don’t take initiative into account’

    • Gankatron says:

      The editor likely pushed the author to back off of the negative tone of the original review, hence ‘About my review from 24 hours ago, this is what I actually meant to say…’.

      • Alec Meer says:

        If this site had ever been in the business of telling any of its writers what to think or say, this site would not exist today.

        • magogjack says:

          Don’t listen to them, I appreciate what you were doing, and at least most of us here understand the concept of differing opinions and clarification.

  33. Zenicetus says:

    I was playing fine, no problems, and now with a little gaming time to spare this evening, I’m getting this when trying to play:

    “The game crashed” popup and no launch. Totally dead, trying to launch it from Steam.

    Looks like it’s time to set this one aside, until the devs can make it more stable.

  34. Dogahn says:

    I FIXED THE PROBLEM!
    Put animated dice on the screen. Boom! You’re not waiting for ambiguous processes to generate a result, you’re waiting on dice results that correlate to the animations. Fixes everything, except that nasty 100% GPU activity bug.

  35. Teek says:

    I was a bit thrown off by Alec’s review at first. I had played the beta for this game and enjoyed it, but not the campaign until last night. Before then, my experience with the game didn’t seem to match what he saw. However, after playing even through a handful of missions I can see where was coming from. I think the main issue is just the structure of the missions, particularly the major story missions, with a little bit of clunky animations on the side.

    The big story missions usually have you going to a portion of a map in travel mode, fighting over an objective for several turns, and then moving on to a second or third objective and repeating. These types of missions tend to be pretty long, and made longer by how many enemy units can exist on the field. Counting all the tanks and turrets, it’s not uncommon for you to have 7 or more enemy units moving around at once, plus your own lance. Add in some slow movement speeds, at times cumbersome animations and cinematics, and it can definitely bog down. Personally, I haven’t minded it that much but it is definitely noticeable.

    There are other missions that are more of just a skirmish, 2 lances squaring off in a smaller mission area. This more closely resembles what I saw in beta, where combat begins in 2 turns and usually ends in another 4 or 5. These missions can be a little on the shallow side, but I think it might get more interesting once the mechs get bigger and the enemies are more challenging.

    But for me that hasn’t been that bad. I have a few other minor quibbles: the tutorials on side mechanics are a little hard to access, needing to go through character dialogue to get them. I wish the color customization on mechs was a little better. And I hoped some more of the Unseen would make an appearance (although with the way things are going, maybe they could be an expansion!) But overall, I really enjoy the game. Combat is a lot of fun, and it’s style is pretty unique. Mechs are hardy enough to take multiple hits, but a well executed (or lucky) salvo can still be devastating. I love all the details in the management side of it as well. It captures the lore of Battletech so well, while also giving a much needed update to the look and feel of the franchise. The amount of lore packed in this game, and to such detail, is ridiculous. IT PRACTICALLY HAS FOOTNOTES FOR ALL OF IT’S REFERENCES. As a Battletech/Mechwarrior junkie, I love it all. I’m a little embarrassed by how much I enjoyed just seeing my dropship dock with an Invader Class jumpship, only to then learn that one of my pilots had been creatively “rearranging” our living quarters and prompting me to set aside money for the inevitable fee the banks would charge me for damaging a ship we hadn’t paid off yet.

    It is definitely not a perfect game, but so far I am loving it.

  36. Eleriel says:

    My solution to the treakle-like speed of combat was to install Cheat Engine and use the speedhack feature. just putting it at 2x speed is more than enough.

    the characters’ audio sound a bit weird, naturally… and I naturally wish I could apply the speedhack to just enemy entities… but it’ll do until HarebrainedSchemes puts a patch out, as they invariably will do.

  37. vahnn says:

    When they implement a 4x animation speed option (or how about 50x?), I’ll rebuy the game. Because I refunded it halfway through the first mission.