The ground shaking mechs and world of BattleTech have a long history; its roots firmly entrenched as a tabletop wargame back in the distant past of 1984. It has inevitably showed up in videogame form over the years, notably in the revered first-person MechWarrior series and the real time strategy MechCommander titles. BattleTech marks a return to its more thoughtful turn-based origins under one of the BattleTech universes founding fathers, Jordan Weisman himself. But is it any good?
Being a franchise with a long and complicated universe, BattleTech does a good job of front-loading a lot of context for how this world works and its current state during the wonderfully stylised and easy to digest intro sequence. Before you even get to the main menu you’ve got a solid grasp on the gritty, Game of Thrones-esque landscape you are about to enter. Harebrained Schemes have clearly put a lot of thought into how someone completely new to BattleTech will experience it making it a great entrypoint to the universe.
The BattleTech setting is rife with conflict, constantly in a state of civil war, with multiple factions in play. The game is set in 3025 towards the tail end of the Succession Wars era where the Inner Sphere (the main habited area of space centred on Earth) is controlled and fought over by five great noble houses. The area outside this is known as the Periphery and is home to smaller colonies and states. This intricate, dense setting, fleshed out as it has been over three decades of games, novels, animation and other material feels complex and lived in and BattleTech embraces that.
After a military coup on the day of Lady Kamea Arano’s coronation by her uncle, the head of House Espinosa, you, a member of her guard, manage to survive and are picked up by some fellow mercenaries that put you in charge of their unit, the Marauders. Forced into exile you leave the Aurigan Coalition’s capital planet of Coromodir VI behind and try to rebuild. Without wanting to spoil the plot, as events unfold you ultimately try to wrest control back from Espinosa whilst operating within an area of the Periphery known as the Aurigan Reach.
BattleTech itself is a turn-based tactical strategy game where you control a Lance (BattleTech’s term for a squad) of BattleMechs in a variety of missions in the form of mercenary contracts. Between missions, you manage and maintain the Marauder’s dropship which acts as your base of operations, researching upgrades to ship systems as well as maintaining your complement of Mechs and their pilots, the MechWarriors.
Customising your Battlemech loadouts involves working to a weight limit depending on the mech type, allowing you to fit whatever weapons and equipment you want onto their hardpoints and adjusting the armour on each body part until you are happy. Do you go for fewer weapons but maximise the amount of armour? Or do you go the glass cannon route and forego the armour? It’s up to you. Obviously different mechs work better for different roles but you absolutely have the freedom to make them work for your playstyle.
Your logistics officer, Darius Oliveira ensures you always have contracts to choose from. In general you’ll have some from the system you are orbiting and some you’ll need to travel for. Each contract is for a particular faction and has a difficulty rating designated in skulls, varying in objectives based on contract type. For example, Battle has you wiping out other Mechs; Escort, requires you to provide cover and support to units in the field; and Recovery has you taking something of note and ensuring its safe extraction. And that’s to name just a few.
Missions are randomly generated from a wide selection of maps that themselves have a variety of possibilities and visual styles to reduce the feeling of seeing the same map repeatedly. Every mission you complete affects your reputation with the factions in and around the Periphery, raising this gets you higher discounts and bonuses for contracts. They also affect your Mercenary Review Board rating which contributes to the contracts you are offered as well as the quality of MechWarriors you can hire.
As well as these randomised contracts there are also Priority Missions which are the game’s campaign missions. You aren’t forced to take these when they appear however: you are free to ignore them and continue raising funds and improving your BattleMech collection until you want to move the story along. This gives the game a refreshingly open feel as you can travel the galaxy taking contracts and improving your fearsome mercenary units’ capabilities until you feel ready. You can also continue to play after you’ve finished the campaign so your carefully constructed group of mercs can have adventures forever.
What about the actual combat though? Once on the ground the game’s tactical nature shines. On the surface it shares similarities with other games in the genre. The devs themselves have jokingly called the game, XCOM meets Game of Thrones with Mechs, which is an accurate summary of how it plays (both in battle, and between contracts). It does BattleTech a disservice however as, in many ways, the moment to moment decision-making is far more interesting than in the XCOM games.
BattleTech, whilst not a recreation of the tabletop game, recaptures a lot of the spirit without being a carbon copy. To that end BattleMechs have destructible body parts which affect both movement and combat options, and there are overheat and stability mechanics which force you to be careful with weapon selection and environment awareness or face the possibility of taking damage, toppling over or even causing your BattleMech to explode.
Positioning is vitally important: when you move you can also choose where your mech faces, which can mean the difference between losing your mech’s right arm where you’ve mounted its more destructive weaponry or it becoming totally ineffectual at a crucial moment. Unlike other games there is no cover system in play (outside of standing in environmental cover like trees for a passive bonus to avoidance) so being aware of your surroundings becomes critical.
Movement on the battlefield is also a big part of how the tactical battles feel different. The more a BattleMech moves on a turn, the more evasive bonus it receives making it harder for the enemy to hit. This enables lighter, faster moving scout type mechs to stay viable but also encourages movement rather than standing still in the open guns blazing. Combined with locational damage, overheating, terrain and environment type there is a lot to think about each turn.
There is also a more strategic layer to each encounter. Before you accept a contract you can negotiate your price, which comes with a chance to control the amount of salvage you can hand pick once the contract is over. The clever thing here is that the spoils are taken from the battlefield, so carefully eliminating BattleMechs by taking out their heads or both legs improves your chances of getting mech parts and/or the weapons they were using. The way all the systems interact make this a very layered game: decisions in the management side creep over into the planetside gameplay and vice versa.
BattleTech is also exceptionally well presented. The intro as mentioned earlier is visually stunning, with that style persisting throughout all the cutscenes and story moments in the game. The quality of the writing is also a standout: the characters are fleshed out well with motivations that make sense and the plot itself is interesting. The audio team have done a tremendous job, the voiceover work is stellar and combined with the rest of the sound design and the gorgeous, dramatic soundtrack by Jon Everist it’s a pleasure on the ears.
Going back to something I mentioned at the start of the review, it’s clear that Jordan Weisman and the rest of the team at Harebrained Schemes have a deep love of the BattleTech universe as they’ve taken great care to make sure it’s approachable to anyone, familiar or not. There are tooltips on literally everything, so if you aren’t sure what anything is, just hover and it’ll tell you and this applies to more than just the game’s interface too. In dialogue boxes, terms, characters and other important words are highlighted so you can get more information about them by hovering if you’d like. It’s like having a BattleTech encyclopedia on hand whilst playing.
The game does have a few little niggles. Sometimes the cinematic camera can misbehave, putting itself in silly places, sometimes the physics when your mech smashes through a wall can act all funky and some of the ship-based UI screens have the back button in different spots which feels weird but these are tiny issues in such a wonderfully put together game that is far more than XCOM with mechs!
BATTLETECH (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
An unmissable strategy gem that will unquestionably keep you playing one more contract. If you like mechs or tactical strategy games you’ll have a great time here whether you are a newcomer to the universe or not. BattleTech gets my full recommendation.