BattleTech PC Review

BattleTech's tactical core rewards planning and battlefield awareness, but difficulty spikes alongside pacing and performance issues take away from what's otherwise a great turn-based title.

By Woozie, Posted 25 Apr 2018

BattleTech’s sci-fi universe is fraught with scheming, plotting and warring between several noble houses. It’s no surprise then that Harebrained Schemes latest game puts players in control of a custom-made character leading a mercenary company, in an attempt to aid Lady Kamea Arano with reclaiming her throne. Whether for honor, or most likely cash, you’ll travel across the stars and engage in tactical turn-based battles that pit large bipedal warmachines against each other. They’re slow affairs that require thoughtful planning of an array of elements like positioning, facing and targeting. Few things equal the satisfaction of a well-placed punch, or rocket salvo that tears a limb away from a foe, or downright sends them tumbling to the ground. But for all the small, exhilarating triumphs in its fights, BattleTech’s tendency to throw enemy wave after enemy wave at you, alongside a handful of difficulty spikes and performance issues manage to put a dent in its accomplishments.

BattleTech is split between two large portions, one where BattleMechs exchange blows, and another where you’re managing mercenaries from your spacefaring vessel, the Argo. The game’s many contracts come in different flavors, but whether we’re talking straight up battles, escort missions, base capture/destruction, or assassination attempts, everything boils down to ‘Mechs blowing stuff up, with the occasional requirement of protecting weaker units. There’s not a lot of variety in terms of mission structure – one of the characters even half-jokes about ‘Mechs not being useful for much aside from blowing stuff up –  and when other indirect objectives are involved, BattleTech begins to stumble slightly. Escort missions have a bonus objective to keep every small vehicle alive, but as you cannot directly divert fire towards your ‘Mechs, and with the vehicles always ending up ahead, there’s nothing to stop the enemy focusing one and refusing you an, admittedly small, cash bonus. Capture Base missions involve moving your ‘Mechs to a specific spot, before, while, or after you’ve fought off opposing ‘Mechs. This lack of variety is offset by the tactical aspect of the fights and the satisfying feedback of most projectiles hitting armor and machinery blowing up or falling to the ground.

BattleTech, PC, Review, Screenshot

Despite revolving around a rather small set of actions, battles can be slow but tense tactical endeavors, where methodically chipping away at a ‘Mech’s armor will result in it losing its limbs and any attached weaponry. A unit’s positioning broadly determines both which side of its target it will attack, as well as which of its parts are more likely to get hit. When you’ve enough Morale – a global resource available to your entire team – Called Shots become available, allowing for better targeting of one specific area. Strip the armor off a leg, and its structure starts taking damage. Reduce it to 0 and the ‘Mech will tumble to the ground, injuring the MechWarrior inside. Get rid of its left torso and the left arm will follow suit. BattleTech’s maps are fairly open, relying more on line of sight than cover to protect against enemy fire. The latter isn’t missing, as forests and ruins can make sure ‘Mechs stick around for a few more turns. This makes it so that you’ll have to carefully consider if turning your back at one enemy to strike another is truly worth it, or if going in for a damaging melee attack is worth taking a serious beating from multiple directions. Initiative phases add another element that’s worth taking into consideration, as ‘Mechs take their turns depending on their tonnage, with lighter ones going first.

Just like ‘Mechs can be put out of action, so can the MechWarriors piloting them. The difference lies in the fact that while money and repairs can bring a destroyed ‘Mech back from the brink, a MechWarrior that’s been injured too many times will be off on a permanent vacation. Injuries can occur from a handful of scenarios such as knockdowns, hits to the ‘Mech’s head or ammo explosions. When things get a little too perilous, pilots can eject, at the cost of destroying the ‘Mech’s head section and rendering it unusable for the remainder of the fight. Thus, there were many situations where I had to give up potentially good damage opportunities in order to make sure that my experienced Gunner, who ran with me since the start, got to fight another day after a more or less lengthy stay in the hospital. While the deaths of MechWarriors don’t necessarily stall progress, a more veteran pilot not only has access to more skills and passive bonuses, but does tend to land shots more often, or resist more injuries. As ‘MechWarriors gain experience, points can be distributed into four trees, each focusing on different aspects, such as resilience, melee or spotting targets for indirect fire, while granting up to three major skills. Covering the entire spectrum of abilities is a good idea as your roster expands, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the more experienced the people, the higher the salary they’ll ask for.

BattleTech, PC, Review, Screenshot

Managing the MechWarriors’ salaries is just one aspect of BattleTech’s other side which involves keeping your mercenary company afloat. Without C-bills – the game’s currency –, your company ceases to function, essentially ending the game. Thus, you’ll have to strike a balance between the aforementioned salaries, ‘Mech repairs and refitting – which will be a constant requirement – and improving the Argo, which can grant anything from more space for ‘Mechs and MechWarriors to faster repairs, higher starting Morale and reduced travel time in between planets. Maintenance costs also rise as the Argo gets improved, so in between main missions, you’ll have the option of taking on other contracts, for extra C-bills and new equipment. Examining contracts is also important as they vary in difficulty and potential salvage, while possibly requiring travel to other planets, which takes time and brings the monthly financial report closer. You’ll also be able to talk to your crew in between missions and there are even a couple of events that pop up as time passes. They’re mostly inconsequential and don’t take advantage of your character’s custom background enough. My avatar, Dhar “Llama” Spitter, was born in the Federated Suns and suffered a great betrayal before setting off to work as a mercenary. All that got me were a couple of supposedly special lines of dialogue which didn’t seem to change conversations in any significant way. The UI in this section does require a good bit of jumping between menus, especially when you’re looking to refit ‘Mechs and need to shop for weapons in one of the planet’s stores. I found myself in dire straits only in a few cases and the management aspect really boils down to not going overboard with spending money on improvements, weaponry and new blood.

There are quite a few different ‘Mech types to field and they all come with their own combinations of hardpoints spread across various segments of their body. These hardpoints determine the types of weapons that can be equipped. A Centurion might allow more missiles than other ‘Mechs, but it has them concentrated in its left torso. Weapons have minimum, optimal and maximum ranges, requiring proper positioning to get the most out of them. The chances to hit with long range missiles up close are considerably smaller than further away, just like short range lasers won’t fire too far. Weapons produce varying degrees of heat, with energy weapons being the most prodigious in this regard. At times, you’ll need to be selective about which weapons to fire. The battle environments play a role in how quickly built up heat decreases. A battle on snowy plains will make managing heat easier than one in hot badlands or a lunar location where you’re fighting in a vacuum. This also plays into the ‘Mech customization aspect that, while somewhat limited by the hardpoints, still allows for outfitting ‘Mechs as long range artillery, close range brawlers with a penchant for melee and other roles in between. Armor can be stripped off to allow for more weapons (or added at the expense of firepower), while Heat Sinks and Jump Jets help with heat management and mobility. Unit models come with enough detail as to be easily differentiated between, while looking awfully mighty. Visually, BattleTech is at its best when the dynamic camera gets the right angle on brawling ‘Mechs, or in nocturnal mission when travelling projectiles light up the darkness. There are, however, also times when it’s muddy, brown and fairly unimpressive, with units melding into the environment.

BattleTech, PC, Review, Screenshot

Difficulty spikes are at home in BattleTech, especially in its main missions. While every mission comes with a difficulty rating, to which fielding heavier ‘Mechs is, generally speaking, a good answer, in practice things are less smooth. A good number of times, having a higher tonnage than theoretically required didn’t seem to help, prompting a restart or loading a previous save. The newfound knowledge of enemy locations then became a boon, but given the mission’s length, this made sure that by the time I actually saw it through, all I wanted was to be done with it. Restarting also seems to change the types of opponents you face, which can lead to easier engagements. To this, we add BattleTech’s obsession with throwing extra enemies in the mix.  At least early on, there’s narrative context as to why you’d be outnumbered in most situations. But as it quickly became the norm, past the halfway point a lot of the fights became outright fatiguing slogs where the enemy sported higher numbers and most likely had a wave or two of reinforcements waiting behind a hill or ready to drop from the sky. Many levels started off well, and didn’t lack the satisfaction of a well-placed salvo, a risky punch that got rid of a strong weapon, or shrugging off that last bit of damage that would otherwise have killed a MechWarrior.

When the enemy caught me off guard because I had miscalculated the damage required to take one of them out, I gladly took the punishment. But when in long fights, enemies just pummel you with projectiles because of their sheer numbers to which you can’t really react, as even with an ideal setup you can only hit so many things, it really paints the picture of a game that’s flailing its arms around while unconvincingly trying to prove that it too can be difficult, just like some of its peers. BattleTech loves situations where you’re outnumbered to the point where, in many cases, any feeling of overcoming a great challenge is replaced by sheer frustration.

BattleTech, PC, Review, Screenshot

My expert gunner would land salvo after salvo, my expert pilot would sprint ahead, risking his skin to punch limbs off, and dismantling enemies feels undoubtedly great. But when after getting rid of a first group, there’s another, and then another, that feeling of actually getting somewhere begins to fade. There were plenty of times where I just felt limited in what I could do, regardless of how well my ‘Mechs were equipped for the situation, or how good my MechWarriors were. The lack of reinforcements makes less sense once you get one or two Lances worth of MechWarriors and ‘Mechs waiting around on the Argo. These situations weren’t few and far between and all they did was showcase that BattleTech had one trick up its sleeve and not a lot of creativity when it comes to handling its mission structure. And that began to overshadow the sheer awesomeness of ‘Mech battling ‘Mech the more I played.

The cinematic camera employed by the title is also hit-or-miss. There are times when it perfectly frames a close encounter, or a laser travelling the distance to its target. There are also times when it fails to notice the rock in the way of the action, or picks awkward angles. It also slows fights down even further, but luckily there are a good couple of sliders which allow customizing how often it kicks in, to the point where you can essentially stick with just the overhead view and the ability to manually zoom and pan the camera. Less great were the framedrops and stutters that accompanied me on most missions. BattleTech had issues keeping the framerate above, or even at, 60 FPS even on medium settings.More crowded missions were prone to dips as low as 19 FPS and overall, this did obviously harm the game’s fluidity quite a bit.

BattleTech, PC, Review, Screenshot

BattleTech’s tactical layer requires thought and planning, not only for survival, but also when considering what equipment you want to salvage and put to future use, which adds a need to be careful where you bust holes in your enemy. Destroying ‘Mechs can be absolutely exhilarating and the game has its fair share of satisfying moments. Its main issue is that many of its contracts don’t get pacing right. BattleTech made the kid in me happy, as I went through battle after battle of giant ‘Mechs blowing each other up with fists and heavy weaponry, but it took the entire reserve of patience that the adult in me could muster to overcome the frustration that appeared too often from the game’s constant insistence of throwing more and more enemies my way, extending fights far beyond what felt comfortable. There were too many times when I just wanted a break or reinforcements of my own for a change, alongside a handful of situations where I just dropped the mission and walked away for a while because of how frustrating things got. It’s a pity, because when they occur, these missteps do take the spotlight off what’s great about the game. And when it gets things right, BattleTech is a blast to play.

Note: BattleTech also supports PvP in the form of 1v1 Skirmishes. The developers have went on record stating that, at least at the moment, they see it more as a mode meant for fights between friends than for high level competitive play. This review does not cover the Skirmish mode.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

BattleTech

74/100

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Paradox Interactive
Developer(s): Harebrained Schemes
Genres: Turn-Based Strategy
Themes: Sci-fi
Release Date: 2018-04-24

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