BattleTech Review – A more strategic Mechwarrior

Played on Windows.
Also on Linux, and macOS.

BattleTech is a strategy RPG where players move their giant mechs around to fight other mechs throughout a rather large and long campaign. Players will not only manage their mechs, but also their squad and ship focusing on running a mercenary crew. It’s a unique experience but also gives the player a lot more freedom than one might expect.

BattleTech looks a lot like Mechwarrior, and it’s hard to separate the two designs, however, this is due to Mechwarrior originally being based on a tabletop game called BattleTech which this game is also based on. Both of these series look similar because they are similar. While Mechwarrior focuses more on piloting a single mech, BattleTech is more focused on the strategy and movement of those mechs in a turn-based process. But this leads us to…

Graphics

BattleTech exists in the same universe as Mechwarrior, and so those overly detailed and interesting mechs are at the core of BattleTech, in fact, those mechs tend to look extremely good in combat. It’s one of the strongest aspects of BattleTech and what shows. The focus of the game is often on how your group (a lance) of four mechs tackles various enemies all attempting to destroy you.


The mechs look amazing and the environments can look good close up but this isn’t a great tactical view.

There are also a few installations and outposts, mostly small cities, about the size of a couple of city blocks that have various buildings and vehicles, many which can probably be destroyed by either moving into them or attacking them. The detail in these areas are quite good, but there is usually only a single area like this on a map.

The reason I bring the impressive mechs and the interesting cities up so quickly, is they are often the only thing on many levels. Nondescript levels with some hills for tactical placement is what players will mostly find during the game. There are some tactical locations, such as forests for extra defense or water to cool off mechs, but these are the rarity of BattleTech, and often levels are left without anything that stands out.

One of the reasons for this is that most levels are randomly generated through contracts, which is more of a gameplay concern, but even the story missions which are predesigned lack a lot of intricacies. The opening level of the game has the most detail to its maps and it is a bit of a shame because it falsely makes the player expect more from the game.

The second map, in particular, is wonderfully lush, filled with multiple cities and battles, and it’s a mission we’ll talk about more later, but visual issues with it are that it gives a false impression of the game, as almost no level matches that scale. There are a few interesting locations, such as a jail and a couple of large bases, but these are the unique missions, the majority of missions and locations in BattleTech are quite plain, and even on the scripted missions, nothing even comes close to what we see in the opening.


Sometimes the game can look great.

The focus of BattleTech though is really about giant mechs fighting each other and the fact is, those mechs look great especially when the player or the camera zooms in, the downside though is some of the combat feels a little stilted, especially when the player uses a melee attack. There’s a canned animation for the attack where the mech will headbutt, or kick at an enemy, and it doesn’t feel like the size of an enemy is considered for the animation.

At the same time, the damage is done to the mech sometimes feels random. While there’s a strategic aspect to where the damage is taken, blowing up an arm shows realistic destruction, but destroying a leg doesn’t remove the leg from the mech, and the mech may get a chance to stand up and retreat at full speed if desired.

The graphics in BattleTech are a bit over the place, but it’s probably a little weaker than it should be. It would be so much better to have four set attacks due to the size of the opponent, and the opponent having four different reactions to being attacked from different sized enemies. This would complicate the battle, but make those attacks feel so much better. More variety in the landscape really should have been included, and while I enjoy what is in the game, BattleTech feels weaker due to these graphical shortcomings.

Story

BattleTech starts with a strong story, though it is also a bit flawed. The opening cutscene has the leader of a major leader of the galactic empire, Kamea Arano, telling the player how she always had the player by her side as she ascended the throne.

As mentioned in my preview, about thirty minutes later, our leader is shown being blown up as her spaceship takes off at the end of the second mission. There’s a little problem with this set of events, the developers have already diffused the suspense of what the story is. It’s clear she survived since the entire game is set up as a flashback, so why use that trope?


Much of the game involves Kamea Arano,

The player joins a mercenary band and seems to lead in just under 3 years, or a quick fade to black as the game presents it. But Kamea Arano pops up a couple of missions later, at least she does if you play the story missions, though that will be a bit of an issue. The story missions of the game are the only place BattleTech presents a connected story, rather than random contract missions. While minor incidents appear while the player is on the ship for the player to make choices, they are just choices to break up the monotony of the longer trips in the game. The story is isolated to the main missions.

At the same time, this is almost a trap. Players will instinctively try to follow the main story when possible, but each mission increases in difficulty but also will make the entire game harder, so chasing the story to see the story, makes the game more difficult faster.

On the other hand, it can be very easy to focus on side missions while preparing your team, and lose the thread of the story, while you spend thirty to forty hours on side missions that have nothing to do with the eventual Empress Arano. So chasing the story can ruin the gameplay, but focusing on building your team effectively, ruins the story, and this becomes a bit of a catch 22.

Not that the story is that amazing. The second mission again is rather impressive, and it’s one of the best missions in the game, that’s probably a bad sign. The reason it stands out is that it’s the only mission that feels long, and complex. Most missions are kill X group and then kill their reinforcements. Several story missions are slightly more complex, but not by much.

I only played 8 out of the 20 story missions, and one of the reasons is that it does take a reasonable amount of time to prepare for these missions. To make your group a major fighting force will take a long time, and the missions themselves while interesting, become harder and harder until it was clear I needed to either restart or grind easier missions. I played a decent amount more but eventually stopped playing as I wasn’t making a lot of progress.


The cutscenes can look amazing, but there’s so few of these type of scenes.

This isn’t a major fault, but if players are coming here for the story, especially after seeing the opening, it’s not a great reason. The story works against the game, and while the game is good, the narrative isn’t worth ruining the experience by chasing after it. Not that there are not good missions, but it’s not set up in a way that players can consistently play through the story missions without a massive amount of grinding done before beginning the missions. Speaking of…

Gameplay

So yes, BattleTech has grinding, and while I should dive in on that and complain, BattleTech is a Strategy RPG and some grinding could be assumed. The point of BattleTech is to develop your team, known as a lance, and build your mech to become a fighting force worthy of taking on the worst enemies.

Building your loadouts for each mech is a core feature of the game, and trying to figure out the best loadout, balancing armor, ammo, weapons, jump jets, and heat sinks are as fun here as they are in the Mechwarrior series, with a few issues. Building a new loadout and taking it to the next mission is always an interesting moment and once I understood the system, the mechs are some of the best parts of the game.

But as I said, there are some rather big issues. First, BattleTech doesn’t have an automatic loadout for a mech. Mechs come with a loadout, but many times those are heavily inferior to simple loadouts you can build and also heavily under-armored, which puts them at risk. A second problem is that any loss of limb loses those items permanently. If you have a small laser and your right arm is destroyed, you better hope you had an extra in your inventory, otherwise you’ll have to replace that laser with a new weapon, and often it was better to restart a mission or load a save than accept these destroyed weapons early on in the game.


The loadouts of the mechs will be a major piece of the game to players.

At the same time, the biggest sin the mech building has is that there’s not a way to test out your mech loadouts without taking the entire lance on a mission. Want to know if Flamer weapons which increase heat are better than a full array of Small Lasers? To the next contract. Hopefully, it’s not too hard, and you don’t damage your mech too bad.

A simple training ground or simulation would have benefited BattleTech a lot. There are so many small things that players can do that would be useful to test. Will your mech overheat because of Jump Jets or too many energy weapons? Can your mech take the hits expected of it? How much damage can your mech do? There’s mathematics to show almost all of this, but it’s so much more fun to take the mech out for a spin, I’m shocked there’s no simulation of that to test a build.

There is no way to know how your mech will perform without taking it down on a mission, but the bad news is there’s also no way to evaluate a mech on a random mission, because of the massive number of variables in one.

The first missions of the game are rather long affairs with large stories, however after this point, much of the game focuses on short missions that will take less than ten to twenty turns, and most of the time, far less than that. The focus is on quick skirmishes, but again the game teases a larger structure that it never can live up to, and it’s a bit of a shame that there’s a question of where did the style of the original missions go.

Evaluating mechs will be important as well because there’s a decent variety in them. Commando mechs are some of the earliest mech, as well as Quickdraws, which are a heavy mech, and for the most part, both of these mechs can be easily ignored. Though most players won’t realize this without reading other players opinions or spending hours in weak mechs.

There’s a lot of variance between different mechs. There are mechs like Quickdraws that are so weak players say not to use them ever, versus overpowered mechs like the Firestarter that appear at the same time but can be overlooked. Again, this becomes a bigger problem since the game doesn’t allow players to try out different build or different mechs side by side, so unless players stumble on these, there can be multiple hours of trial and error.

After my last story mission that I tackled, I decided to take a 1 skull mission, which is a low danger mark. I figured this would be the best way to grind some experience. Yet my primary mech was destroyed each time, there were a lot of reinforcements, and they swarmed my team. The same thing was happening on a 1.5 skull mission, so I figured my tactics were wrong, but I couldn’t figure out my problem.

Then I tried a 2 skull mission and beat it easily with no damage to any of my mech, this was compared to be destroyed or heavily damaged in the other two missions. The fact is the difficulty or danger markings on missions have very little to do with the mission directly. Sometimes the layout of a mission will just put you in a near-impossible situation, other times, you’ll be able to beat a harder mission because luck was on your side, and it’s not a situation that made BattleTech better.

This was one of the biggest struggles with BattleTech. Having to look at a mission and guess if it was more like an unfair mission I had played previously, or if it would be easy due to what was being asked which became a game itself.

This doesn’t ruin BattleTech, but it does feel like BattleTech was more designed for players to play the entire game multiple times, which means fans will get a lot of time out of the game, but spending over forty hours, struggling and hearing fans telling players to restart from scratch for an easier strategy by avoiding the story feels like a strange solution. I enjoyed my over forty hours with BattleTech but having to deal with the idea that I had “played the game wrong” is frustrating after so many hours.


Making call shots help to target your blasts, otherwise it’s semi random what will be hit.

Still, much of Battle tech is based around strategy, and a big piece of the game is moving your units and watching the enemy move theirs, taking shots at each other and trying to pick apart the enemy before the enemy picks you apart. Though the enemy can lack tactical efficiency. If players spread their four mechs out to attempt to surround an enemy which results in most enemies only able to see a single unit, the enemy will only attack that unit and quickly pick them apart, especially after removing their evasive ability.

Instead, it seems that BattleTech works better when the player’s mechs clump up together to give enemies more targets. Somehow having four targets side by side, confuses the enemy so they attack each one individually, rather than singling out a specific unit. The enemy is quite dumb in this regard, but the tactical parts of the game felt lacking a bit, as it meant that spreading out was more dangerous than sticking together and keeping units within close visual sight of each other.

A game like this makes me realize why Mutant Year Zero felt more unique. BattleTech doesn’t want to think about stealth. While there are parts of the game where your four units can move in any order outside of combat, the minute an enemy spots you, all enemies in the group are aware of you and players are forced to go to a standard shooting match with minor melee when necessary.

The combat in BattleTech is well done, and I enjoyed it, the feeling of “Alpha-Striking” enemies, linking all your weapons in a single blast feels as good here as it does in any MechWarrior game, however enemies sight you miles away, so the approach is always a slow metered march, and enemies can rarely, if ever, be lured into an ambush. It seems like the enemies spot the player and instantly know where they are, and similarly, players have a solid idea where enemies are even if they aren’t in direct sensor range. How tactical can a game be if that’s a limitation and expectation of the system?

There are a lot of strategies involved in BattleTech, it becomes more focused on proper usage of weapons when dealing with heat, building loadouts, and getting “stacks” of the right booster, such as moving far enough each turn to get “Evasive” tokens. At the same time, a little more focus on hiding from enemies, preparing ambushes, or even planning a proper first strike to take out an enemy strategically could have been a bit more interesting, especially when the players are mercenaries for the entire game.

There is still a lot here, and far more to talk about if I wanted to go much deeper. The number of weapons in the game feels a bit limited, with the main focus being on improved weapons rather than variety. Getting new mechs feels like a chore since you need to evaluate the new chassis and create a load out to even consider using it. Changing a loadout takes time, and players need to constantly be taking on contracts to keep up with an ever-present monetary crunch chasing the player.

Also, the drivers of the Mechs have their own RPG style experience and skill system that matters quite a bit. That system can take a long time to develop, which will help the player in the long term but means there should be a decent amount of grinding in the early game to collect this experience, as well as different mechs, and weapons that can be looted off fallen opponents. While I would prefer to race forward and play the next mission, the grind feels fine, but there’s not a good indicator when the player might be ready to take the next step up the ladder of difficulty, especially with variable difficulty system that isn’t clear what each value means.


The up close views look great in this game.

None of this means that BattleTech is bad; I enjoy BattleTech a lot in spite of all these issues. Once I stopped chasing the story and focused more on tackling the random missions, I had more fun. BattleTech gameplay and strategy at the core of this game is an extremely solid foundation. It’s only at times when the game feels that it isn’t giving me the tools to understand the challenge of a mission or a way to test out my new toys is where BattleTech becomes more frustrating than it should be, but before long I was deploying on another mission and having a great time using my team to destroy the next group of enemies the game offered up to me.

Conclusion

BattleTech is a strategy RPG, and yet it attempts to have a deep story, great visuals, and great gameplay. It makes an attempt and fails with the graphics, and the story has problems. BattleTech’s core features are so strong in its gameplay that it makes BattleTech work even while so many pieces of it can make a player roll their eyes.

It’s not a masterpiece but if the big complaint is that I wanted to continue to play my game, rather than restart after an enjoyable forty hours of chasing the story, it’s hard to call it anything less than a success. BattleTech is a good game, and much of those 40 hours flew by as I was working on the next mission, the next move or the next strategy I wanted to iron out.

I give BattleTech a

4/5

BattleTech is a game that’s hard to judge, and one of the reasons is that it takes a large number of hours. 40 hours were spent and I haven’t beaten half of the story missions in the game, and yet I was returning to the earliest levels. Perhaps I could have been more focused, or better prepared but if you want a game that is enjoyable and has a large number of hours you can sink into it, BattleTech is for you.

It’s a harder game to review, but the experience is enjoyable enough that I almost feel cheated because I’m forced to move on to something else. Almost.

Final thoughts: BattleTech is a solid strategy RPG that gives enjoyable missions filled with great action and mech combat. It has minor faults but overall is a fantastic game and well worth checking out.

Stats: 43 hours played 31/128 Achievements earned