BattleTech Review for PC
Strategy RPGs hold a special place in gaming. While other genres have seen great leaps in iteration and scope over the past 20 or so years, strategy games have remained remarkably still, a testament to their mechanical purity and hardened roots in gaming. table. It’s this focus on traditional game design that allows strategy games to thrive, to become deeper, more complex. They’ve definitely modernized over time, but in more subtle ways, like easier UI navigation and faster pace, with the core feeling remaining the same. BattleTech is a game deeply dedicated to being a pure strategy experience, based on a beloved tabletop series. It is impressive in its depth, thrilling in its narrative, daunting in its complexity, and ultimately held back by its contempt for modern audiences.
BattleTech takes its name and universe from the popular board game now called Classic BattleTech. It’s designed as a turn-based RPG, which is a natural fit, managing to capture the slow, methodical nature of a tabletop game. In it, players act as a commander, taking control of a squad (or Lance) of four mechs, with a dizzying level of customization and agency available from the start. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the game has a large amount of content, from a fully realized campaign mode to a PvP multiplayer mode.
This added push for content is most evident in the game’s rich and engaging story. I find it hard to think of a strategy game with this level of detail and polish to its campaign, with BattleTech setting a new standard. for outright storytelling in the genre. Cutscenes are beautifully animated and wonderfully dramatic. The art direction sits somewhere between Dune and Alien, taking advantage of the stark contrast between intergalactic beauty and industrial grit. The story itself is a gripping tale of political turmoil and a team of mercenaries on the run from corrupt banks and dreaded space pirates. There’s an air of a traditional pen-and-paper adventure game to the way BattleTech presents its story. His textual dumps of information are elevated to poetic sides through the use of careful description and inclusion of superficial knowledge: “An image of a towering structure appears on your screen. It has the solid, heavy walls that you associate with Taurian architecture.” The lore itself requires the player to read as much information as possible to get some context. It’s not necessary by any means, but helps create a truly believable sci-fi world.
The story is what will likely draw players in early on, which is fortunate, as the rest of the game seems determined to push new players away. Right off the bat, you’re presented with an explosion of information, with very few ways to contextualize it. The first mission is a cakewalk compared to the later ones, but due to the inadequate and lengthy tutorial section, it’s a particularly unpleasant introduction to an otherwise very rewarding experience. This player annoyance continues for the first few hours or so and never really goes away. On my first proper mission, my character was killed with a single hit in his robot’s chest armor. At the time, I had no real idea why this happened, but I continued regardless and completed the mission. Back at base, I learned that my character, the one I had just spent time choosing an origin, appearance, and personality for, had to be out of action for 101 days. BattleTech is full of nasty reveals like this in its first five or so hours, leaving the player with no way to grasp its mechanics other than by simply trying them out.
In a 2015 interview with PC Gamer, BattleTech creator Jordan Weisman revealed that the team’s goal was to design the game so that the player “focuses on strategy, not mechanics. “. This finished product, at least for much of its campaign, features quite the opposite. By failing to teach mechanics to its new players, BattleTech forces them to focus only on new systems, rather than the rich strategic possibilities that make up what is easily the game’s most compelling selling point.
It’s once you understand the basic mechanics of the game that the strategy kicks in and BattleTech really starts to open up. Whether it takes too long or not, this is where BattleTech starts to make sense and delivers on the promise of a truly tactical bot-based RPG. Every aspect of the game is a careful dance between risk and reward. It assigns monetary value to almost every decision, not directly, but in the way that spare parts and medical costs are constantly on the player’s mind. The interplay between the game’s business management meta-game and its turn-based mechanical action elevates what is a great strategy experience into a great overall package. Missions net you barely enough money to cover operating costs, making every move you make an exercise in careful strategy and passive calculation. Every hit you make has a hit rate, every kill is a bonus for the team as a whole, there’s so much to consider, but somehow it all falls into place.
Every game relies on a player’s ability to predict the outcome of every move they make, which the vast array of HUDs and displays help cultivate. Every once in a while though, it feels like a move you just made played out in a way that the numbers couldn’t have predicted. Sometimes a weapon won’t hit where you wanted it to or won’t do as much damage as you think it should. There’s often an explanation as to why, but it might be too much for the average player to understand, or because of a single stat buff you might have overlooked. It’s at times like these that the game starts to falter. At its best, BattleTech really makes the player feel like the commander of a fleet of ultra-powerful mechs. At worst, it makes them feel like a fool, mindlessly firing underpowered lasers into the chests of enemy mechs with little to no effect.
Unfortunately, BattleTech’s failure is exacerbated by the game’s truly confusing approach to matching pacing. There are several cinematic camera angles that play out with each attack by default. Turns take a tedious time and there is no way to speed up the gameplay. Matches often last over 45 minutes, but usually only involve fighting four or five enemies, especially the side missions. Waiting for four turrets, three tanks, and an enemy robot to move before you can is as boring as it sounds, made worse by the glitchy camera at best. It’s this lethargic pace that’s the game’s biggest downfall. It’s obvious the developer intended to capture the board game’s careful strategy, but here it falls flat. There’s a reason most strategy games have picked up speed over the years, though I salute the team’s original goal of replicating a more traditional experience. If you turn off all the game’s frills, dynamic camera angles, and settings, it’s at least bearable, though certainly less exciting. The level of patience required to endure a match of BattleTech will certainly be enough to put off a lot of players, which is a shame because when the game starts it’s a very rewarding and worthwhile experience.
Success in BattleTech is rare but deeply satisfying. But given the lack of reception of the game’s early hours, it’s hard to recommend it to new players or those who only play modern strategy games. For those brave enough to hold on, there’s a rich story, a wonderful interplay of simulation and turn-based mechanics, and the thrilling feeling of being the commander of a team of battle-hardened war machines. . BattleTech is obtuse, mean, stubborn, but also dynamic, deeply customizable and ambitious. Hopefully future updates make it faster and more accessible, because it’s a shame that such a great experience is hidden behind such a solid wall of loopholes.
Rating: 3.5/5 – Fair
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