The Battletech universe is kind of the hardcore geek level of mech-dom in my opinion. Set in a relatively generic and uninteresting universe, building a casual player following seems to have always been a challenge for their games. Of the history of Battletech games, Mechwarrior 2 and maybe Mechassault (on the Original Xbox) maybe garnered the most popularity thanks to console ports of each. While Harebrained Schemes (of Shadowrun Returns fame) has created the true modern sequel of Mechcommander (yet another strategy gem), it is hard to say that it is gateway drug that new players need to coax them to my level of mech fandom.
Mechs, for those not in the know, are basically human piloted robots (that are often humanoid designs) filled to the brim with weapons and armor. Battletech features these hulking walking weapons platforms front and center as metallic extensions of their pilots in possibly one of the best representations of the board game ever! As a turn based strategy gem with alarming detail, Mechcommander put you in tactical control of a lance (four mechs in a group like a platoon) of mechs pitted against vehicles and numerous mechs in single missions strung together in a narrative storyline. Here, Battletech updates that game structure with more mech customization, pilot skills, and loot styled weapon systems. Let’s take a deeper look.
In Battletech, you take your mechs XCOM style through a mission in a turn by turn move and then shoot structure. You take into account structures, elevations, line of sight, and range to determine the success of your attacks and how much damage per turn you can possibly deal to your foes. Then you also take into account the hit location on your foes as arms, torsos, legs, and the head each house different weapons and equipment. Destroy a location and you destroy the equipment and weapons located on it. Destroy the head or the CT and you destroy the mech outright. Of course you can also destroy both of the legs and render the mech inoperable as well.
Just like in XCOM, just before you attack, you are given your calculated chance to hit in a percentage. Press the button and watch the animation carryout the attack. Once your entire team has done so, then your enemies units do the same. You’ll encounter vehicles brimming with weapons as well as mechs of various tonnage. Light mechs are fast and use maneuverability (including jumping) to slowly chip away at a mech’s rear armor. Medium mechs are the core of most lances as they have good speed, can sometimes jump, and decent weapons. Oftentimes their armor is still a bit lacking. Heavy mechs have better armor and weapons at the expense of speed. Assault mechs are the vanguard of an assault as they move slow but can pack a devastating punch in one round whether it is a literal punch or a simultaneous alpha strike of all of its weapon systems!
One of the keys to success in this game is learning the different mech types and how to customize them for your playstyle. You can beef up armor at the expense of weaponry or you can add more weapons and take out other equipment (heat sinks or jump jets). Battletech adds the joy of Battletech’s tactical mech customization shown in games like Mechwarrior Online and other Mechwarrior games. This makes your lance feel like your own and allows for different strategies in difficult missions.
Battletech throws randomized missions at you in between your story missions that can help or harm you. Each mission will randomize what kind of mech and weapons loadout each foe has anytime you play or reload a mission. So, if you have problems getting past a mission, try try again. Of course, the story missions are different. The foes you face there are NOT randomized and are strategically placed and selected to make your mission as difficult as possible.
For a strategy buff like myself, Battletech is the perfect marriage of the Battletech license and a strategy game. The customization options make each playthru different and enjoyable. The story is kind of blah but pulls you along enough to want to make your mercenary crew stronger. Throw in a multiplayer mode and you have an excellent strategy game whose main problem may be the speed at which the battles are carried out (thanks to slow attack animations).
Evenso, it is hard to say whether Battletech is a ‘gateway game’ for the strategy genre. It is also hard to say it is a ‘gateway game’ to the Battletech universe. Considering it isn’t a fast paced action game, I would probably say only jump in if you are interested in strategy games. Also, as a game that has a lot of customization and reliance on mech types and loadouts, it may or may not be a good entry level strategy game either.
For myself, however, this is the perfect Battletech stew for a fan of the universe and past strategy games. The customization options as well as the hit location, progressive storyline with randomized side missions, melee attacks, and all around polish make Battletech the kind of game I was hoping for all along!
Now if I could just get a good game to delve into the lore of the universe better!