BattleTech Review: Back in the Command Couch

I’m going to admit to something first and foremost in this BattleTech review. I am a pretty late-arriving but still big fanboy of the BattleTech universe. MechWarrior 3 was the first PC game I purchased with my own money. I ran a clan for online battling in MechWarrior 3 and MechWarrior 4 and its successive expansions. So I was already coming into this game with some pretty high expectations.

I’m delighted to report that, for the most part, BattleTech has lived up to those fond memories and delivered a tactical MechWarrior gaming experience the likes of which PC gaming was missing for the longest time.

battletech review

Reactor: Online

BattleTech takes place in the year 3025, right around the latter point of the Succession Wars. For those who are following the timeline, that means the Clans hadn’t invaded the Inner Sphere yet, which also means there are none of the cool ‘Mechs like my beloved Shadow Cat or the poster-child Mad Cat. Still, there’s armor like the Catapult, which is close enough, visually at least.

You play the commander of your own mercenary group who manages to just scrape out enough of a living to pay back the minimum interest of the bankers you’re beholden to, until a person from your not-too-distant past resurfaces with a conflict and an opportunity.

In true BattleTech fashion, the story beats are merely reasons to have people climb into gargantuan bipedal weapons platforms and blow each other up, but it’s some engaging window dressing that series fans and space opera fans alike will come to enjoy.

Sensors: Online

What’s nice about this overall setting isn’t that it’s just a conga line of fights interspersed by cutscenes. The developers have taken great care in recreating the ‘Mech merc experience.

Pretty much every aspect of your company’s management is under your command, including what missions you take, the training of your MechWarriors, and how much you pay them every pay period. In-between jobs, you’ll be balancing operating costs as you fly to your next job, or even finding random events that happen while you’re en route that will demand your guidance and could offer bonuses if you decide wisely.

battletech review

Naturally, that all applies to the loadout of your ‘Mechs in your bay. In true BattleTech fashion, pretty much every aspect of your stomping war machines can be customized, provided you have the appropriate weapon hardpoints on each section and enough weapons from either salvage or shops. It’s slim pickings at the interim, but when you manage to get a compliment of armor that fits together and set each one up just right, it satisfies in a way that’s hard to really put into words.

This all sounds like a whole load of busywork, but I found all of these aspects of BattleTech to be neatly presented as well as mentally engaging. Likely, though, that’s the perspective of a fan talking; one person’s immersion is another’s laundry list of chores.

Weapons: Online

When things finally do come to blows, command and control feels equally as tight. Combat is played out in a turn-based style very similar to X-COM, but with BattleTech, there are a lot more things to consider. Positioning, the facing direction of your ‘Mech, optimal weapon ranges, terrain, and how evasive your armor is are just a few of the things you have to bear in mind when moving your pieces on the battlefield. Mercifully, the game’s UI is laid out in such a way that keeping track of all of these aspects is clean and overall intuitive.

battletech review

The one thing I will admit to when it comes to fighting in BattleTech, though, is that there can be something of a nasty difficulty spike. If you leap straight into the regular story missions before you take on a lot of contracts and salvage together heavier ‘Mechs, you’re going to end up hamstringing yourself. Further, if you are in bad shape, it’s very often difficult – sometimes damn near impossible – to recover and secure a win.

You can always withdraw from a mission at any time, but that also has its own risks: pull out of a contract without at least destroying one or two of the intended targets and your merc company’s reputation takes a hit, which can mean fewer contracts or less reward. If you tough it out for too long, though, you can end up taking so much damage that repair costs and recovery costs drain away any profit you would have otherwise seen from a mission clear.

To that point, the best advice I can offer to those starting out is to ignore the primary missions for as long as you can until you can get yourself some heavier hardware. In BattleTech, tonnage counts and the bigger the ‘Mechs, the better. It would be a much sourer point if it weren’t for the fact that pulling off an excellent strategy didn’t feel so incredibly good, but it is a caveat that I feel is worth noting.

battletech review

I should point out that there is multiplayer to be had in this game, but I honestly was a bit too engrossed in the game’s regular campaign to pay it much attention. All of the points I’ve laid out above regarding combat, however, still stand in multiplayer mode.

All Systems: Nominal

Overall, I’m extremely happy with how BattleTech has turned out. It’s not the ‘Mech game I usually gravitate to and I’m still a lot more excited for MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, but even as someone with the tactical acumen of a box of bricks I found myself getting fully engaged and firing up just one more contract.

Gameplay: 9/10

Whether I was handling the management of my mercenary company or leading my lance on the field of battle, everything just clicked, though some things clicked faster than others. The game’s UI is orderly and helps keep all of the moving parts in focus and forward thinking was rewarded. About the only thing keeping this from a perfect 10 is the somewhat uneven difficulty slope.

Innovation: 7/10

The XCOM DNA is most definitely here and apparent, which will likely make turn-based strategy fans happy, but there’s more than enough new things here to make BattleTech stand out regardless of that comparison. It’s not a copycat so much as just building on smart strategy gaming design.

Graphics/Sound: 9/10

From the graphics of the battlefield to the animated paintings that tell the game’s narrative in cutscenes, BattleTech is definitely a pretty enough game to look at. What takes it over the top for me is its soundtrack, which is the perfect accompaniment to BattleTech’s brand of space opera. It’s almost Star Wars-like in quality, it’s that good.

Community: 6/10

Unfortunately, my exposure to the community was pretty limited for this review copy, so I’m not really sure I can rate this highly. That said, those who I was exposed to were friendly, eager, and driven. The fanbase for this universe is definitely a motivated one!

Value for Money: 9/10

You’re getting an astonishing piece of turn-based strategy gaming set in a compelling sci-fi world for $40. Yeah, this is a good value.

Battletech

Overall: 8/10

It’s a tough life out there in the Periphery. It’d be nice if mission difficulty had a more easy gradient but for a game series that has been gone for so long, I’m just happy that it’s not only returned, but returned in the best shape it’s been in a while.

Fans of the series would be well served in picking this one up. Those on the fence might even be convinced to hop in, too, especially if you’re a fan of turn-based small-unit tactical command. BattleTech is back.

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About Chris Hughes

Chris is a literal wolf who has managed to learn how to use a computer. He enjoys cooking, roleplaying, writing, and reading those who do the same. You can find him staring at Twitter or read more of his attempt at humor at his blog, or in-game primarily on WildStar, Blade and Soul or Final Fantasy XIV.