Paradox Interactive, one of the premier strategy game publishers out there, has just released Battletech. Developed by Harebrained Schemes, this “XCOM meets mech warfare” strategy title is one I had been eagerly anticipating and it does not disappoint.
We first saw Battletech in action during the summer of 2017, when meeting with Harebrained’s co-founder Mitch Gitelman who demonstrated the game and some of the combat dynamics it was going to have. It immediately felt like a Mechwarrior type of game that draws a lot of inspiration from the most XCOM titles, which to me sounds like a good thing.
Of course, the real inspiration for Battletech lies with the tabletop game that was released in the mid-eighties and went on to spawn a ton of lore and spinoff products, including the Mechwarrior brand that gamers are quite familiar with. Not surprisingly, the turn-based board game rules transfer well to a strategy videogame – as games like XCOM have clearly shown.
There’s a risk to adapting a franchise like Battletech though, as it has a loyal following that knows all about the lore and will scrutinize every little detail. The danger, however, is that that might alienate other potential players like myself who aren’t as familiar with all things Battletech. Although I can’t suddenly speak for the die-hard fans out there, Battletech feels like it was designed to be accessible enough for people like me while staying faithful to the original material. It’s a tightrope walk to achieve that, so hats off to Harebrained.
When playing, the game eases you into the lore through story scenes and the narrative, and it gives you in-game tooltips that help you with the gameplay rules. It’s never overwhelming to Battletech novices, and I could even see strategy newcomers easing into the game with relative ease. I did take a look at a (table top) rulebook to see if this meant the game had been significantly “dumbed down”, but couldn’t find any evidence to support this theory. Instead, fans will probably love the visuals and distinct design for the different mechs, provided that Harebrained didn’t stray too far from the lore’s narrative – which I assume they did not.
The main gameplay is very much like other western turn-based strategy titles, hence the comparison to XCOM. While XCOM features a lot of indoor combat, Battletech mostly takes place outdoors and it uses the scenery effectively within its strategic layers. Standing on top of a ridge with a mech that overlooks enemies down in a valley makes a big difference, and if one of your mechs overheats you can just walk it through some water to help it cool off.
Sure, there are intricacies that will take time to learn and master, but many of the game rules just seem to “make sense” and it’s easy to figure out why a potential success rate is as high or low as it is. It’s an approach I’ve always preferred to the “yeah, it’s nonsense, but those are the rules!” method that some games employ. In Battletech, I don’t have to constantly remind myself of what the rules are and I can just focus on strategic decision-making – a stage that took forever to reach in a game like Mordheim.
After a few rounds, you’ll start to get a knack for the abilities you can use with individual mechs – maximizing the impact that heavy units have, sometimes by using agile units to chip away at the enemy first and other times by attacking in tandem or from certain positions. Despite the accessible gameplay model, there’s a lot of diversity you can employ in your strategies. What helps in this regard is that there’s a ton of depth to the tech tree as well, with options to upgrade your mech pilots, your mechs themselves, or the crew that supports your efforts.
As accessible as I’ve described it, this makes Battletech a deeply thought out strategy title with plenty of challenging moments – especially in the story missions. I found the (randomized) contract missions in between to be a tad more generic and forgiving for equally generic tactics, but the story missions really require you to put in some serious effort.
Battletech may have been around for thirty years, but I feel like Harebrained Schemes just gave me the best possible intro I could have had. I loved the single player campaign and I’ve only played around with multiplayer for a little bit, but the tactical depth that’s already there is just begging to be expanded upon. I’d be surprised if Paradox didn’t expand the Battletech line of games in the years to come.