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Red Thomas Posted:
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I’ve been a fan of mech combat since before it was a video game.  Not to get all hipster on you, but to simply point out that as much as I enjoy the MechWarrior franchise, I’m probably always going to prefer the turn-based strategy over the run-and-gun of the more FPS-like games in that specific intellectual property.

With that in mind, and with the recent release of the Heavy Metal expansion for BATTLETECH, I thought I’d take another look at turn-based mech combat.  It’s been a few months since I’d last played the game and I was interested to see what all they’ve added.  Plus, with MechWarrior 5 out, I was really craving some Inner Sphere drama mixed with occasional breached nuclear reactors.

I’m going to take a look at the current state of BATTLETECH for those who are waiting to get into the newly released mech game.   I’ll explore a bit of what Heavy Metal brings to the game, and I’ll offer a few tips for players returning after a hiatus.  Even more experienced mech jocks could find a few new tips to improve their own game as I talk about some of what goes into how I kit out the mechs in Rico’s Rednecks, my elite merc company.

New Stuff

Heavy Metal brings a lot of new tools to combat.   I’m on the fence about some of it, but there was definitely a lot that I liked.  New mechs like the Assassin ASN-21 really got me excited, and Hairbrained rolled in a few new mechanics to make the new mechs more interesting, as well.

In the case of the Assassin, the Intercept System allows the 40-ton mech to go after lighter targets more easily.  For me, the ASN-21 has turned into a general work-horse for the company as a multi-role mech.   I tend to run fairly balanced lances and use my scout for skirmishing and early recon.   Often, this results in early indirect fire opportunities, which the ASN-21’s LRM-5 is great for.  Because it gets to subtract a large portion of evasion from lighter mechs, I’ve found this to be a great way to get some early damage, while also improving the odds of subsequent mechs to make their hits by knocking off an evasion tick.

Play forward one day, and you’ll be given the option of opening this crate. It gives you a couple random weapons and a random mech from the expansion. I don’t think it’s enough to take away from that early struggle if you’re concerned about getting too much at the start, but to each their own.

Mid-battle, the Assassin joins whatever lighter mech I’m using for hit-and-run tactics on the flanks.   Specifically, I also try to contain enemy light mechs and knock them out of the fight to limit the crit rolls their smaller weapons get as my armor gets burned off by their larger buddies.   Later in the battle, the Assassin can use it’s jump jets to drop in for key strikes.  The damage isn’t super high, but the SRM-2 and medium laser can still draw needed crits or threaten rear armor.

All told, the ASN-21 has just been a really fun addition to my lance.  I’ve had a little less functionality out of the Flea, though I expect I’ll be using it more soon with an LRM-heavy lance I’m getting ready to try out.  I haven’t tried the new Rifleman yet (one of my favorite support mechs in the past), but I suspect the Flea’s capability as a hard-to-hit scout mech will pair well the Rifleman’s Rangefinder Suite.

That kind of brings me to a conflict I have with the update.  On one hand, I really like all these custom electronics packages and special kits we can put on mechs to enhance weaker ones.  It makes mechs that you would have passed on before much more viable, which creates amazing diversity.   The conflict comes from the gimmicky nature of some of these perks, though.

I know, I hate myself for even mentioning it considering how much I think it actually helps the game in so many ways, but it’s just strange and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.  I guess I’m worried that some of these new weapons (like the mortar, for instance) break the game a bit.  We saw it way back in the day with earlier games in the BT universe, where mounting Long Tom Artillery was a way to insta-gib even the heaviest of mechs.

I’d like to have more of the Inner Sphere available so I could do more work for the Lyrans. Steiner is clearly the superior House and deserves our loyalty and support. Long-live the Commonwealth!

I like goofing around with mech loadouts to make crazy configurations that actually work on occasion.  That’s a lot of fun, but I also think it’s important to have those mechs that just don’t quite punch in their weight class.  Fielding substandard equipment and pulling off the victory is as much a part of BATTLETECH as anything else, and I’m just hoping we don’t lose that.

New Points

Don’t let my musing turn you off, though.  All told, I think BATTLETECH is in a great spot right now with lots of fun new stuff to do since release.   One of the things introduced since release is the concept of “Flash Points.”  These are mini-campaigns that kick off around the star map and show up as highlighted systems when you’re browsing around.  These missions operate just like normal contracts, except that they come available in series one after the other as you complete them and offer their own side-story.

Random events add so much flavor to the game and aren’t just about the random bonuses and occasional trait your mechwarriors can acquire.

This was an absolutely brilliant idea by Hairbrained Schemes that massively extends the game with much less effort.   Their team writes up what amounts to a short story and scripts the events using the existing in-game engine and assets.  The genius is that it requires far less development resources to execute these mini-campaigns, but by being scattered around the Inner Sphere to be randomly discovered by the player, they add a great deal of depth to the game.  It’s probably not as dynamic as it feels, but the team did a great job of using these missions to add interest and give a sense of a living universe while playing.

With the Heavy Metal expansion, Flash Points are even used to introduce the new mechs, which is brilliant.  New mechs just suddenly appearing out of nowhere might be immersion-breaking mid-campaign, but by stumbling onto the right Flash Point, the player learns that these new mechs are just now appearing because something has happened.   The story injection makes it more natural and helps the campaign feel far less static.

New Ideas

Well, maybe not quite so new if I’m honest, but as I’ve been playing the game again, I’ve started paying a lot more attention to context popups.  In reality, I know a lot of these mechanics have existed for a while and I’ve even used them without thinking much about them.  While exploring new weapons and abilities in the latest update, I’ve found myself sort of rediscovering interesting mechanics.   I thought I might list out a few of these as some quick tips for those who might be getting back into the game.

One immediate tip is mounting large weapons in the arms, rather than the torso… sometimes.  Arm-mounted weapons get a bonus when calculating the shot modifier, which is combined with things like range, size of target, and other bonuses and penalties to calculate a shot modifier.  The higher the number, the more penalty you take to hit the target, but the number can never be negative.   So, think about what you’re going to be doing with that weapon. 

Understanding how the to-hit value is calculated can subtly change the way you configure your mechs.

If the PPC is going to be used against mostly slow-moving large targets at optimal range, that +1 modifier for being in the arm is quickly offset by how easily the arms can be shot off in combat.  Conversely, if the mech will be running down light mechs with lots of evasion, as my Assassin often does, then the arm modifier effectively counters one tick of evasion, and that can really help land a shot when it counts.  Mouse over each weapon before firing to get an idea of what modifiers went into calculating the to-hit chance and you’ll start finding yourself thinking a bit more strategic when developing your mech loadouts. 

Another tip is that if you’re starting a new career and not going through the story campaign, money and mechs will not come quite so easily.  In my campaign, I was constantly upgrading my ship, but in the career mode, you want to be a little slower in burning your cash reserves.  An immediate need is to improve the repair rate of mechs so that you can do missions faster.  I also pick up the electrical upgrade relatively soon and the training pod for the slow experience boost.

After that, earn the money to build something before you build it.  You don’t always have to be repairing something on the ship.  It’s hard to walk away and not having something queued up, but that’s what you have to do if you want to survive.  Spending all your money on the ship early on will break you quickly because maintenance goes up as you do.  Just take a step back and only upgrade what you need at any given moment.

Take the Argo upgrades slow. Dumping money into the ship has a lot of advantages, but none of them count if you go bankrupt before you can use them.

On money, another tip is to be judicious with salvage.  You won’t have that extra set of mech bays for a while, so you’ll quickly be salvaging mechs to sell.  Obviously, keep the ones you want to use, but you may not be as focused on salvage in the career as you were in the campaign.  Each mech section you select is one less weapon.  Sometimes it’ll be more important to get the cheaper weapon than the shiny new mech section.

The problem is that some weapons are hard to find and are more expensive when you do.  It’s not uncommon for me to send a mech to the field short a ton because I didn’t have a flamer to replace the one that broke and couldn’t purchase any in the system.   I could, and sometimes do, put something in its place, but then that means time and money later to swap it out with what I really want there.  Don’t be afraid to pick up that machine gun or small laser instead of the PPC that none of your mechs use.

New Thoughts

I think BATTLETECH was good when it released, but I’m finding it fantastic now.  My only complaint is that I would really like to see some sort of large strategic multiplayer opportunity come out of it, and it’s possible that we’ll see that as a mod at some point.  I’d also like the whole Inner Sphere to play in and not be restricted to just a tiny portion of it.

Other than that, the team consistently and persistently adds cool new missions, components, and mechs to the game.  It’s even more fun to play today than when it released, and so I have zero issue with recommending it as a buy in most cases.  If you’re more of an FPS or action fan, you might want to watch some videos first, but for those of us who enjoy strategy, BATTLETECH is a no-brainer.

I worried when it came out that it was too simple and wouldn’t last well, but I’ve been proven wrong.  The simplicity has allowed Hairbrained to add in a ton of small nuances and content that keeps the game fresh and interesting.  I keep coming back to this game every few months, and I can’t think of a better compliment than that.

The life of the game is being expanded even further by mods.   Personally, I tend to stay clear of most mods and prefer the purer experience.   I’m not opposed to throwing a mod in the mix on occasion when one comes out that’s particularly well done, though.  What about you all?   Do you play with mods and are there some that I should be looking into?  Let me know down below.  It’s not like this’ll be the last time I start a new merc company in BATTLETECH!


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.