As a gamer kid of the 80’s, Battletech was a name synonymous with countless hours of designing BattleMech Character sheets, drawing out Hexagon tile maps and playing out scenarios around a homemade board and dice. Many a long day and night were spent playing the BattleTech tabletop game, always working to create the perfect BattleMech and rise victorious over my other friends. So when word came that Harebrained Schemes was working on a new BattleTech game for PC and that the desire was to re-create that table top experience, I was more than a little excited. After spending some time with this title, to be released on Steam later this year, I wanted to spend some time unpacking my experience. So grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy this preview of BattleTech.
As a long time fan of the Tabletop game, launching BattleTech and seeing so many familiar images was thrilling. The first take away even before getting into a match is that Harebrained Schemes seems to be taking great care to capture the look and feel of the original designs while still adding their own flair and design choices. This isn’t always easy when working with an existing IP but BattleTech seems to strike a nice balance with this visually. During gameplay BattleMechs were easily recognizable, the settings and maps looked great and felt right at home in the BattleTech universe.
After navigating some quick menus (currently the only gameplay mode is a single player AI skirmish), which included picking a set of preconfigured BattleMechs, map and time of day, I was greeted to my first gameplay experience. As a fanboy I was giddy about how much the gameplay reminded me of the tabletop experience. Everything you would hope would be there; fog of war, terrain elevations, line of sight all played out beautifully.
You control a squad of four battleMechs each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses in a turn based combat system. Using the command interface you direct your BattleMechs around the map trying to position them to take best advantage of the terrain. Elevation, water, and weather all play a part in how well you can see, shoot and engage the enemy. The core combat and gameplay systems are solid.
The combat system plays much like you would expect from a BattleTech game. Positioning, weapon types and even heat syncs all play a part in how well you can attack your enemy. Strategy is key with battleTech and thankfully Harebrained Schemes has done an excellent job of recreating all of the bits that make the board game so good.
This game is as much a game of chess as it is Mechassault and more times than not it's not about who has the biggest Battlemech but rather how you use that which you have. Some of my favorite situations came from using my smaller, more maneuverable BattleMechs in tandem with the terrain to lure larger, slower Battlemechs into a bottle neck. There was nothing quite as satisfying as having an enemy Mech follow me into a valley to watch me jump jet out leaving him surrounded by my remaining Mechs.
As mentioned many of the primary systems are quite well polished in this turn-based BattleMech chess match. You can easily move around the board, examine the state of yours or the enemies BattleMechs (assuming they're in range) and perform all sorts of great maneuvers and abilities you would expect of the BattleTech series. The BattleMechs themselves are wonderfully made with things like the ability to destroy appendages and knock BattleMechs over which adds some nice layers of strategy to the game.
At this point the game is well on its way to being a solid BattleTech entry. The game isn’t without its weak points however. Most notably is the learning curve. At present, even as someone that grew up with the table top series, it still took me some time to get a handle on how turns, abilities and movement played out in the game. I would be a little concerned for new players jumping into this title with no previous knowledge of how the traditional tabletop game mechanics work. However this is a small concern as my guess is there will be a tutorial for new players at launch.
Overall the game is feeling and playing really well. Although still in development BattleTech feels like a natural evolution of the classic tabletop game. With the promise of a full Mech Customization system as well as three game modes, single player skirmish, multiplayer skirmish and an open ended Mercenary Campaign (all confirmed at a BattleTech Interview at the PC Game Show this year), BattleTech is shaping up to be a solid offering for long time fans as well as those interested in tactical Strategy games. Look for BattleTech on Steam later this year.