BATTLETECH Review – PC

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I never really got heavily into the tabletop version of Battletech, but I did dabble in it a little bit several years ago. I remember being really fascinated by all the different ‘Mech designs and their very different uses. Each had strengths and weaknesses and, when built well and used correctly by a wise commander, battles could be won with less. I loved that the light ‘Mechs were just as useful on the battlefield as the heavy ones and that there was so much customization in the individual builds of each ‘Mech. It was a great combination of the fun of giving unique character and backstory to a character you would play in a roleplaying game and the tactical detail of a war game.

There were times when I debated trying to get back into playing the game, because it always held a certain mystique in my mind. But then I’d look at the miniatures at the game store and balk at the investment that it would cost just to get started.

And then I heard that Hairbrained Schemes, the same devs that brought us the fantastic and truly amazing Shadowrun series of games, which again was a great adaptation of a really complex set of rules into a video game format, was making a Battletech game. I was immediately excited. Their Kickstarter campaign was extremely successful and I kept my eye on the development of the game from time to time and kept getting more and more excited for the eventual release of the game.

Finally, the day came that the game was completed and I was able to get my hands on a copy. I have to say that I had high hopes, especially considering how impressive their Shadowrun games had been, I was hopeful for another great game.

But, even coming to it with the bar set so high, I was still impressed and amazed at just how great of an experience they put together to bring the world of Battletech to video game form. Not only did they stay perfectly true to the original game rules, creating a diverse, and immensely customizable experience, but they also put it into a really well-written, enjoyable single-player campaign, that is full of a deep, rich lore and story that will take you all across the star system, blazing your own path toward glory.

Also, there is the option of playing in player vs player skirmishes, which brings all of the fun of the tabletop game to you and a friend in a varied range of different terrains with a whole host of ‘Mechs to choose from and customize to your own personal liking.

Anyone familiar with the Battletech franchise will be happy to know just how full of a roster of ‘Mechs is available to be used on the battlefield. Approximately 40 ‘Mechs in all fill the roster of available units, with a fair assortment in each of the four categories, Light, Medium, Heavy, and Assault, each one has been fully rendered in a 3D model and fully animated for movement, attacks, and various states of damage. They move with the weight and ferocity that you would expect. They shake the earth as they lumber forward, charging across the battlefield. Their weapons streak and explode off their targets with satisfactory effects and we can watch as the various affected portions of their bodies are damaged and blown off completely. The detail is just awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

Where the Shadowrun games play out on isometric maps, which was probably my one complaint about the game’s presentation, Battletech uses a fully 3D view, which allows you to zoom in and out, see the battlefield from up on high, or from right over your ‘Mech’s shoulder, and also rotate the map around so that you can fully appreciate the varying terrain that is available to you to use to your advantage against your foes.

And, speaking of the terrain, the maps are detailed and gorgeous, and though they aren’t randomly or procedurally generated, there are a massive amount of maps that are each very large. The game then selects portions of these larger maps and uses them for individual missions, so as you play through, the chances of playing on the same section of any map, especially under the same environmental and lighting conditions, is highly unlikely. So, you get a seemingly limitless variety of terrain, but with the advantage of knowing that it was all lovingly handcrafted so that it makes sense and plays really well. There are different types of terrain that will have positive and negative effects on your ‘Mech, which will help dictate your tactics. Wooded terrain will provide cover, but slow you down. Rocky terrain will make you less steady. There are portions of the land that have high mineral deposits that will mess with targeting systems.

Honestly, with all the different options that come with the varying maps and the loadouts that you can granularly choose for each and every ‘Mech, plus the skills that each Mechwarrior has attached to them, it would be incredibly unlikely to ever play the same battle twice. There are just so many variables.

And then, somehow, within all of this technical mastery of translating a great tabletop game into a video game format, they took the time to write in a really intriguing campaign and include all sorts of juicy, deep, and interesting lore that drips into every aspect of the single player game. From character creation and deciding where your Mechwarrior came from, to the royal houses that you work for and the dynamic relationships that all of the varying factions have with each other, there is just so much going on in this game. So much that fills the background and that’s just waiting in the wings for you to look at it and make sure that it’s there. Because, believe me, it’s there. It almost feels like there’s more than needed, but it all serves to create a believable, vast, and explorable universe.

The best part is that the devs have claimed they’re not even done. They want to give us more Battletech with some additional free updates and possibly some paid additional content. And if the second and third installments of the Shadowrun series are any indication, any additional content that they release for Battletech will be well worth the wait and any additional fee they put on it.

The only downside that I could even consider criticizing the game for is that in its endeavor to so honestly translate the tabletop game into a video game, there are points where the game seems to slow down under its own attention to detail. But, that is only a bad thing if you don’t enjoy all the “nutty gritty” of customization and detail. And even then, this is something that the devs have acknowledged in their upcoming free updates to the game is giving people an option for a more streamlined experience.

Ultimately, I think that Hairbrained Schemes have proven yet again that they have an uncanny ability to distill the essence of a beautiful tabletop ruleset and take the very best parts of those things and turn it into an equally great video game experience. Because, as they have acknowledged, this process isn’t as simple as just doing a one for one transposition of the rules. What they’ve done though, is magical. I highly recommend Battletech.